A Note From The Kinsey Sicks

Grace here. For a moment anyway, but no one can express themselves quite like the Kinseys, so I wanted to share with you a lovely note that Irwin Keller, one of the group’s founders, wrote for us back in 2010. It’s a great reminder of why these irrepressible ‘ladies’ bring so much joy to the J. Sadly, they and their fabulous world premiere Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!  have to leave us on the 19th, so hurry to, as DC Theatre Scene puts it in their rave review, “swing your vote their way and stop in. Do your duty, people.”

Photo by C. Stanley Photography

THE KINSEY SICKS: GOOD FOR THE JEWS?

You’re probably asking: what is this bunch of overly pancaked, gaudily dressed, atrociously coiffed divas doing at Theater J?

But enough about the audience. Let’s talk about The Kinsey Sicks.

For nearly 18 years The Kinsey Sicks have been shoveling dumploads of Jewish angst, queer politics, overt silliness, less overt erudition, an adolescent attachment to the vulgar and an abiding love of music into our productions.

But nu, are we Jewish?

Early in our career we were asked to perform at what is now a San Francisco institution: “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy”—a Christmas event for Jews. The producer asked, “Do you have Jewish material?” “Tons,” we crowed. She hired us.  And then we sat down to come up with some.

But writing Jewish came naturally. Ben Schatz, our chief songwriter, merely had to open his mouth and something Jewish would come out. Something about worry, food, assimilation or the undeniable attractiveness of gentiles. From there it was just a short jump and we were singing litanies of Jewish feminist heroes and doing production numbers in Yiddish, careful to make the mother tongue the premise, not the butt, of the joke.

But it doesn’t matter how many Jewish references we have. It doesn’t matter how many Jewish members we have. We have a Jewish outlook. We see the absurdity around us and choose to laugh. We recognize the inability of people ever to really understand each other, and find amusement in it. We are aware of the ultimate misguidedness of hope, and persist in hoping anyway. Very Jewish.

We are delighted to come home to Theater J and we welcome you into the world of The Kinsey Sicks.

An Important Letter From a Wonderful Friend and Artist (and Producer)

Actor, director, writer and producer Aaron Davidman is no stranger to Theater J audiences. He played the central role of Reuven Malter, the narrator, in Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, this past spring in our production at Arena Stage. And while in rehearsal for that show, he presented the latest installment of his solo performance piece, Wrestling Jerusalem, as part of this past winter’s “Voices From a Changing Middle East” festival, which appeared three seasons earlier under the title, Chasing Justice/Seeking Truth: Or It’s Just Not That Safe Anymore as part “Voices From a Changing Middle East, 2007.” Aaron’s been here performing in his theater company’s 2003 production of God’s Donkey: A Play On Moses, and that company, Traveling Jewish Theatre, which would go onto be renamed “The Jewish Theatre San Francisco” has been a stalwart and a beacon and a sister theater to ours for a very long time. So long, in fact, that TJT, as it remains affectionately called, has announced that this, its 34th season, will be its last. And that this season too will go forward without Aaron as its artistic director.

So, with his blessings and permission, I share with our community Aaron Davidman’s graceful letter of farewell to his community. And in it, he urges folks to come out and see an important new production inaugurating TJT’s final season. It’s a play we’ll be talking much more about. I’ll let Aaron introduce it herein.

Blessings to Aaron, a true brother and comrade in art.
-ari

From Aaron Davidman:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As many of you know I recently stepped down as Artistic Director of The Jewish Theatre San Francisco (formerly Traveling Jewish Theatre) after 9 years serving in that position and twelve years working with the company. The board, founders, and leadership of TJT decided that this current season, 2011-12, would be the company’s final season. Financial challenges, due in large part to the recession, prove to be too severe to continue.

I was blessed to call TJT my artistic home for more than a decade. I am grateful to Naomi Newman, Corey Fischer and Albert Greenberg for the vision they brought forward in 1978 to create a unique theatre that valued craft as much as content; that pushed the edge of form as much as sought diversity in subject matter; and that bravely pursued an inquiry into Jewish identity that has served public discourse and moved communities around the world to consider and re-consider what it means to be Jewish.

While there is sadness in the closing of TJT, the fact that the company had a 34 year run is something to be celebrated. The business model of the non-profit theatre company is a challenging one in the best of economic times, and TJT’s longevity—some might say tenacity—is a testament to the commitment of the artists and technicians and administrators and audiences who drove TJT for more than three decades.

I salute you all.

I am honored to have worked with each and every one of you; to have performed for, written for, directed for all of you. I remain moved by the enterprise. By the act of gathering in a darkened room to create something together that reminds us of our own humanity, that gives us the chance to laugh at our own shortcomings, that calls us to rise to our potential to create change. The art form of the theatre has been my greatest teacher.

The Jewish tradition and the theatre tradition share many things, but the deepest common link, to me, has always been the call to question.  Why? Deep inquiry pushes back against the hubris that dominates our airwaves, the hubris that blind-sides our politicians, the hubris that compromises our corporations. This inquiry has reminded me, time and again, that there is always more to learn. And while I am developing a career outside the theatre—very few of us these days can make a living solely in the field—I remain as committed as ever to the inquiry. I will continue to write plays and work on projects and wrestle with stories that feel vital and worthy of attention.

This week, TJT opens its final world-premiere, a play about The Group Theatre by Corey Fischer called In The Maze Of Our Own Lives. It feels like an auspicious moment to encounter the story of America’s first ensemble theatre. A cadre of idealists who came together to change the world through the art of theatre, and the achievements and challenges they faced along the way. This story has Jewish roots and theatre roots and couldn’t be a more fitting play for TJT’s final year.

As for you and me, I’m sure we’ll see each other around. If you’re interested, you can stay in touch with what I’m working on by stopping by my web site: www.aarondavidman.com.

I also started writing a blog last Spring when I rode the AIDS Life/Cycle Ride. The blog is called STORIES AND REFLECTIONS and I’ll be posting more material there when projects call for it: http://aarondavidman.wordpress.com/.

My email address is ad@aarondavidman.com.
Be well and stay in touch.

Seven Questions For: Mike Nussbaum

Mike  Nussbaum in Imagining MadoffMike Nussbaum is currently starring as Solomon Galkin in Theater J’s critically-acclaimed production of Imagining Madoff. He’ll also be speaking about his life and career working with David Mamet, Peter Brook, Roger Stephens and more on Monday night in the free program An Evening with Mike Nussbaum, Star of Stage and Screen. We sat down with him in his dressing room before a performance to ask him the seven questions.

1)    How would you describe what you do to someone from the 19th Century?
I’m sure they would be familiar with what I do. Stage actor today is the same as stage actor then. The technical aspect of what surrounds the actor has changed, but no performance.

2)    What did you want to be when you grew up?

An actor. I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was a child at camp. I went to Camp Ojibwa in Wisconsin and my first role was as a clown who introduced the show to the parents and visitors who were in the audience. I did a big cartwheel onto the stage and froze. I slunk off the stage crying. And the fact that I still wanted to be an actor after that is insane.

3)    Is there a book you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never read?

I’ve never finished A Remembrance of Things Past.

4)    Woody Allen, Pro or Con?

Pro! I love Woody Allen. His most recent film about Paris is wonderful. I auditioned for him once and I was told before I went in, “Don’t look at Woody!” He also has a giant mirror that runs the entire length of a wall behind him and you’re told, “Don’t look at the mirror.” It’s kind of limiting. I didn’t get the part.

5)    What’s your favorite non-English word?

I guess the one I’m using in the play, “menschleichkeit.” It’s become a favorite. It means compassion.

6)    What issue do you wish other people knew more about?

At the moment I’m thinking about the attitude towards unions has become so harsh and there is a failure to remember the enormous good that unions have created in this country. Standards of living. Work rules. They created the middle class for God’s sake.

7)    Historical figure, living or not, that you’d want to share a bagel with and what kind of bagel?

Poppy seed! That’s my favorite. Right now I’d say Tony Judt, I’m reading his book Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. He recently died; a brilliant writer, a polymath, linguist and his knowledge of the political world is so deep.

Read all of the Seven Question interviews.

Seven Questions For: Deb Margolin

Welcome to a new feature of The Blog at 16th & Q! Our team of writers, researchers, SEO aficionados, Google algorithm seers and Jewish social media machers were brought together at a secret underground bunker located in the sub-basement of the DCJCC to distill the seven most important questions ever. Over the next few months we will pose these questions to some of the fascinating and creative people who we bring to the J as part of our programming.

Our first subject is Deb Margolin, the playwright of Imagining Madoff, which has been enjoying sold-out previews at Theater J and has its press opening Tuesday night.

Deb Margolin1) How would you describe what you do to someone from the 19th Century?

I’m a playwright, and a teacher. You guys had people like that!

2) What did you want to be when you grew up?

Between the ages of 6 and 10, a physicist during the week and a ballerina on the weekends; between the ages of 11 and 13, a menstruating person; between the ages of 14 and 20, a blues musician; between the ages of 21 and 27, I wanted to be Henry Miller; thereafter, I wanted to be what I am now.

3) Is Is there a book you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never read?

MOBY DICK

4) Woody Allen, Pro or Con?

con/pro i.e: I have enjoyed his cinematography, I have enjoyed moments of his comedy, like when he gestured with a record cover and the LP flew out of the jacket and smashed against the wall; his sense of vaudeville, and his sense of topography and culture, as in Vickie Cristina Barcelona. I did not think it was in particularly good taste for him to marry his partner’s daughter, and I have not enjoyed his portrayal of women in many cases. I’m confused as to why no Jewish women EVER appear in his movies.

5)What’s your favorite non-English word?

oiskedrait: Yiddish for messed up, confused. Literally translated: turned-out

6)What issue do you wish other people knew more about?

Misogyny, and its pervasive corrosion of world ethics.

7) Historical figure, living or not, that you’d want to share a bagel with and what kind of bagel?

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. And I’m gluten-intolerant, so I’d buy him an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese, and I’d eat the scallion cream cheese.

***

You can learn more about Deb Margolin on her website or watch video of her talking  about the genesis of Imagining Madoff at our first rehearsal along with explanations of the set and costume design on the Theater J Blog. Deb and director Alexandra Aron will be participating in a post-show conversation following the Sunday, September 4 evening performance.

An Evening with Mike Nussbaum: Star of Stage and Screen

From Becky Peters, Director of Community Outreach and New Media at Theater J

For me – there are people who when they cross my path something tells me that I should drop what I am doing,  pull up a chair and listen to whatever they are willing to share.  Mike Nussbaum is one of those people.

Maybe it’s because as a fellow actor I am intrigued by his 50+ year resume as an actor/director and I can only imagine the stories that he has to share about the work he has done or the personalities he has come across.  Maybe it’s because when you meet Mr. Nussbaum there is a genuine warmth that fills the room.    Maybe it’s simply that the older I get the more I realize how much I still have to learn and as a gentleman who is nearing 90 and not quitting but instead in rehearsals right now for Imagining Madoff – he is someone I want to learn from.

I’m not entirely sure which intrigues me more.  But whatever the reason – I am grateful to have chance to see him work and hear him speak.   In addition to performing in the show we asked Mr Nussbaum if (on one of his nights off) he would let us all just pull up a chair and listen.  And thankfully he said yes.

And to paraphrase my grandmother – I am ready to put my “listening ears” on and settle in for what I think is going to be a pretty wonderful evening.   I do hope you will join me!

Mike Nussbaum*: A Life in the Theater (and on the Screen)
Monday, September 19th at 8:00 pm   FREE
FIND OUT MORE

Join Theater J for an evening of clips and conversations highlighting eminent Chicago actor Mike Nussbaum’s illustrious career in the films and plays of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter David Mamet, as well as Mike’s work with directors Peter Brook, Roger Stephens and countless other heralded productions over his half-century-long career.
* MIKE NUSSBAUM, THE 2011 FISHER FAMILY VISITING ARTIST AT THEATER J, IS CURRENTLY STARRING IN IMAGINING MADOFF WITH RICK FOUCHEUX AND JENNIFER MENDENHALL

An Excerpt of Recent Theater J Interview with Mike Nussbaum

TJ:  You have a rich history with playwright David Mamet, appearing in the original production of American Buffalo, and many more.  Can you share a particularly memorable experience from that collaboration?
MN: David and I were in a play together (written by Dick Cusack–father of the acting Cusacks)and I teased him about being such a bad actor. The next day he brought me a copy of “Duck Variations“, a beautiful play he had written, and I knew from that moment that he was a major talent.

TJ: When you look back on your formidable history in show business, what are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?
MN: Most of what I’ve learned has come from watching other actors work. I am constantly amazed and thrilled by the quality and artistry of actors. I borrow shamelessly from the great ones.

TJ: You have been a major player in the Chicago theatre scene for some time now—how have you seen theatre in Chicago change over the years?
MN: When I started out over 50 years ago there were only New York touring companies in the downtown theatres–today Chicago has over 160 theaters of all sizes, doing inventive quality work by established and new playwrights (many of whom are Chicagoans) creative directors, and a huge, ever growing source of wonderful actors, all supported by the press, and an educated and demanding audience.

TJ: You are currently involved in a production of Broadway Bound, by Neil Simon—how is that going?
MN: It’s a 900 seat theater, and we’re drawing large audiences. Broadway Bound is a Neil Simon “dramady”, and most of what I do is comic. Getting the laugh is as good as it gets.

TJ: What else would you like the Washington, DC theatre community to know about you?
MN: My daughter and her family are long-time DC residents. It’s a major plus that I will get to spend a good long time with them. At least I hope they think so and don’t pitch me out after a few weeks.

TJ: Can you tell us a joke?
MN: The Frenchman says: “I’m tired. I’m thirsty. I must have wine!” The German says: “I’m tired. I’m thirsty. I must have beer!” The Jew says: “I’m tired. I’m thirsty. I must have diabetes”.

Israel, Dialogue & Our Community

by Carole R. Zawatsky
CEO, Washington DCJCC

The Washington Post has an article today about the challenges facing Jewish institutions and Jewish artists who seek to engage with the difficult issues surrounding Israel and its quest for peace and security with the Palestinians. The case-in-point concerned the controversies that arose from this past spring’s presentation of the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv’s production of Return to Haifa at our resident, professional theater company, Theater J. We are at a unique moment in American Jewish life. The reality is that in the process of seeking to understand and grapple with this large issue facing Israel and ourselves, our community is still searching for a safe way to engage in this discussion with honesty, civility and respect for the passionate sincerity on both sides. This conversation goes beyond the boundaries of our local Jewish community and speaks to its importance and relevance.

Thus, the Washington DCJCC is committed to inspiring balanced, thoughtful and relevant Jewish culture through film, theater, literature and music, that welcomes all perspectives both from right and the left living up to the highest principles of our Jewish tradition.

Monday evening as we observe Tisha B’av – the anniversary of one of the most calamitous dates in Jewish history that marks the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, it is taught that the Temple was destroyed because of the “senseless hatred of one Jew for another.” (Yoma 9b) It is tempting to conclude that the past is prologue and that the strains placed on the ancient Jewish community by Babylonian and Roman invasions parallel the threats of today. Our Jewish future continues to hold great promise when we encourage all those who hold a stake in our destiny the opportunity to immerse their intellect, their creativity and their spirit in preserving and enriching the Jewish present.

On Israel Engagement, De-Legitimization and Our Community

The Washington DCJCC is proud to present professional and authentic examples of Israeli culture in film, theater, art and music. The artistic output of Israel is one of its great achievements, and we were privileged to host the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv’s production of RETURN TO HAIFA at Theater J. The sold-out run was hailed by audiences and critics alike and brought together individuals from all over our community to engage in serious conversations not just about the politics of the Israel, but about the underlying humanity of the men and women on all sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict. There was no single message to be derived from the play, nor were the reactions of any two theater-goers alike — well-wrought dramas can elicit complex and contradictory thoughts and emotions. It was gratifying that our audiences received the production in the spirit it was offered; that rather than shielding ourselves from difficult histories and complex questions, we can engage them with our intellect, our humanity and our capacity to see beyond political sloganeering. We feel that such programs constitute Israel-engagement in the very best sense of the term and make no apology for the art or the artists we present. Increasingly, there is an acknowledgment in the public square of the American Jewish community that fighting the de-legitimization of Israel is poorly served by attacking organizations and individuals within the Jewish community who present challenging portraits of the Jewish State. Implying that such Jewish organizations serve as Trojan horses for those bent on the destruction of Israel plays to our worst fears. While such campaigns may throttle funding to this program or that organization, its ultimate effect is only to narrow the boundaries of allowable conversations and alienate all members of the Jewish community who dare to think outside those strict confines. If we continue down this path, the result will be less Israel engagement, fewer advocates for its cause in the court of public opinion and a poisoning of the intellectual well of American Judaism. The Washington DCJCC will present nearly 100 programs this year that deal with some aspect of Israeli life: some will make you proud, some will make you laugh, some will make you cry and many will make you think. Occasionally one might make you angry. But that is okay, so long as the conversation continues and we express our love for Israel by our honest engagement, through wrestling and hugging and through our ability to disagree civilly.

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