Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hints of ESTHER in the Weekly Torah Portion

Haman FALLS upon the bed.

This week's Torah portion , Vayechi, is one of the most emotional readings in the entire Five Books of Moses. An ailing Jacob, gathers his strength one more time, blesses his grandchildren, and shows us his a glimpse of his greatness and majesty one last time as he tells his children what awaits them and their ancestors throughout Jewish history.
Its commentaries also include several references to Megillat Esther, the story that Raise Your Spirits has brought to the stage this season.
In Chapter 48:2, a frail Jacob hears that his son Joseph has come to visit him, "So Israel exerted himself and sat up on the bed."
The Torah commentator the Baal HaTurim explains that despite his illness, our patriarch Jacob was able to rouse his strength once more and sit up upon the bed. Yet in Megillat Esther 7:8, we read that after Haman was revealed as the evil nemesis of the queen and her people, "Haman fell upon the bed" of Esther. This teaches us, according to the Baal HaTurim, that "even when they are weak, the righteous can strengthen themselves", but even when they are the peak of power, "the wicked will fall."
May it be so in our days, IY"H.
Further, the Sforno also speaks about the same phrase. Israel strengthened himself on the bed to give honor to the king (the pious Joseph). But the opposite was true in Megillat Esther 5:9, when Haman the king-wanna-be walked before the King's gate, Mordechai would not stand up or move before him.
Mordechai with Esther.
Lastly, it is interesting to note that the great Jewish leader Mordechai is called Mordechai HaYehudi.
That was because of the blessing that Jacob gave to his son Yehuda (49:8-12). Artscroll's commentary says, "So admired will you [Yehuda] be by all your brothers that Jews will not say, I am a Reubenite or a Simeonite, but I am a Yehudi. Thus we find that Mordechai, in the Book of Esther, was known as a Yehudi, even though he was from the tribe of Binyamin.
So often, our Torah portion and our commentators speak about Esther. It's a great feeling knowing that even in our fun production, we are connected to our Jewish heritage.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sold Out Smash and Other Excitements

Tonight we take the stage again in Raise Your Spirits' smash-hit "ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court".
It's exciting to know that our audience members come from (not just all over Israel, but) all over the world - Paris, London, Johannesburg, Los Angeles.
It's even more exciting that they'll be able to purchase our DVD and our newly minted CD to take along with them.
This ESTHER CD is already a classic. We've heard from the pros that this CD is better than anything we've created in the past ten years.
When we created our first ESTHER CD a decade ago, it was instantly so popular that we received a flood of emails telling us that women and girls just COULDN'T STOP listening.
And on Purim, homes from Melboune to Seattle, from Zurich to Buenos Aires were filled with our music. What a great feeling for everyone involved in Esther!
So tonight, not only do we perform live, but we're excited that our audience members will take our performance home with them too.
Friends, as you listen to the CD, think of the women and girls of Efrat and Gush Etzion who send you a hug with every song. Well, my "sons" and I are sending you a "Grrrrr."
If you're not able to get to the theater in Gush Etzion, you can order the CD or DVD on line - www.raiseyourspirits.org.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Making of the ESTHER CD

We spent our Chanukah, not only vacationing with our families, but working in the recording studio of Amit Benatar in order to create the ESTHER CD.
Raise Your Spirits' "ESTHER & the Secrets in the King's Court" has been such a tremendous success, B"H, audiences have clamored for more and more and more.
One more was added performances. We have just arranged them.
Another more was an ESTHER DVD. It's done and selling amazingly well.
And the latest more has been an ESTHER CD to play in your car, on your computer and while you're going through your busy life.
The ESTHER CD has all the great music of the show, plus all kinds of added touches to make it even more super-terrific.

We had such a great time in the recording studio. We entered, saw Amit's state-of-the-art sound board, plus the headphones (like a pilot wears), and a gated microphone (you've gotta sing to the gate). Suited up in this show biz paraphernalia, we really felt like Taylor Swift or Frank Sinatra (can those two names be said in the same sentence?).
The words to our songs were on a music stand, but it's easier and more natural to sing without them.

B"H, we knew them. Well, I sorta knew them. For some reason (nerves??), I was throwing "s"es all over the place. I only need three takes on those S-mistakes. I needed more for my Haman GASP when the King tells Haman to parade Haman's arch enemy Mordechai through the streets of Shushan. G-A-S-P!! (You get it?)

We sang our songs harmonized with one another, and those disembodied voices that were in our earphones.I even got to do the tap dances I do, as Haman, in the show. To accomplish the tap, I brought my metal-bottom tap shoes, of course, and my own wooden stage. (Well, it's important to always be prepared. :) )
Thanks to talented CD project coordinator Avital Macales, music director and pianist Gayle Berman and music magician Amit Benatar (who arranged composer Rivka Hattin Epstein's music, along with co-arrangers Paul Salter and Mitch Clyman) whose recording studio was our home for the week.
The CD is going to be powerful and packed with joy too. You'll love it. We'll let you know as soon as it hits the streets. POW!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Reviewer Ruth Beloff Loved ESTHER

Thanks to Ruth Beloff of the Jerusalem Post for our latest smash hit review, B"H, bli ayin hara.
http://www.jpost.com/ArtsAndCulture/Arts/Article.aspx?id=295693

Ruth wrote:
12/12/2012 21:26
The thoroughly entertaining English-language musical was sparkled with witty lyrics, dazzling costumes and upbeat music that rocked the house.
The revival of Esther and the Secrets in the King’s Court made a very welcome return to the stage in Gush Etzion. Playing to a packed theater of women only, the thoroughly entertaining English-language musical, performed by the Raise Your Spirits Theater, sparkled with witty lyrics, dazzling costumes and upbeat music that rocked the house.
The classic story of Queen Esther, set to original music and wonderful choreography, with an all-female cast outfitted in 1920s garb, was riveting from start to finish. Under the able direction of Toby Klein Greenwald, the amateur cast – ranging in age from eight to 70 – sang and danced their hearts out as the Purim story unfolded in an array of brilliant song and dialogue.
To ensure that the audience wouldn’t miss a word of the cleverly crafted text, subtitles in English and Hebrew were projected on a background screen throughout the play.
Looking like the crew from Guys and Dolls, the large cast was flawless in their performance – from the regal Queen Esther (Avital Macales), the foolish King Ahashverosh (Elana Kronenberg), the dastardly Haman (Sharon Katz) and the wise Mordechai (Deena Lawi) to the ebullient townsfolk of Shushan and the chorus of delightful little children.
Songs like “Eunuchs in Tunics” and details like the town shoemaker wearing a black apron that read “Shushan shoeshine” affirmed the fact that the play was penned by people who really knew what they were doing.
Written in 2001 by Klein Greenwald, Arlene Chartoff and Sharon Katz in the throes of the intifada to give women some comic relief from the surrounding horrors of the time, the play was indeed a joy to experience.
The singing was superb, the dancing was divine, and the humor was hilarious. Not only did the play raise the spirits of the audience, but it impelled them to rise to their feet after the finale in a sustained and well-deserved standing ovation.
The performance schedule for January will be available at www.raiseyourspirits.org. All Raise Your Spirits productions are performed for audiences of females only.

Photo by Rebecca Flash Kowalsky of wew.imagesthroughtime.com .

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Reporter Atara Beck Praises ESTHER

It's absolutely thrilling to be appreciated by the audiences and the press.
Reporter Atara Beck wrote a terrific story about Raise Your Spirits' new production, "ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court" for the Jerusalem Post's In Jerusalem. Thanks, Atara.
You can read it here:
http://www.jpost.com/InJerusalem/ArtsAndCulture/Article.aspx?id=293044&prmusr=7JPvVMBR3AfbFpfR%2FYl4SxMAPFNDsxB8J06Dtorwa4QHs5IAk4VSI281Z8%2Bf8acD


InJerusalem

Spirited performances

Raise Your Spirits’ first production by and for women was conceived as some light relief from the second intifada.

Theater
Photo by: Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky
When Toby Klein Greenwald, Sharon Katz and Arlene Chertoff wrote Esther and the Secrets in the King’s Court, they had Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in mind as today’s Haman. However, the timing of this musical production by Raise Your Spirits – a non-profit theater troupe that women in Efrat and Alon Shvut created in 2001 to cheer people up at the height of the second intifada – seems to have coincided with the recent escalation of hostilities and launch of Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza.

“We started this project during a bloody intifada,” explains Klein Greenwald, director of educational and community theater and a resident of Efrat.

“There were people killed on the road from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion and elsewhere. People weren’t going out a lot at night. We were looking for something to do to raise our spirits. Some of us brainstormed, and Sharon Katz, also of Efrat, said, ‘Let’s put on a show.’” “It’s totally déjà vu now,” says Katz. “Thursday night [November 15] was the dress rehearsal, and that same afternoon a missile from Gaza had reached the Tel Aviv area. I took my Tehillim [Book of Psalms], asked the [young] girls to come onstage, and I told them that 10 years ago, when we performed Esther, it was a time of terror and fear, and the possibility of destruction was everywhere around us. The [original] story of Esther happened at a time when the Jewish people believed that, God forbid, they could be destroyed.... But God can make miracles, and things can turn around overnight.... So I told the girls: What’s happening now happened 10 years ago, and it happened 100 years ago, and it happened 1,000 years ago. The Jewish people are threatened from every direction. But if we believe in God, then we shouldn’t be afraid.”

The three women, along with musical composer Rivka Epstein Hattin, are all American-born and - raised, though they are longtime Israeli citizens. The dialogue in their current production – which is running at the Gush Etzion Community Center – is in English, and there are Hebrew subtitles to accommodate the many Israelis in the audience.

All Raise Your Spirits productions are performed by women and for women only.

“The idea [since its inception in 2001] was to do it for women, and I volunteered to direct,” Klein Greenwald says. “We would meet every night. We did Joseph [and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat] first because everyone was familiar with it. We licensed the rights from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company in England, and almost every night in the summer we got together to rehearse.... We thought we would do two performances for our friends. But it was a smash success.”

Since then, Raise Your Spirits has done five original musicals and performed for almost 40,000 women.

“So what began as just a fun thing to do for the community actually became a model for many other women’s groups that mushroomed after us,” she says.

One might assume that such a community initiative would be amateurish. On the contrary: The productions, including the music and costumes, are professionally done by accomplished individuals. Klein Greenwald, for example, is a respected educator, writer, translator and photojournalist, as well as cofounder and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com, an award-winning self-help online site for families. In 2008, she received the Yaakov Egerest Award for Jewish Culture, presented by the Education Ministry, for her work in community educational theater.

The benefits of participating in Raise Your Spirits productions – whether it’s adult women who haven’t had the opportunity to express their creativity for a while, or religious women and girls seeking to use their performing talents in accordance with Jewish law – go beyond emotional support in times of war.

The musicals have been an uplifting experience for women and girls with personal challenges as well.

“Because it’s a social experience, it’s educational,” says Klein Greenwald. “My pet project is working with teens.... We tell everyone to read and study the original story in Tanach [the Bible]. They learn responsibility and what it means to give to the community.”

Production manager Eudice Spitz, who plays Bigtan, an adviser to King Ahasuerus, became involved in the spring of 2002.

“Two members of my family were very ill at the time – my mother and a sister,” says Spitz, also an American- Israeli and an Efrat resident.

“I work very hard in business as well. It was a very depressing time for me. I was looking for something that would literally raise my spirits.”

She heard about the audition 10 years ago and tried out.

“It really saved my mental health,” she affirms, stressing the camaraderie among the cast.

Spitz’s 11-year-old granddaughter, Meirav Mann, also appears in Esther. According to Spitz, she is “just one of a number of daughters or granddaughters of original cast members who are carrying on the Raise Your Spirits tradition.”

All children in the cast are Israeli-born, although some of their parents are native English speakers. The cast and crew range in age from seven to 70.

According to Klein Greenwald, performances usually attract a full house. During a typical season, between 5,000 and 10,000 people attend over a period of roughly four months. Usually the shows take place at the Gush Etzion location, although some have been done elsewhere.

In general, however, a lack of official funding from any local or national body is problematic, Klein Greenwald points out. The company is in search of partners. Still, they continue to host terror victims’ families and bereaved relatives of soldiers killed in line of duty at their performances, which is a large part of its raison d’etre.

At the opening night performance of Esther last Sunday evening, the troupe honored Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer.

“She was one of the first journalists who ever wrote about us and has been supportive from the beginning,” Klein Greenwald says. “We wanted to show our appreciation.”

For more information on performance dates and to reserve tickets, go to raiseyourspirits.org. A special Hanukka performance will take place on the evening of December 9.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Columnist Greer Fay Cashman Praises ESTHER

Journalists present at the opening of ESTHER last week, B"H, loved it.
Jerusalem Post journalist Greer Fay Cashman attended with fellow writer and columnist Barbara Sofer. Photographer Rebecca FLASH Kowalsky of www.imagesthroughtime.com was there to catch the moment.
Greer wrote a wonderful article for the Jerusalem Post, Grapevine: When the Spirit Moves You.
It can be accessed here:
  
You can read it here:
In December 2001, Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer wrote in her regular column about the formation of a group of female performers who had found a great way in which to raise their spirits and those of other women. What she wrote then was, “Last summer, the careworn women of the Gush Etzion were seeking a Joseph-like solution to the tough question of how to face the combination of bleak current events with no discernible solution and maintain optimism.

Seven members of the community had already been killed. Even close relatives made excuses for not traveling to the Gush to celebrate bar mitzva parties or make shiva calls.

Cars traveling on the once picturesque tunnel roads had become moving targets for snipers. A new gemah, a free-lending society, was offering bullet-proof vests. Each new government plan felt more like a clinical trial than an inspired solution kept in a drawer for just this problem. The old arguments between Right and Left that used to liven up Shabbat dinners had succumbed to gloominess.

“That extra dimension of Jewish womanhood – the need to be a fountain of optimism even in dark times – ruled out slumping into downheartedness. Busy though they were with large families and challenging careers, they decided to do something about it.

“The women of Gush Etzion started by sending out emails on the Efrat internal list suggesting different activities like bringing a circus to town, game days, or screening old episodes of Wagon Train. Then Sharon Katz, a magazine editor and mother of five, suggested putting on an all-women production of Joseph [and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat].

She was joined by Toby Klein Greenwald, editor-in-chief of wholeFamily.com, a mother of six with a lot of drama experience from American summer camps, and by Arlene Chertoff, a professional choreographer and assistant director and a mother of three. Any girl or woman who wanted to act or sing could join the huge cast. There were several caveats. Because these were women who observed stringent rules of modesty, they would perform before audiences of only women. No performance would be cancelled because of a terrorist attack. Not even the September 11 show was called off, although it was preceded by the reading of psalms, and followed by a public singing of Ani Ma’amin, (“I believe”), our somber Jewish hymn of faith.

The few scheduled summer performances stretched through the winter to sold-out audiences, arriving by bullet-proof buses along beleaguered roads and by more conventional conveyances. But the play went way beyond community therapy. It was simply sensational, a great night at the theater with the elation and catharsis that good theater brings. ‘Joseph,’ a ketuba artist and mother of six by day, and her 11 siblings infused the story with so much effervescence and conviviality that one had to wonder how the original story would have been different if it had focused on 12 daughters.

The happiest surprise was that the acting and singing were superior to much of the socalled professional productions at city theaters and much-touted festivals. Nor did the show bear the slightest resemblance to the stiff and over-serious plays parents endure at schools and youth movement celebrations, or in that new ubiquitous genre of “religious theater.”

Although most of the staff members lacked professional resumes, they brought along experience of the arts from countries where school and informal educational systems afforded a more laid back setting. They could dance, they could sing and they could act.”

This week, the Raise Your Spirits Theater presented a 10th-anniversary premiere of another of their productions – Esther, with a multi-talented cast playing to a packed house in the attractive Gush Etzion Community Center, where facilities include a fully equipped theater. Sofer, who has written about Raise Your Spirits several times over the past decade, was sitting in the front row to receive a special honor from Greenwald in appreciation of having put the ensemble on the English-speaking map. A similar honor was accorded to Hebrew language author, editor and journalist Dr. Hatuya Deutsch.

Alluding to the almost déjà vu atmosphere in the country, Greenwald said: “The situation is what it is, and we’re still here.”

Sofer would have liked to have been there for the whole of the brilliant performance as she has been at other performances, but she had to be at Hadassah Hospital before midnight – not because she is the Israel director of public relations of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, but because she was having serious surgery first thing the next morning and she had to check in the night before.

There were people in the audience from Ra’anana, Modi’in, Rehovot, Efrat, Jerusalem and Ramat Beit Shemesh, among other places. For them, solidarity is more than a word; it’s personal commitment through action.

Writer Varda Epstein Praises ESTHER in Times of Israel Blog

We began performing in our latest production, ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court a week ago on Thursday night. B"H, we had a marvelous time performing, and the audience loved. it. Thank G-d, the press loved it too.
Our first article was written by Varda Epstein, a prolific freelance writer for many publications, including Times of Israel, where she blogs on line. Varda played Hever in our last production, JUDGE! The Song of Devora.
Here is the link to Varda's piece:
http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/esther-a-good-deed/

And here's the text of Varda's article in the Times of Israel.


I didn’t feel much like going out last night. The last thing I wanted to do was indulge in escapism. I just wanted to stay at home and monitor the war from my personal computer, where I receive email alert after email alert of every siren and every rocket in the South, but a promise is a promise.
I had promised to be an usher at the opening night performance for a revival of Esther and the Secrets in the King’s Court by the Raise Your Spirits Theatre troupe (RYS). I’d made that promise before this latest escalation of missile attacks on Southern Israel and the subsequent call up of my (newly engaged to be married) son. There was no bowing out of this commitment.
Raise Your Spirits is not just a bunch of theater-crazy women with pretensions to fame. Raise Your Spirits is about Sistah Power.

Eunuchs in Tunics, a scene from Esther and the Secrets in the King’s Court.
(photo credit: Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky, www.imagesthroughtime.com)
Raise Your Spirits is a response to the constant bombardment of my people on every front in Israel whether it is on the roads in our cars and buses, or in our homes and bomb shelters. It is a thumbing of the nose to that which would extinguish us. It’s our insistence on remaining strong and invincible in the face of world censure and condemnation. It’s our proud example to the world in the face of the lies and distortions of Hamas and of the mainstream media: CNN and others of that ilk.
Against this background, Raise Your Spirits was born in 2001, when an Efrat wife and mother, Sarah Blaustein, and a young girl who’d hitched a ride with her, Esther Alvan, were killed in a drive-by shooting on their way to Jerusalem. Sarah was on her way to visit the Western Wall.
Actually, there were many terrible events that year. It was a bad, bad year.
One woman in our Efrat community, Sharon Katz, in a surreal incarnation of some Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland hybrid responded by saying, “Let’s put on a show!”

Sharon Katz, founder of Raise Your Spirits Theatre, as Haman.
(photo credit: Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky www.imagesthroughtime.com)
A little creepy? Maybe. But you know what? She saved us. Along with director Toby Klein Greenwald and then choreographer Arlene Chertoff, who early on, threw in their lot with Sharon to turn Raise Your Spirits into something huge, beyond what any of us ever expected. We put on musicals, by and for women only.

Writer and Director Toby Klein Greenwald (photo credit: Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky, www.imagesthroughtime.com).
The musicals are, in the main, about classic Jewish heroines: Esther, Ruth, Naomi, Yael, and Deborah. The scores and scripts are superlative and the shows have HEART. The women do their darnedest to give you a good show. They spend hours and hours of their time, working very hard on their labor of love and the audiences cannot help but respond to their fervor.
My first time with Raise Your Spirits was during the troupe’s previous production: JUDGE! The Song of Devora, in which I played Hever the Kenite. I got to brandish a plastic sword  and wear facial hear. But more than that, I gained the largest, warmest sisterhood ever by joining that troupe. They are my Sistahs.

Choreographer Sara Orenstein (photo credit: Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky, www.imagesthroughtime.com).
When I went backstage last night before the performance, I was surrounded by women who seemed, no WERE, ecstatic to see me. Maybe it was just the adrenaline that pervades the air before a performance, but I felt embraced, LOVED. And that is something that is rare in my life.
I work at home and I can become somewhat insular and not see people for days on end. I have many virtual friends, but not so many in-the-flesh friends. Or so I thought until last night.
That was the main reason I tried out for the previous show. I wanted to experience that sisterhood. And now I have it for life. I know these women will always be my sisters. This is something that only women have between them and it is a mightily good and beautiful thing.
But let’s talk about the show.

Music Director, Pianist & Opera Singer Gayle Berman in “Choose Me” (photo credit: Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky, www.imagesthroughtime.com).
Our very capable RYS director, Toby Klein Greenwald, came onstage, looking elegant and professional, for her introductory remarks. “Turn off your cellphones [blah, blah, blah], thank you to so-and-so [blah, blah, blah],” and then a chill came over me when Toby succinctly, in Hebrew and English, outlined the procedure for what the audience should do if a siren goes off.
Clearly, this was not just another amateur hour women’s musical. This had been going on for eleven years. Performances go on NO MATTER WHAT. Sometimes the pain and the sorrow are unbearable. Still, the women go onstage, insisting that the enemy will not prevail over our ability to carry on as usual, or as in the case of RYS, to carry on with superlative talent and beauty.
Then, as is the custom of RYS, the youngest cast member read out a psalm for our soldiers. I said my son’s name silently, hoping that my love and the love of my sisters would find its way to him, offering him some measure of mercy and protection.

Assistant Music Director Avital Macales as Esther (photo credit: Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky, www.imagesthroughtime.com).
Then it was curtain time, pure delight. The air was filled with splendid sweet female voices ringing out in gorgeous harmony, transforming the notes of a lush and imaginative music score (written by Rivka Epstein Hattin; with musical arrangements by Paul Salter, Amit Ben Atar, and Mitch Clyman; and with choral arrangements by Gayle Berman) to sound. The show was an amalgam of sparkling performances and a whirlwind of color, light, sound, drama, humor, and dance. The story was a timeless one: on the brink of extinction, the Jews are saved by a series of miraculous “accidents,” by dint of the purity of purpose displayed by a lovely heroine, Esther.
I admit that I am not prone to tears or displays of emotion. It is the Kalte Litvak* in me, who saves expression for what you read here in my texts. But I confess that last night, there were times I felt the tears welling up and threatening to spill over. The first time was in response to these lyrics (written by Sharon Katz with co-lyricists Arlene Chertoff and Toby Klein Greenwald) from Echoes of Jerusalem:
“To Jerusalem, to Jerusalem
We will return
Jerusalem will one day rise again
Its streets will fill with joy and song
Our people will rejoice in glory
And they’ll walk there free and strong”
“Yes!” I thought. “We HAVE returned to Jerusalem.”
But are we free?” I wondered.
“But are we free?” I wondered. “What kind of freedom do we own when one million civilians are living under a constant barrage of rockets? Will we EVER be free? What will it TAKE to be free, to PREVAIL?”
As it turns out, what it took in Persia, all those centuries ago, was an Esther with the rich voice of an angel as played by Raise Your Spirits’ lovely ingénue Avital Macales. Narrator Darius (Yael Valier) posits the age-old dilemma: “Will the king still love her when he’s heard she’s a Jew?”
And I thought to myself: “Will the world ever accept our right to exist—our right to our land? Will the world ever tolerate the existence of the Jewish people in their midst?”

Sisterhood Will Triumph


During the standing ovation and the singing of our national anthem Hatikvah, followed by Ani Maamin as an expression of Jewish faith, I knew that this was what counted: what was real. This expression of unity and sisterhood would triumph over all, by creating a force of goodness in the world too great for anyone, anywhere to eradicate. This goodness would remain on earth, embodied by our future generations, long after the women of Raise Your Spirits are but a memory, long after this raging battle to help the suffering people of Southern Israel has come to its conclusion.
Most of what we do is ephemeral. But the good deeds we create are tangible and last forever.
Go see Esther, if you can. It’s a good deed: a mitzvah.
For ticket information, see: http://www.raiseyourspirits.org/tickets.html
*Cold Lithuanian Jew

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Deja Vu - Didn't This Happen Already?

Ten years ago when Arab terror against the Jewish people was at its height, the women and girls of Raise Your Spirits went on stage in ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court.
ESTHER is the story of the threat back in Persia against the entire Jewish population of the world.
It seemed then that the Jewish people were doomed, but with faith and courage, with unity and a return to G-d the Jewish people earned their salvation and G-d overturned the evil decree against them. The Jewish nation was saved and is enemies destroyed.
It's ironic that as ESTHER goes on stage the Jewish people are threatened once again.
As we got on stage to rehearse on Thursday night we heard that missiles had been launched against Tel Aviv. We stopped what we were doing and gathered together on stage. Together as a family we recited tehillim, and then we went on with our rehearsal, so that when our audiences come, we will be ready to really raise their spirits.
We couldn't have picked a more perfect production for this year!! ESTHER's message is clear - G-d can save His nation in the blink of an eye. And BE"H He will. Have faith.
The women and girls of Raise Your Spirits are back with their tenth anniversary production of one of their most inspirational musicals ever - ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court.
See it: November 18, 22, 29, Dec. 9 and 27
Order your tickets: www.raiseyourspirits.org

Friday, November 16, 2012

Back Stage Bosses

When things go smoothly on stage of any production, it means that the bosses backstage are taking care of business.
They don't get the applause of the crowd or the spotlight, so I wanted to show them my admiration and appreciation.
Thank you to our Stage Manager Bati Katz (my owner daughter) and her assistant Elisheva Ariel. Thank you to our Mike Ladies Hilary Hurwitz and Shellie Ben David.
Thank you to our Make Up Ladies, headed by Zohar Mendelson. And thank you to our Sound and Light Team, headed by Yair Balams. (I noticed our director Toby Klein Greenwald up there too.)
Thank you to Michal Yechieli and Tzippy Cohen who were running the subtitles. And more folks....we'll get to you too.
We've all been together for so many years. The on stage performers depend on our back stage gals.
I just wanted to say THANKS!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ten Years Later - The Same Story

Ten years ago when Arlene Chertoff, Toby Klein Geeenwald and I wrote ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court, the intifada was raging. Terror was everywhere. It was a frightening time. It actually reminded us of the days of HAMAN, when the very existence of the Jewish people was threatened.
It took Jewish leaders with faith and courage to lead Am Yisrael in repentance and help bring about the salvation of the Jewish people.
SIGH!! I guess things haven't changed much. Am Yisrael is again threatened, but we must have faith and improve ourselves to deserve G-d's protection.
ESTHER encouraged us to strengthen our faith ten years ago. IY"H it will do its job again!!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Finally the Finale


We've gone through every song, every dance, every scene, every stage moment possible of our newest production "ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court"..
Well, tonight, we finally did the finale!!!
Now, rehearsals are very long studious processes. You've got to pay attention. You've got to wait around until it's your turn to perform. When a new scene comes up, the director has to see the vision in his/her eye and then translate it on to the stage.
And when you have almost 100 women and girls in your production, moving them around on stage is a logistical challenge akin to a troupe movement.
ESTHER's director Toby Klein Greenwald envisioned a magnificent finale for us, and with everyone's cooperation and attention, tonight we painstakingly pulled it off.
There was a special part for each group in the show - from the littlest Shushan residents (we call them the Golden Voices) to the Persian Dudes, the Haman's Sons, the Shushan Ensemble, the King's Advisors, the Queen's Court, and of course King Achashverosh, Kings Vashti and Esther, Mordechai the Jew, Haman and his equally evil wife Zeresh, our narrators Darius and the Megillah Muse.
Everyone had her moment in the spotlight, and that was just great.
Well, we've done the finale, and now, we're going back to the beginning.
We're so excited, we can't wait to welcome our audiences to Shushan!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Enter! Evil!


Throughout the history of the world, there have beenfigures whose very name sent fear and tremors through the very soul of mankind.
The ancient world was full of them: Og King of theBashan; the Canaanite General Sisera, Nebuchadnezzar, Nero, Caligula. The past many centuries have had their own maniacs - Attilathe Hun, Ivan the Terrible, Chelminiki, Mussolini, Stalin, Dracula, Hitler, yemach shemam.
Ruthless, vengeful, cruel, and bloodthirsty individuals,they were responsible for destruction and murder beyond our ability to fathom.
Today one dastardly name stands out above all others. Ahmadinejad,the president of Iran,who remains with his "finger on the bomb". His hatred of the Jewish people and theState of Israel is vitrolic and unparalleled in modern times.
Ahmadinejad learned from the best!! – another Persian,perhaps his great great great great grandfather, the diabolical Haman.
Haman, second to King Achashverosh of Persia, laid outthe original plan for Ahmadinejad – chas v’shalom - wipe the Jewish people offthe face of the earth.
The Jews of Persia were saved long ago through prayer andunity – thanks to the leadership of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai theJew.
We too can be safe from the evils threatened from theNorth, if we strengthen ourselves in prayer, in Torah and devotion to ourbrethren.
Beware, Ahmadinejad, your plans will come to naught,IY”H.
Remember...Haman was hung on the same gallows he prepared forMordechai. G-d protects His nation.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Costume's the Thing

Our rehearsals for the upcoming RAISE YOUR SPIRITS show, "ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court", are getting really serious.
Harmonies, dancing, staging - everything is getting more exact.
It's all been pretty laid back until now, and very theoretical.

But on Thursday night we got on stage in our costumes, and suddenly everything changed. Everyone realized that this show is really happening, and everyone - from our littlest darlings to our special cameo performers - did everything as best and professionally as possible.

In their costumes - dolled up down to the feathers in their hats - our performers were in character and in great form.
Theory time over. The costume's the thing that lit a fire under each of us.
And now, the play's the thing!!!
The one month countdown begins now!!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rosh Hashana Raise Your Spirits Remembrances

During the Rosh Hashana prayer service there are so many things that reminded me of Raise Your Spirits and the productions in which we have performed over the past eleven years, and the characters I have played in those productions.
Funny thing to think about on Rosh Hashana, eh, but what can you do - Raise Your Spirits is Jewish history and remembrance. So is Rosh Hashana.
Toward the beginning of the Mussaf prayer, we ask G-d to "recall all the creatures fashioned since earliest times" and to have mercy on them all. We read, "You lovingly remembered Noah and You recalled him with words of salvation and mercy, when You brought the waters of the Flood to destroy all living flesh because of the evil of their deeds..."
"...G-d remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and G-d caused a spirit to pass over the earth and the water subsided."
Suddenly I was on stage in NOAH! Ride the Wave! watching as all the animals boarded the ark two by two, dancing their way to salvation. Then I was Noah himself in In Search of Courage, questioning why G-d had chosen my family and myself for life.
Toward the end of the prayers when the last shofar blasts were sounded, I read an explanation for the custom of blowing 100 shofar blasts of each day of Rosh Hashana.
The Artscroll Machzor said, "The source of this custom is the Scriptural narrative of the triumph of Deborah the Prophetess over Sisera, the Canaanite conquerer. In her song of gratitude for the victory, Deborah noted that Sisera's mother whimpered as she worried over the fate of her dead son. Her friend comforted her that he had surely won a great victory and was apportioning spoils and captive women about his officers and troops. (Judges 5:28-30) According to the Midrashic tradition she whimpered and groaned 101 times...By sounding the shofar 100 times, we seek to nullify the forces of cruelty exemplified by Sisera and his mother...Although she whimpered one time more than 100, we do not sound the shofar 101 times, because we, too, feel the pain of a mother who loses a child, even one as loathsome as Sisera." (Sefer HaToda'ah)
So, of course, I thought about Judge! The Song of Devora, and I was on stage as the despicable mother of Sisera whose only comfort at the loss of her son was the pain and cruelty to others.
Well, the entire year's Torah readings here and there contain memories of Raise Your Spirits productions, so I guess it's fitting that we start off right away with thoughts of our shows on Rosh Hashana.
May the new year bring good health, happiness, peace and success to all.
And a tremendous wish for success for those women on and off stage this year in Raise Your Spirits' ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Father and Sons Reunion

Well, it wasn't really a reunion. It was a UNION.
Tonight for the first time, I met and rehearsed with my sons. I am Haman in the new Raise Your Spirits Theatre production of ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court. 
Haman had ten sons - all as slimy, evil and conniving as he. In fact, they ended just as deservedly - hanging from a tree. (To commemorate this event, my machatenesta - son's mother-in-law - makes gingerbread cookies and hangs them from a branch.)
The girls/boys/girls/whatever danced for me in a number we do together. It's called He's the Man!! It's a Hip Hop number, because Haman is THE Man!! And these creepy kids idolize their Dastardly Dad.
Well, their dance was a wow, but they were so beautiful, so adorable, so smiley and delicious. So, I told them to toughen up. They're wicked! They're nasty! They're slimy!
Now we're trying to think of a proper name for them. "Haman's Sons" seems a little plain for these young dynamos. What about Haman's Nasty Boys? Or Haman's Conniving Kids?
We haven't come up with something that rocks yet, but I'll tell you. This number ROCKS like crazy. My sons are BAD (that means, they're good)! And I, Haman, am SUPER BAD, the Baddest Daddest Guy Around.
Well, you'll just have to see it. If you think of a good name for my Bad Boys, let me know.
* * *
BTW, Boys...don't let me catch you smiling....or else. (Your loving Dad - grrrrrrrrrrrr)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Costumes, the Scenery...

As they sang so energetically in Annie Get Your Gun's "There's No Business Like Show Business," "The costumes, the scenery, the make-up, the props..." - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJvwpufbLyM
These are some of the important elements that go into making Show Business so magical. We've got a terrific "magician" working on this year's production - Ilana Epstein - who is coordinating all of this year's costumes.
Today Ilana, plus production manager Eudice Spitz and director Toby Greenwald, walked through thorns and overgrowth to visit Raise Your Spirits' costume caravan. I popped in with my daughter Bati, as well.
Visiting Raise Your Spirits Costume Caravan was like a trip down memory lane.
The shelves at the end of the caravan were filled with the animal heads from NOAH! Ride the Wave! and the cows from JOSEPH & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
There were field hand tunics from RUTH & NAOMI in the Fields of Bethlehem and the dress that Queen Esther wore when she was too pregnant to wear her original costume in ESTHER & the Secrets in the King's Court.
Hanging alone in a white bag were the slippers that I had worn as King Achashverosh in ESTHER ten years ago, along with my scepter. My poor scepter had faded. The globe that showed my (Achashverosh's) domination over the known world had returned somehow to its original form - a tennis ball surrounded with two Slinkies.
The backdrops for JOSEPH were rolled up against the wall, as were Achashverosh's palace, and the harem of Vashti.
The dancing fish of NOAH! lay motionless on a box, their eyes quizzically wondering why they're not flapping once more.
In the NOAH! section, I discovered my black wig and crown, plus my purple costume for Og, King of the Bashan. Against the wall were the colossal feet with which my fellow giants danced. (That number always terrified my granddaughter, and she couldn't enter the theater until it was over.)
The caravan is filled to the rim with treasures. Toby said that she always hoped our beautiful costumes were hang one day in a museum. They would have hanged in a Gush Etzion museum if the Judaica Center hadn't closed. One day maybe something else will spring up, IY"H, especially since over the past 11 years Raise Your Spirits has been such an important part of Gush Etzion history and life.
As we packed costume possibilities into plastic bags, a painting caught my eye - King Achashverosh and Queen Vashti (in happier days).
One day when we all have time :), we're going back to the caravan, and take another trip through 11 years of Raise Your Spirits history. Perhaps we'll make it an organized tour.
I like the sound of that.
For more photos, visit: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.420023331367447.86661.295615200474928&type=1


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Everyone!!! ON STAGE!!!

Tonight we staged our opening number for ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court. With almost 90 people on stage, staging this number is sort of like a troop movement. It would have been great if we could have put up a tall ladder in the middle of the floor so that our director Toby Klein Greenwald could see how all this action looked from afar.
First the gymnasts flew across the stage. Then the Cool Kids. The Persian Dudes. Etc. etc.
Ninety women and children coming from every direction toward every direction. It was big!!
We did it about ten times, changing little things every step of the way.
And while we moved, WE SANG!! Ya know how difficult it is to sing and dance at the same time?
For that reason alone, everyone should run to see this show.  :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Looking for our Characters

Whether you're a writer or a performer, you often look to certain personalities or famous characters for inspiration in your work.
You know, like Gene Kelly's swashbuckling Don Lockwood (in Singing in the Rain) was an Errol Flynn type. Jane Mansfield was a take-off on Marilyn Monroe.
So, as we create our latest Raise Your Spirits production, ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court, I keep wondering who different characters can be patterned after for inspiration.
I might have told you that I have been looking for someone to inspire my own character of Haman. Is he a Basil Rathbone (my personal choice), a Snidely Whiplash or perhaps a Captain Hook (as Avital Macales, who plays Esther, thinks)?

Tonight I thought about another character in ESTHER - the king's scribe and trusty right hand Charvona. It suddenly came to me who Charvona reminded me of - Radar in the TV show MASH. Suddenly the more I thought about it, the clearer it seemed to me. Charvona was the Radar of his day. Wow. Achashverosh was lucky.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An insight from my son on the Bigtan & Teresh Plot

My son Mati shared a thought about forgotten languages tonight.
He asked how King Achashverosh's guards Bigtan and Teresh were able to plot, and thought they'd be able to carry out, the murder of the king.
Well, my son explained that Bigtan and Teresh were not from Shushan. They were from a far away country, and spoke a little known language, Tarsi. They could plot to their heart's content, because no one would understand. Or so they thought.
Mordechai HaYehudi, Esther's uncle, was one of the exiled Jews from Eretz Yisrael. While he still lived in Israel, Mordechai was a member of the Sanhedrin. 
Since judges of the Sanhedrin were not allowed to accept the testimony of witnesses through an interpreter, all the members of the Sanhedrin had to know the 70 languages of the world.
Because of that, even thought Bigtan and Teresh spoke in a very rare language, Mordechai was able to understand them and interpret their develish intentions. B"H.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Bad Guy is a Good Guy


My friend told me that her daughter came home very upset from a Raise Your Spirits rehearsal on our new show ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court.
Oh no, I thought. Rehearsals are supposed to be so much fun - challenging, but fun.
"Why?" I asked, dreading to hear the response.
She said, "My daughter said, 'Ema, Sharon Katz is playing Haman. Sharon Katz is not Haman!!'"
Firstly I am flattered that someone would feel that I am definitely not a Haman. And I am especially grateful that a child felt that perhaps I reflected goodness, and therefore was miscast as a wicked monster. That's a bit how I felt when my director Toby Klein Greenwald first said they wanted me to play Haman.
I felt like an entry in my high school yearbook - Least Likely to Play Haman.
But firstly, I'd like to remind everyone that a show is make believe. One of the nicest and most beloved women in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s was Margaret Hamilton, who played the wicked witch of the west in the Wizard of Oz so frighteningly that adults still get nightmares when they think of her.
Secondly, as Toby reminded me, I have never played a hero. I've never even really been a good guy. I've played the all-powerful Pharoah in JOSEPH, the reverberating giant Og in NOAH!, the not-too-bright power-hungry Achashverosh in ESTHER, the selfish Elimelech in RUTH & NAOMI, the confused but dignified Noah in COURAGE and the vicious Mother of Sisera in JUDGE! My characters have been funny, and filled with energy, but they've rarely been good.
So, I have been kind-of bad on stage, and now Haman is the Ultimate Bad Guy. I'll do my best to give my audience the creeps, the willies and the heebie-jeebies, while I strive off stage, just like you, to become the Ultimate Good Guy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

International Rehearsals

We're really getting an international education at our Raise Your Spirits Rehearsals for ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court.
All music instruction seems to be in French or Italian - allegro (briskly), bellicoso (agressive), accapella (without accompaniment). I forgot the rest. Truthfully, I'd be making it up if I listed all the European terms that our music director Gayle Berman uses all the time. We all just nod our heads with a soft smile and try to look like we know what she's talking about.
Then choreographer Sarah Orenstein takes over and she's starting it too - releve` (rise to your toes). We eventually caught on to that too.
I liked when director Toby Greenwald said, "Do your ballroom dancing with a swagger." Now, you got me, girl.
Next time, perhaps I'll bring a translation dictionary to rehearsal.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Heart and Body Remember

Last night we had our first full cast rehearsal of the new production of ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court.
It was fun, exciting and great to be together again.
ESTHER is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Mazel tov. Several of the women present last night were in that production a decade ago. Others from the new adult cast members had seen it. And many of the little girls, who were born during or after the run of ESTHER had heard its music on CD.
So, when music director Gayle Berman started playing the introduction to out opening number, bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum (you can hear the melody, right?), every gave a smile of familiarity and launched into song.
We were singing away, "Welcome to Shushan, to Shushan the capital." Suddenly Gayle stopped playing. "The correct pronunciation of that word is like this. The melody should be this way." And on and on, one correction after another.
My friend, Eudice, who is also production manager, hit the nail on the head, "We learned it a different way ten years ago. It's hard to unlearn it." You see, the heart remembers song.
But, B"H, we've got enough newbies who fell right into the groove, learning the new melodies, pronunciations and rhythms with ease. The rest of us will lean on them for a while.
At the end of the evening, we played Show and Tell. That's when smaller rehearsal groups show what they learned the week before.
The first group to perform we're the King and his men. They were singing the King's 70 Years. But the King was at a wedding. Since I had played the King in the original production of ESTHER, they asked me to step in.
I hadn't sung the role in a decade, and the key didn't seem exactly right, but I gave it a try. Who could remember a part that has since been blurred by four other subsequent productions and four other characters that followed it? Yet, soon I was twirling and dancing like I did ten years ago.
The body remembers.
The heart remembers. The soul remembers. Those of us who were lucky enough to be in the original ESTHER are simply going to have to unlearn what we knew, or better...put it in the category of ESTHER1. And we're going to have to embrace the new musical arrangements and all the new surprises waiting for us in ESTHER 2. Or maybe ESTHER TOO.
It won't be easy, but with smiles and good feelings and hard work, we can do it together.
To read more about this year's production, you're invited to visit us on Facebook.