The show must go on

The Jewish women of Joburg prove that they’ve got talent


By Chandrea Serebro

No longer the playtime antics of girls dressing up, women’s theatre is becoming more and more popular in the Jewish world as religious women explore their talents for all things related to theatre, including singing, dancing, acting, and production, which would otherwise be out of bounds. It’s popular in Israel, America, and England, and it’s catching on here as well with Linda Zulberg’s production entitled ‘The Fortunate Two’ set to come to stage in early September – for women only of course – which she says “is the fulfilment of a dream”. “The launch of the Johannesburg Jewish Women’s Theatre is very exciting because it will provide a forum for observant Jewish women and girls to showcase their performing talents on stage, woman to woman,” says Linda. It’s a chance for performers of all kinds to give voice to their expertise, their passion, their artistry, and their skill, while performing within halachic boundaries – rebbetzins and scholars, students and married women, some who have been trained, and others expressing their natural talent, coming together on stage and loving every minute of it.

“At the auditions, we experienced an unexpected flow of extremely talented women and girls, some of whom will now have a platform to enjoy and share their G-d-given talents. Even after auditions closed, many others wanted to join our show. This shows the demand and necessity for this sort of thing. Actresses, dancers, singers, and gymnasts thrilled the panel at auditions; it was difficult to choose.”

Choreographer Leanne Duek, who has been involved in dance and musical theatre from a young age and, in her heyday, had the opportunity to both perform and choreograph, has come across many girls and women who have unbelievable talent in the areas of music, dance, and drama, but have no platform to take their talents to greater heights because of their religious observance. This is the first time there have been auditions for a woman’s production, she explains, which means the performers chosen are of the highest offering in the community and promise to uphold the quality of production that Linda set out to attain from the start.

“Young, frum girls who have amazing talent feel hard done by the fact that they will never be able to realise their talents due to religious constraints. While this is only the first step to remedying the notion that if you’re religious and talented your journey ends before it begins, I hope it will give the community a taste of what talent is out there, and, perhaps, more awareness will mean more nurturing of this amazing Jewish talent. Hopefully, the launch of this woman’s production will open the doors to provide a healthy, but professional outlet for the young and old budding performers, and even maybe pave the way for many more of its kind.” Because if one has a G-d-given talent, you can do nothing to run away from it, and the need to express it will catch up with you in the end.

“Talented woman have an innate desire to perform on stage and be able to wow their audiences while fulfilling their own creative needs,” says Leanne. Trained opera singer Carli Sager hasn’t sung since she became observant, which naturally “left a huge gap in my life”. Being able to be a part of this means for her, like so many others, she can find a way to express herself rather than having to stifle her gift. And stifled as a talented frum woman or girl for Oriellah Shalpid, who plays Princess Annabelle in the production, means “hiding out and hoping that someone discovers you along the way”, which for someone creative is arguably worse than not making the grade. Oriellah is relieved that this is no longer the case. Now, there are opportunities, there is a chance to do more, to go further. Through this production, she says, “we are able to put all of our talents forward in a modest, entertaining, and wonderful way. This has always been one of my dreams in life.” Oriellah even believes that the show has given expression to those less forward about their talents, giving them “a platform to show the women in the community that they now have a safe place to express their talents in a refined manner. Achieving success and getting more into the production has empowered women to finally express their gifts, particularly because it is so nurturing an environment to be in.”

Chaya Lipschitz, who plays the pauper, echoes this, finding a freedom of expression through the production. “For as long as I can remember, singing, dancing, and acting have been so much a part of my identity. They’re an expression of who I am. I cannot remember the first time I was ever on stage, but the first time I had stage fright I was 12 years old. I was just becoming conscious of the fact that people might judge me and who I am by my performance. Being a part of this production has showed me just how wrong I was and proven that my abilities are not about me, but about what Hashem wants from me. The Torah focused mindset of all those involved has made me aware of the fact that my ability to sing or dance or act is not only an expression of my soul, but it is a gift that Hashem has given me.”

That we are joining the ranks of Jewish women globally means that we are in line with Jewish women the world over, the trend, and the collective need to express ourselves, a need which often manifests before we have even allowed it to. When Malky Gordon, who grew up in London with a passion for the arts, seeing musicals on the West End, enthralled even then by the backstage elements of production that went into the magic that she was seeing on stage, joined the show, Linda was already busy putting the final touches on the script. Falling as easily into the role of producer as she always did from her seat as a child, Malky has been “thrilled” with the journey to the stage thus far, and is overjoyed with what promises to be a top notch show.

“We have seen talent not only in the performers, but also in the people who have volunteered to help backstage. We have an amazing production team assisting with marketing, props, and costumes – each one doing her bit to bring together a professional and high-quality production. Seeing the final cast, we felt a sense of satisfaction and contentment, knowing that every member is perfectly suited for her role.” Malky is all for the development of the arts for women despite the boundaries set by religious standards, and firmly believes in the show. “It provides a forum for Jewish women to display their talents and their individuality in a kosher environment. This is extremely important so women feel empowered and unique and while not having to compromise on their level of observance. We have been given many varying talents by Hashem, it’s our job to nurture them and use them to give.” So to those young girls, “who sing more than they speak, dance more than they walk, and still believe that they can be anything that they wish” – Chaya says – “go for it! Remember your confidence, your inspiration-filled drive, and the belief that you have in yourself now.”

The Fortunate Two, written by Ruth Wolff, is a melodrama musical – with a king and a queen; an over-indulged princess and a pauper who aspires to better her life; a villain and his henchmen; the oppressed poor and the self-indulgent members of the royal palace. It tells the story of two girls who live separate lives. Annabelle is a princess, who despite the indulgences and privileges of the royal court is unhappy. She thinks meaning can be found beyond the superficiality of privilege. The other, Lizzie, is a pauper who bemoans her pressured, deprived life. She says, “My life was not supposed to be like this!” Both the rich and the poor are dissatisfied and believe that happiness lies “out there” and that meaning exists somewhere else. They want to discover themselves and think they have to go “far” to do so. They meet each other, and, prompted by their perceived similarity in appearance, swap places, thereby giving them the coveted chance to experience each other’s lives and hopefully find the happiness they so sorely lack.

“Art speaks to everyone and transcends barriers of time, age, and culture to teach us and impact our thinking. The Performing Arts also have the power to unite, inspire, and motivate the performers who gain in confidence and skill as well as self-esteem. Drama transmits messages in a far more powerful way than words. While the play is enjoyable, the themes teach profound life lessons,” says Linda – so it is a show not to be missed for women and girls of all ages. A percentage of profits will go to Hatzolah.

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