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.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pirkei Avot Reminder #2 - ESTHER

Again on Shabbat Parshat Chukat, I was learning Pirkei Avot with HaRav Yisrael Meir Lau, shlita, and came across another reminder that we are getting closer to beginning our trek to Shushan.
Perek Six, Mishnah Six tells us the 48 ways we can acquire Torah. They include: study, an attentive ear, serving the sages, discussions with students....
The last way mentioned is quoting something in the name of its author.
The Mishnah continues, "From this [last] you learn that whoever says something in the name of its author brings redemption to the world. As the verse states, 'Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai'. (Esther 2:22)
Rav Lau writes, "The redemption of Israel through the Purim miracle came about via Queen Esther, who spoke to the king in the name of Mordechai."
This is how we understand that our future redemption will come about when people reveal the source of their words and "quote something in the name of the author."
Rav Lau continues, "When Mordechai the Jew hear Bigtan and Teresh plotting to assassinate Achashverosh (Esther 2:21-23), he reported that information to Esther, who 'spoke to the king "in the name of Mordechai"'. Her chief concern was to increase the king's positive feelings toward Mordechai."
... Esther herself "had learned of the plot of Bigtan and Teresh through Divine Inspiration. Neverthless, she suppressed her own prophecy and did not report these words in her own name, so that Mordechai might have the honor of being recognized as the man who saved the king's life."
Thank you, Pirkei Avot for your wonderful messages of "Good luck" through your eternal words. We're on the way to Shushan.

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) Wishing Us Well 1 - HAMAN

As we draw closer to the opening of rehearsal on our newest Raise Your Spirits production, ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court, everything around me seems to remind me that the journey is about to begin.
Last Shabbat was an example.
Shabbat (Parshat Korach) seemed to point the way to Shushan and the court of King Achashverosh. The Shabbat hugged me and smilingly said, "Off you go."
You see, I was learning Pirkei Avot in the afternoon – Perek Five, Mishnah 19. My teacher was HaRav HaGaon HaRav Yisrael Meir Lau, shlita, from "Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos."
I read, "Any love that depends upon something, when that thing ceases, the love will cease.
But if it is not dependent on anything, it will never cease…"

To give an example of a love that is dependent upon something, HaRav Lau spoke about HAMAN.
He said, "As long as Haman was the wealthiest, most powerful man in the kingdom, he had many friends who fawned over him and flattered him. In Megillat Esther they are referred to as his 'lovers.' But as soon as the tables turned on him and he was forced to give public honor to the hated Mordechai, Haman's friends turned on him. Instead of comforting him, they told him that he was doomed to be defeated by Mordechai – and no longer does Scripture refer to him as his 'lovers'. Now they became his 'wise men'.
And what was their wisdom, "If Mordechai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him, but will undoubtedly fall before him."
I have the terrific opportunity to play the diabolical Haman in this year's production of ESTHER. How evilicious! 
Friends, we have so much to learn from the story of Esther and Mordechai and Haman and Achashverosh. And IY"H, we have so much that we can learn from one another. IY"H, it will be a fabulous adventure, and I am so looking forward to taking it with our entire cast and crew, and you, my readers and friends.
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