Monday, April 7, 2014

Thanks to Mickey Rooney for His Inspiration

It was June 21, 2001, almost a month since the murder of two beloved Efrat residents, olah chadasha (new immigrant) Sarah Blaustein, HY”D, and youth group leader Esther Elvan, HY”D. My community of Efrat (and the greater community of Gush Etzion) was reeling from the Arab terror on the roads of Gush Etzion and across the country. We were all in a huge depression. Tears flowed easily and often. Smiles had long been forgotten.
The much-awaited summer vacation was filled with dread. Folks didn’t drive on the roads. There was nothing to do and no place where we could escape the deadly realities of the day.
On the Efrat list, which I had established some years before, Efrat residents were writing their ideas of ways to cheer up the community – a town fair, cowboy-and-Indian movie nights, etc. All cute, but nothing that captured the imagination.

I sat at my desk on that Thursday night and looked up at a poster on the wall – an original advertisement for a 1939 Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie musical, “Strike Up the Band.” In those days of post-DepressionAmerica, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were constantly trying to think of ways to bring their community out of its depression. The answer always ended up being a show.
He’d say, “We're gonna put on a show. And it’s gonna be the greatest thing this town has ever seen. And everyone’ll be in it.”
The idea of the show was to raise everyone’s spirits! Well, by golly, it worked for Mickey every time! And if a show could cheer up post-Depression America, maybe it could help depressed Efrat/Gush Etzion.

With Mickey's Inspiration
So, I wrote an email to the Efrat list:
WE’RE PUTTING ON A SHOW. It will be the greatest spectacular in the history of the Gush Stage. A cast of thousands, or at least dozens. You’ll leave the theatre singing and dancing and feeling good.”
“We’re going to spend our summer preparing a fantabulastic show for women only (sorry guys – if you want a play, put on your own).”
Thirty-five women joined at my first meeting, and we had enough of a staff for two directors, two choreographers, a stage manager, a scenic designer, a producer (me) and lots of other stuff.
That night, I summed up the meeting. “I explained that the goal of the play is to give everyone something positive to do all summer, and to bring us closer together in HAPPINESS, instead of in SORROW. We’re going to sing together, dance together, work hard together, sweat together and smile together. And at the end of the summer, IY”H, we’re going to invite all the women of Gush Etzion to come see the show. I know all of them won’t come, but we hope several hundred will. We’re even going to invite the women of Chevron, Kiryat Arba, Beit El and Ofra. They all really need something to sing about.”
Little did I, or anyone else know, that the Gush Etzion Raise Your Spirits Summer Stock Company would not only attract hundreds of women, but more than 40,000 women/girls from Israel and the Diaspora would see our shows over the past 13 years, and B”H, bli ayin hara, we would become one of the most acclaimed community theater companies in the country.
And it all began because Mickey Rooney taught me the lessons of joyous song, a common goal, community effort, inclusion of everyone, and dedication to a dream.
They were right on target in 1939, they were right in 2001 and they still hold true today.

Mickey, 93 years young
Mickey Rooney passed away this week at the age of 93. Those lucky enough to remember him for his upbeat undefeatable energetic young man roles will always have a reason to smile and an example of unending positivity.
Those who remember him for his 200 movie roles will surely keep the legend of the tiny dynamo in their hearts.

Mickey, the women/girls of Raise Your Spirits Theater and their audiences thank you.

Monday, April 22, 2013

RYS Caravan Makes Way for School

A few years ago, Raise Your Spirits bought a caravan in which to store its costumes and scenery.
The caravan was located in the backyard of the regional council, along with other caravans and containers.
The area was quiet, pastoral, and if you listened, you could hear the crickets chirping.
"We could make a terrific Lag B'omer RYS bonfire here," we thought. "This could be a great club house," we said.
The years have passed. The caravan has deteriorated. The holes have expanded and increased. The mice have had their fun. The bees have found new homes. But we visited regularly to bring or pick up this and that.
Now a new school is being built nearby. Hooray. A school, children will fill this hill!! The RYS caravan is in the way of progress, so we went back to the caravan to try to empty it out. All the caravans were gone, except ours. The land was mostly cleared. A tractor worked on a level just below our caravan. The builders even came up to us and asked, when we'd be finished gathering our things.
We hurried through the sorting - different folks worked all the time, coming and going. Three cheers for Toby Klein Greenwald who spent days and hours in the caravan. She touched the untouchable, and walked in the unwalkable. She shook off poo poo from everything and kept an eye out for our RYS treasures. We salvaged this and that, placing them with our barest finger tips in garbage bags. Then we brought clothing and fabrics to the cleaners to be de-yuchified.
We went through some of the same experiences we had last year:
http://raiseyourspiritstheatre.blogspot.co.il/2012/08/the-costumes-scenery.html
Toby asked me if I wanted my Achashverosh portrait. Um, no.
Should we take the animal heads that were tattered and torn? Um, no.
Would anyone like to open the mystery drawer? A definite NO.
But there were some costumes that made the cut - an orange salamander, a dozen large fish, our NOAH caterpillar bearing Gush Katif's logo, RUTH's Machlon and Chilion costumes.
And we still had some CDs from previous shows.

We loaded up the cars, and found a few homes for some things, but most of the stuff is in Toby's backyard.
We're looking for storage space. We're really looking for a place that RYS can call home, but we're willing to settle now for storage space.
Thanks to everyone who helped Toby move whatever they moved, and thanks in advance if you've got a place where we can hang our hats, plus our giant feet, our clouds and sunshine, our rainbow, our peacock, our animal prints and more.

Please write back to this blog.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Noah's Ark on the Rocky Mountains

Okay...so everyone knows that Noah's Ark landed atop Mount Ararat in Turkey, but Canada had its own version of Noah's Ark this year.
Three Shows that Have Seen the World
Ten years ago, after Raise Your Spirits completed the mega-successful run of the original "ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court", co-authored by Arlene Chertoff, Toby Klein Greenwald and me (Sharon Dobuler Katz) [with music by Rivka Epstein Hattin], we three teamed up again to script the story of NOAH and the rebuilding of a devastated world.
It was a time of continued Arab terror. Destruction was all around, and we thought, "What Biblical figures had suffered horrific losses, and yet learned to rebuild their lives?"
Noah and his family! Noah's story had a message we wanted to share: Despite tragedy and sorrow, with G-d's help, we CAN begin again!
Then, our trio also scripted a third original musical together - "RUTH & NAOMI in the Fields of Bethlehem".
Through our company Bible Arts Productions, www.bible-arts.com, we licensed our three shows to different schools and groups around the world - to be performed both in English and Hebrew.
Every time we licensed one of our musicals to another school or organization, I was thrilled.
Bible Arts productions were on stage in women's leagues in Midwestern America, high schools on the East Coast, summer camps everywhere and even on the streets of far away India.
But I had never seen any of them performed until we traveled more than a month ago to see the Haifa high school version of "ESTHER". [http://raiseyourspiritstheatre.blogspot.co.il/2013/03/esther-in-haifa.html?m=1]
Children Board the Ark
Well, today I had the incredible treat of seeing "NOAH! Ride the Wave!" performed by a Hebrew Day School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Lions, tigers and bears and children of all ages!
The colorful costumes and eye-popping scenery were terrific. The leads were top-drawer, and the cast was full of energy and enthusiasm.
I was so happy to see "NOAH!" performed by these sweet children.
However, when the audience began to clap excitedly in rhythm to the Animal March, as our colorfully-costumed two-by-twos entered the ark, I burst put into tears.
I wrote a few weeks ago of how emotional I felt seeing "ESTHER" performed by another company.
The feeling is like seeing your grandchild do something extra-ordinary that instills in you such pride, you are overcome with emotion.
Over the years, our "grandchildren" have taken the stage in Bible Arts productions, just as Raise Your Spirits had in Gush Etzion. But hearing about them and actually SEEING them are two completely different things.
I pray that the messages of hope and faith, bravery and goodness of our Bible Arts productions "ESTHER", "NOAH!" and "RUTH & NAOMI" will continue on. And I invite schools and organizations throughout the world to take the stage in one/all of these shows, and to share with their communities our positive messages that are so sorely needed today.

(Note: The talented Mitch Clyman of MUSO Productions was the composer/arranger of "NOAH!" and "RUTH".)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

ESTHER in Haifa

Tomorrow night the cast of Raise Your Spirits' "ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court" is getting together for a traditional cast party.
Well, maybe it won't be so traditional. We'll have the popcorn and pasta, but the entertainment will be unique. We're hoping to show clips of the performance of ESTHER by a girls' high school in Haifa.
The school licensed ESTHER (from its owners, Bible-Arts Productions) and decided to perform it in Hebrew. The opportunity to see ESTHER in Hebrew was too good to pass up, so one of my co-lyricists Toby Klein Greenwald, as well as our star, Avital Macales (who plays ESTHER) and lyrics translator Michal Yechieli traveled by train to Haifa for the event.
Haifa was like old Israel from a 1950s movie. It had an old movie-set feel. The terrain was ultra-hilly like San Francisco, and the view of the ocean was everywhere. And of course, if we were already there, we stopped off at the beach to pick up some sea shells (so we could say truthfully, we went to the beach in Haifa :) ).
We got off the train right next to an old storefront that declared it sold Camels cigarettes. I didn't even know they still sold Camels.
Time stood still here. Even the "extras" in the street were "period" folks.

We went to the Haifa's Bahai Gardens, which were closing. We looked down at the beautiful layered garden paths, chatted with fellow tourists, and even got to wish mazel tov to a bride and groom. Her sleeve was falling off, so I made her stop so that I could fix it. (A bride has to look her best, you know.)
We traveled to the theater, which held about 500. It was filled with mothers and sisters. We went backstage and met the cast from Ulpana Amit. The girls were so enthusiastic about our visit, they sang and danced back stage. I asked to meet my Haifa counterpart, Haman, and we posed for a photo together.
Avital met Haifa's ESTHER and they even sang, "Give me the courage!!" Avital sang it in English, while Haifa's star sang it in Hebrew - MAGIC!!
The show was adorable - just what you'd expect from a high school music with all the enthusiasm and good cheer there could be. And since the girls learned our show from watching our own ESTHER DVD, some of their characters' actions and expressions exactly mirrored our own.

It was just so strange watching someone playing me. I'm sure Avital felt the same.
The most memorable part of the evening was ESTHER's finale, "The Return." On stage together, we sing, "They'll come down from the mountains, they'll come from the skies...." Etc. etc. It is a song about the ingathering of the Jewish people from the four corners of the world.
In Gush Etzion, Raise Your Spirits sings the song in English and in Hebrew.
In Haifa, the girls sang "The Return" in Hebrew, Amharic (there are many Ethiopian students there) and in Sign Language. As soon as the music for the finale begin, the audience began applauding wildly. And when the girls sang in Amharic, they went wild. When they sang in sign language, I don't think there was one dry eye in the house. In fact, I think I probably cried my way through the entire production.
It's a strange, yet fabulous feeling to see a show you have written performed by an outside theater company. At first, it felt odd to hear ESTHER in Hebrew, but then it felt great.
I was beaming with pride, as I know Toby was. We just wished our third co-lyricist Arlene Chertoff had been with us, as well as our composer Rivka Epstein Hatten. That would have made it perfect.

I'm so looking forward to other schools performing ESTHER in Hebrew, English, or maybe even Amharic. You never know.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Jerusalem, Here We Come!!

ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court is on its way to Jerusalem. Yes, Shushan comes to Yerushalyim.
The excitement, the splendor and the song of the Persian capital will thrill Jerusalem audiences right before the holiday of Purim.
ESTHER's director Toby Klein Greenwald and production manager Eudice Spitz have been talking to the Municipality of Jerusalem about performing under the Jerusalem banner for quite some time. Now, finally, tickets are on sale through Bimot - http://tickets.bimot.co.il/calendar/2013-2-17.
Buy your tickets for Sunday, February 17. We'll be performing in the Gerard Behar Theatre, right in the heart of the city.
AVOID THE LINES
The last time Raise Your Spirits performed in the Gerard Behar, there was a ticket line all the way out of the plaza in front of the theatre, up the stairs and down the block. Seeing all the ticket buyers was exciting. We kind of felt like The Beatles or Spice Girls or Avraham Fried & Co.
But the lines were really long for our ticket buyers and friends. So, I suggest buying tickets in advance and missing the long line!
We can't wait to perform in Yerushalayim. Performing there has an excitement like nowhere else. And we're thrilled at the opportunity to welcome women and girls from all over the country to our show.
Yerushalayim - February 17 - welcome to Shushan.

Photo by FLASH Rebecca Kowalsky, wew.imagesthroughtime.com .

Sunday, January 20, 2013

It's the Journey that Counts

On Thursday, January 24, Raise Your Spirits takes to the road and brings its latest production, "ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court" to the stage of the new Cultural Center in Kiryat Arba, south of Gush Etzion.
It's the first time this production of ESTHER has left its home stage of the Gush Etzion Community Center. It's an exciting journey that everyone is looking forward to.
But this isn't really the journey that will make ESTHER an unforgettable experience for its cast of more than 60 women and girls. The journey that has been unforgettable has been the one we have taken together since the beginning of the summer, the one that changed each of us from individual talented people :) to a family of performers.
The journey that really counts for our Raise Your Spirits cast is the journey from me to us. Most people think that actors are a bunch of selfish hams (well, hams maybe, but selfish doesn't have a place in Raise Your Spirits dialogue).
The journey that counts has had its milestones - the first time we saw the benefits of harmonizing correctly, the first time we understood that our dance looked best when we pulled together, the first time we each rooted for someone else more than ourselves, the first time we cheered when a cast member "got it right", the first time we saw the shine in the eyes of our little Shushan children, the first time an understudy got on stage and made us proud.
Our journey from a cast of an excellent show to a tight united family has been the one that counts, the one we will always remember. Our cast will always remember it, and so will our audiences.
We've been together on a regular basis for more than seven months now. That's a long time. We've gotten to know one another pretty well, and the familiarity breeds quite a lot of love and laughter. 
To the "Cast of the Queen" as ESTHER's director Toby Klein Greenwald says, or "Queenies" in the words of production manager Eudice Spitz, you will light up the stage in Kiryat Arba and bring tremendous pride to everyone involved in ESTHER, to our audience and even to our Forefathers in the City of Hebron.
Enjoy the journey.
If you'd like to join us on Thursday night, contact 02-996-1666, then dial "0" for the secretary. Tickets are 58 NIS.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Snowing on ESTHER

ESTHER snowperson with little
Dvora Hurwitz tens years ago.
Photo by Hilary Hurwitz.
Ah, snow snow snow snow. Snow blanketed Gush Etzion and Efrat today, in addition to other places around Israel. Families spent the day playing outside and making the most of the white fluff. Smiles and laughter were everywhere.
Our Raise Your Spirits production of ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court had a full cast rehearsal scheduled for this evening in order to refresh ourselves in preparation for Sunday night's performance in Matnas Gush Etzion at 8:15 (January 13). But we were snowed-out. The snow accumulation and icy roads have made it impossible for us to get together to sing and dance. We're all pretty disappointed.
But this isn't the first time ESTHER has been snowed out.
In 2003, our original ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court was supposed to play in Ra'anana. The theater was totally sold out, and our fans in Ra'anana were very excited that we'd be performing there.
However, it snowed the night before, and we in Efrat and Gush Etzion were totally snow-bound. Even though the weather was lovely in Ra'anana, we couldn't get there.
Our friends in Ra'anana couldn't believe it. "The sun is shining here," they said. "But we're covered with snow here, and no traffic is moving anywhere nearby," we replied.
It was difficult for them to believe that we really couldn't make it to Ra'anana that night.
So I called my Raise Your Spirits neighbors and invited them to my home for some Show and Tell for Ra'anana. We even had the help of some of our kids.
We dressed up in whatever RYS costumes I had in my house. As founder of RYS and producer of JOSEPH and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court, I had quite a collection of memorable outfits in my office.
Then we went out into the snow. We snapped a few photos and sent them off to Ra'anana. "This is why we can't come to Ra'anana tonight."
They finally understood. why ESTHER had to be postponed, and we performed in Ra'anana to an appreciative and sold-out audience at a later date.
Back to the Future
Our 2013 cast of Raise Your Spirits takes the stage IY"H on Sunday evening, January 13th, and then again on Thursday evening, January 17th. The snow will be cleared by then, and everyone's invited to Matnas Gush Etzion for our 8:15 PM performance.
These are ESTHER's last two performances in Gush Etzion. Join us.

The photos above include costumes from the 2002-3 production of ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court and the 2001-2 production of JOSEPH and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Thanks to Hilary Hurwitz and Izzy Katz for their photography.