Today marks the one-year anniversary of the debut of Jewnique, my first solo show. I felt compelled to write about Jewnique today because I've spent a lot of time recently reflecting on what this show meant to me, why I felt motivated to write it, and how appreciative I am for all the help I got to make this project a reality.
In early 2017, when I thought about the next creative challenge I wanted to overcome, I realized I had yet to delve into theatre, an artistic arena I've long been enamoured with due to my passion for plays I've seen in Toronto venues such as Tarragon Theatre, Soulpepper, CanStage and the Fringe. I felt a bubbling compulsion to try something I haven't done yet. Adding to that instigation was my need to finally write about my relationship with Judaism after years of writing poetry and prose about everything but that topic.
Maybe I didn't know exactly how to articulate my bond with Judaism, or what I felt was lacking from this relationship I had with my background and history. But I knew I felt inspired to write about Jewish trailblazers and what I saw in their lives once I took time to explore what bothered me about religion, what invigorating me about Jewish empowerment. I just knew that NOW was the right time to launch an investigation into my conflicted feelings on Jewish identity.
To write and produce and stage a solo show felt like an accomplishment that Younger Me might not have endeavoured to try doing, due to my steadfast belief that I was a journalist and poet and editor and event producer and that's it for now. But sometimes we get an itch that needs to be scratched, and I got bit by the theatre bug soon after I saw dozens of solo shows due to my coverage of the Fringe Festival for NOW Magazine. I thought, "Hey, I could do this!"
And on May 10, 2018, I did it. Finally! And my heart was warm with the glow of making a show out of a long-simmering idea and a determined work ethic. The 60 minutes on stage at the Al Green Theatre flew by. Part of me didn't want it to end (Wow, they're laughing at these jokes I added last minute!) and part of me wanted to rush off the stage to finally exhale and applaud myself for a job well done.
Jewnique has since gone on to tour across Canada, most notably Calgary and Ottawa in November. To bring this important show to more audiences, for the themes of guilt and Jewish identity to reach more people who may relate to what I go through...it fills me with nachas.
When you adventure on a project like this, as much as it's called a solo show it really isn't, if you reach out for help. I have to give shout-outs to the amazing creatives who helped elevate this project to a level of quality I wanted the show to reach: Dave Gordon, Evelyn Tauben and my brother Ben gave me some fantastic ideas of who to potentially profile in Jewnique; my buddy Jacob Frenkel cut an engaging video trailer that drew attention to the show's debut; Mike McGee of San Jose worked with me on fine-tuning both the writing and performative aspects of the show, and wow that week in California was so much fun too; my brother Ben, again, for assisting me in my segment about cantorial music, charming the audience with some surprise singing; Charlie Petch was one heckuva lighting and sound designer who helped ensure the show flowed smoothly; and Autumn Smith provided the critical insight into making my lump of clay into a gorgeous sculpture of a show, meeting with me regularly to polish both the writing and staging elements.
Jewnique was a team effort and I had a truly amazing team behind me to allay any anxieties I may have had venturing into unfamiliar territory.
I look forward to seeing where Jewnique can go in the coming years, while also experimenting with more theatre work to stretch my creative range. After all, shouldn't all artist keep challenging themselves, keep pushing, keep hungry?
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