23 February, 2018

I Fed Her [Fancy Feawst] So Well

And then?!


19 February, 2018

Ask Al: Lightning Round FAQs! - Part 3

1. What is the hardest part of being in the public eye?
This is a very tough one.
There are some muddy lines can sometimes create very real misunderstandings with fans, acquaintances, and certain professional relationships.

[*Cracks knuckles and types manifesto*]

The arts are all intimate businesses, and we don’t deal in numbers, quotas or measurable things, we deal on a daily basis with the innermost workings of humanity, and reveal to the everyday human being the glory of life’s routines, exploring humanity’s full capacity, and revealing some of life’s extremities. We deal daily (and joyfully) with the vulnerability most people spend their entire lives avoiding! And when artists deal with it out in the “real world” transactionally and blithely, it can get confusing. For everyone.

As both an introvert and fiercely private person, it is difficult to feel comfortable about said privacy— particularly in an age of social media where so many people feel (for lack of a better term) entitled to know certain details of your life. Some people feel absolutely comfortable sharing intimate details, and others less so. All variations of that comfort are okay and up to the individual. I believe strongly that the tone, content, and level of intimacy on social media is solely up to the owner of the account, and just because fans want intimacy does not mean it has to be given.

For example you are currently reading my blog. I have been writing this blog for 10 years, sometimes for the purpose of enjoying a creative crucible, sometimes for the purposes of sharing an already-processed experience. However, my inner-most vulnerabilities are mine, and preserved for my close friends and family. The fact that I share selective facts and reflections of and upon life’s ups and downs is one thing, but I do not use this blog (or any aspect of my social media) to actively work through my emotions in real time. I do not share unresolved experiences. Further, and all the sharing is for the purpose of universal connection, not exploitation.

My real-life vulnerability is reserved for my real-life friends. Not, say, my “Facebook Friends.” My personal definition of the word Friend is “a person who has borne witness to, and held, my innermost life.” Thus, never mistake the behavior commonly known as “friendLY” with the well-earned state of “friendSHIP.”

Ultimately, I am very honored to be in my position, and love to share my heart on my own terms. It is an honor to be known for what I love to do and I endeavor to deserve that honor.


2. If you could write a continuation of any other musical theatre character, who would you choose and why?
You might be surprised to hear this but Chava! I think we can all agree that I’m now intensely involved in this family’s “future story—” I do feel compelled to finish what I’ve started and Chava is the daughter I will always somewhat regret not getting a chance to embody as well. I also find her decision equally as harrowing and thus, compelling. How do you cope with he results of such a decision? How does hers and Fyedka’s marriage fare? So many specific adjustments in that scenario. Additionally, I don’t think I’ve heard the last of Hodel. We leave her at quite a cliffhanger in After Anatevka!


3. Have you always aspired to be a performer or did you have a different dream when you were younger?
I always knew I wanted to be a professional creative— I’m not certain that acting and singing professionally was the epitome of my dream. As a child and teenager, I loved the theatre, felt at home and accepted amongst its “creatures” and had an outlet to explore new worlds, research new ways of life, get inside different people’s minds and heart, and to express so many of my deepest emotions.

I’ve been thinking very deeply about “dreams coming true” recently— possibly because so many people are asking me about it. “Is publishing your novel a dream come true” they will ask, and I don’t entirely know how to answer that. Because of course, it is, I have dreamed of sharing my stories with the wider world, to hold a book-shaped book, with actual binding and  I have written in my hands

The voices on Broadway cast recordings were not only my inspirations but my companions, my teachers; I know many people for whom that is a familiar history. But I felt very much the same about characters in books. I was just as enamored with E.M Forster’s Margaret Schlegel as I was with the book and score of South Pacific.


4. After Anatevka tells the story of Hodel after Fiddler. When you research for a role do you think about what happens to the character after the show ends as well as their backstory or was Hodel an exception?

Hodel was absolutely an exception.

The Broadway community and wider world may know me as the most-recent Tzeitel,  from the 2016 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, but from October 2006 to February 2008, I played Tevye's second-eldest daughter, Hodel, in the last West End revival in London. That experience was, without exception, the most immersive and deeply felt of my artistic life thus far. It was like a “first love—” the kind one never forgets, and imprints itself upon you more deeply than any to follow it. Hodel’s strength and sense of purpose, your complex feminine spirit, her wit and determination, her devotion and loving heart. She offered me a chance to find all of these things within myself, and to grow with them.

While all characters tend to endear themselves to you, Hodel haunted me— remained in my cells like an un-rinseable, inextinguishable fuel. Actors often embody traits of the characters they take on, but few characters weave in and out of the soul until you can scarcely detect the line between the emotional truths of one and the other.


5. What is one piece of advice that you wish someone would have told you while you were in school/college/university?

The path to success is curved.






15 February, 2018

Theater for the People - An Essay for The X Mag

The Power of Women Issue of The X Magazine by TodayTix 

When the storytelling goes bad in society, the result is decadence” — Aristotle

In olden days, as the song goes, theater was the art form of the people. There were no cost barriers keeping people from the theater. It was simply an expected, shared sociological experience.

Theater’s earliest origins extend back to Ancient Greece, where participation in the Festival of Dionysus, a multi-day cultural event, was a requirement of citizenship. Theater was not about celebrities or spectacle; it was about telling stories for the purpose of the public having a cathartic experience together. Aristotle defined it as “the purification of the spirit…by witnessing the playing out of such emotions or ideas on stage.” The result is positive change.

Flash forward several centuries to Renaissance England, where the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries reigned supreme. While plays were commissioned by and performed at the pleasure of the royals, anyone could get a seat or standing room for a few pence and enjoy entertainment in the company of kings and queens. After all, the whole point of theater is to make it accessible to the wider public.

Cut-to 20th century Europe, where Bertold Brecht, the great German playwright and director, established the Berliner Ensemble and made theater accessible to and for the people as an essential tool for the recognition of social injustice, and  as a means of effecting social change.

Today, Broadway has become a purview of the elite, with premium ticket prices skyrocketing to more than $1000 to certain shows. Theater is, at its essence, a thoroughly social art form, therefore it cannot be experienced in solitude. If we can't get people into the theaters — whatever their socioeconomic reality might be — then we are not doing our jobs as theatremakers.

But TodayTix is helping change the perception of and access to theater, particularly through its rush and lottery tickets. While lotteries and rushes have existed for a while, not everyone has the flexibility to wait outside the box office in the morning or enter their name in a drawing at the theater. With the app, anyone can buy rush tickets or enter a lottery. You can even share your entry on Twitter and Facebook to up your chances of winning.  Theater is a social art form, and social media is making it even more accessible.

But more than ever, in fractious times like these when there is great fear and even greater uncertainty, theater can be a place of emotional and societal healing. The people need the theater, and it is more important than ever for every individual, regardless of circumstance, to bear witness. We need to know that we are not alone.

Photo by: Jenny Anderson (IG: @jennyandersonphoto/Twitter: @jennyanina)
 * * *
Link to online article 
For: The X Mag and TodayTix.com
Photo: Jenny Anderson
Styled: Jake Sokoloff in Karen Millen
Hair and Makeup: Austin Thornton

13 February, 2018

Adult-ing - Part 7

Don't hide your like, you guys.
1. Don't allow people to pressure you into dulling your colo(u)rs to make them comfortable.
     From big fancy celebrity to star of your middle school math class—inevitably, something you innately are will exacerbate another human being’s insecurities.
Your intelligence.
Your charisma.
Your talent.
Your eyebrows.
It doesn’t really matter what it is, it I that you possess a quality another does not, and they are kept up at night about it. Something about you (and likely, something you give very little thought to) is going to make someone else think about nothing else and go get alllll crazy envious and Salieri on your ass.

You cannot change who you are, nor should you, and their insecurities are none of your business.
It happens. That’s life.
BUT:
Sometimes, these insecure people are also very pushy, bossy, intimidating, manipulative or otherwise tetchy, and their lack of inner-peace might motivate them to motivate you to hide your gifts/dull your colors/hide your light, to make them feel more at ease.
That part—the hiding your light part?
That is on you.
If you allow yourself to become small, recognize that you have chosen that. Own that you have taken some part in allowing it to happen. Take responsibility and... stop it!

Don’t do it.
Trust me.
Instead, go about the world being 100% you! Every last scrap of who you are and promise to keep becoming. Don’t get bullied into being small. Don’t apologize for who you are and how you have been gifted. Show compassion for the insecure, they need that more than your obedience, fear or disdain.

2. Pain is the payment for each precious thing.
     You are a result of someone cooking you up for nine long hormonal months, and then screaming as they physically push you out of their body. Ouch. The point? Childbirth is the very first lesson we all get that you are a precious thing, and the woman who physically gave birth to you endured a notoriously agonizing pain to make you come true. Then? As if that weren’t enough a doctor smacked you to make you breath your first breath. A great big smack on the bottom to suck in nature’s very best offering: air. Again: pain for precious things.

     Now I’m not saying you have to turn in to Gollum here, becoming a lean creepy weirdo living alone in a dark cave crying “preeeeciousssss” in order to appreciate how fan-freaking-tastic your life is, but I am saying that all living creatures endure adversity, handwork, setbacks, and blood-sweat-and-tears if they are truly living their lives.

     Nothing is free in this life. From losing 5 pounds to losing a loved one, pain is the payment for each precious thing, and it is not that the adversity hits us, but how we choose to utilize and view that adversity that defines and polishes our characters.


Which brings me to:


3. The Obstacle is the Way

     Choosing the right perspective is so important; you can see life’s challenges as opportunities.  When an unexpected obstacle is suddenly standing in your way, don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed by “The Overwhelm;”  take a breather and regroup. The very thing you feel has stopped you in your tracks might just hold the lesson that teaches you to become stronger and better than ever before.


4. Who you ally yourself with is always the paramount consideration of your life.
     The people you keep close to you both intimately and socially will determine the atmosphere of not just your entire life, but crucially, how you feel about, view and think about your entire life. The people we spend our days with shape and inform our experiences, and it is up to us to make certain that those people are positive influences, or, if not, that their negative influence is minimal.

     Above all, be the best neighbor/colleague/acquaintance/friend/child/parent you possibly can be— your influence on those around you is powerful as well.


5. Happiness is not a train station
     On the great train ride that is Life Itself, we keep pulling into stations we expect, do not expect, and sometimes, loathe. (Incidentally? As I write this, I am actually on a train, pulling into a station…) Some of these are expected (first kiss, first love, college, graduation, first heartbreak) and some cannot be avoided (turning 30/40/50, etc), and some we’d do anything to avoid if we could (the death of a loved one, divorce, a health-crisis or financial hardships).

     Have you yourself ever thought "Once I [get the leading role/make X much money/get married/move to Europe/lose 20 pounds] MY LIFE WILL BE PERFECT!"
...Anyone?
Yeah.
Me too.

But one of life’s great truths is that you never exactly pull in to the train stations of “Contentment,” “Happiness,” or “Success.” Those stations are like Shangri La or Brigadoon: sure, you’ve heard of them, and everyone talks about them and wants to get there, but no one has ever really seen them. Why? Because they don’t exist.

     Dear readers, Now, truly is all we have. We must alter our thinking as much if not more than we attempt to alter our circumstances for it is within the confines of our minds that Contentment, Happiness and Success truly exist. You know the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” It applies here: the object remains the same, it is the thinking around that object that changes its value. A job, a partner, a location, a living situation or an annual income provides as much misery or joy as we choose to get out of it.

     So when I say “happiness is not a train station” I mean: there is no definitive moment where you do or do not “arrive” or “make it.” Further, the belief that once we pull in to that station (or cross that finish line) we will finally be happy or at peace is not only a myth, but a recipe for despair.


12 February, 2018

[Real] Rabbi Syme: Continued!

My previous post about [the Real] Rabbi Syme generated a wonderful internet "moment—" one of those lightning-in-a-bottle experiences where the internet proves to be truly connective. I wrote the post in response to questions I received through the course of my book tour, and online: is the Rabbi Syme (Perchik's teacher and advocate) of After Anatevka at all connected to a real person, particular a man named Rabbi Daniel Syme of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan?

The answer: yes. To briefly quote my previous post:

Fictional Rabbi Syme is based very loosely upon the real-life Rabbi Syme—loosely because my description in the novel is not so much a literal, but more of an evocative recollection and honoring of his influence. Real-life Rabbi Syme and I only spent a collection of minutes together in 2001, but they were crucial minutes. He gave me the gift of delivering the eulogy at my father's funeral service, as well as bearing witness to it when he lead the funeral service, and above all, he gave me an hour of his time months later, reminding me of what was eternal, and chartering a map toward the beauty, strength and individuality my faith. Irreplaceable gifts one can never forget. The influence of Rabbi Syme proves another true-to-life maxim: that we never know the depth of the influence we have upon one another

I then followed this by recounting a crucial memory of the real Rabbi Syme.
Keep in mind that I have not seen, heard from, been in touch with dear Rabbi Syme since 2001. Nearly 17 years.
I pressed "publish." 
I posted the blog's link to a few social media places.
The link was shared on Facebook.
Then again.
And before long?
An email in my inbox was sitting there from the real Rabbi Syme.
This was followed by a save-it-forever voicemail.
And finally, a phone call that, at long last, completed a circle I never even dreamed would reach its resolution.

Then today...

Today I gave a book talk at Temple Beth Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan—only a few miles away from Birmingham, the suburb of Detroit in which I grew up, and in fact, from Bloomfield Hills, where Rabbi Syme and I first met.

My talk went on, and as usual, I concluded with a reading. Whenever one of my book events is located in a temple I like to read the following passage and tell the audience a little about the real Rabbi Syme. How the character came to be and how this was my form of honoring the man who was my father's advocate, and thus, artistically, Perchik's.  I read:
  
     “Free a man of the constraints that limit and inhibit his development, and you have a free human being. Freedom is the natural state of man.” He looked away from the boy for a moment and recalled his youth, his own search for self. “My boy,” he imparted with a ferocious passion that shook them both by the throat, “there is nothing negative about our human potential—do you understand me? God Himself created you the way you are. Do not let anyone in this world convince you otherwise. And you are capable of anything, my boy. There is and shall always be a disparity among the gifts God has granted men, but we all deserve equal consideration. All men, no matter how low, how basic, or how tormented, deserve compassion, dignified brotherhood, and respect.
     “But part of respecting all men is respecting ourselves. Recognizing that God has blessed you. By embracing these gifts, we live as God lives, with love for all He has created—with an open heart.
     “Thus our Sages have said: ‘In every generation, a person must see himself as if he has himself come out from Mitzrayim.’ You, of course, know what Mitzrayim, this Hebrew word used for ‘Egypt,’ means, do you not?”
     “Boundaries,” the boy said quietly.
     “It does indeed—and the effort to free ourselves is a perpetual one.”
     The rabbi removed his spectacles and looked deeply into the eyes of the boy. “I promise you, Perchik: you are a truly blessed child of our Lord. I promise you will find the strength to overcome the oppression of your circumstances. This fight is your purpose—the strength for it inherent within you. Like rocks of salt shaken in water, the turbulence soon asserts itself in perfect order. My boy, you are supported by the greatest parent of them all. As it is He who has endowed you with your gifts, you can be sure that He, therefore, believes in their power. And for the record, my boy, so do I.”

Reader?
The real Rabbi Syme... was there.
In the audience.

Coming up in line as I signed copies of the novel that honors him in character, and thanks him in the acknowledgments, came the real-life, breathing man who bears the name Rabbi Daniel Syme.

We reunited.
Embraced.
Cried.

What other proof do we need that miracles happen?
Because they do.
Happen.






02 February, 2018

“Health-i-versary!”

Today is my 6-month “Health-i-versary.”

What does that mean..?

Hello. My name is Alexandra Silber and I have an auto-immune disease.

So what does that mean..?

The immune system normally guards against germs like bacteria and viruses. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them.

In an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes part of your body — like your joints, thyroid, pancreas, colon or skin — as foreign or contaminated. Thus, at its simplest, an autoimmune disease is when your body's immune system (usually there to protect you from disease and infection) over-reacts and instead of attacking diseased or unhealthy cells, attack the healthy ones (including tissue and organs) by mistake. This over-reactive response is like a broken switch: once the alarm system is turned on, it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to turn off. The body releases proteins called autoantibodies that attack healthy cells ad infinutum—the attack upon the healthy tissue continues on and on until the tissue wears away and the organs start to fail.

Doctors don’t yet know what causes the immune system misfire. (which is...not...awesome...). Factors that make an individual susceptible can be based on family history, gender, ethnicity, diet, and lifestyle; but also, due to the incidence of autoimmune diseases dramatically on the rise, researchers suspect cultural and environmental factors to possibly be involved.

Initial symptoms can be sneaky and vague at first, and in today's "power through" culture, they can be very easy to ignore until it is far too late. May I recommend, from experience, to... not do that. If you have any sudden changes in your overall health (however mild, and whatever it may be) track your symptoms, ask about family history, do an internet search (or three), and get thee to a doctor! Then? Get a second opinion. (For a basic guide to more efficiently diagnosing an auto-immune disorder try this link.)

Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ (Type 1 diabetes, for example, exclusively damages the pancreas) other diseases, like lupus, affect the whole body. There are over 80 known autoimmune diseases, many with similar symptoms, which can make them difficult to diagnose and treat until the symptoms are severe. It is often a challenging trial-and-error of medications, major lifestyle changes, side-effects and possible surgeries.

2013: the start of my health journey to MORDOR.
I won't go into detail about my specific disease and the nitty-gritty of its consequences, but I will tell you that over the last few years, my health journey has brought me to:
- 11 colonoscopies
- 3 surgeries
- 2 blood transfusions
- 2 iron infusions
- 1 near-death experience
- 9 medications (including chemotherapy and the life-saving but life-ruining drug prednisone)
- 4 hospitals (including a trip to the Mayo Clinic)
- countless side effects
- and over 16 different doctors—
and today, this health-i-versary means, that, I have been healthy for 6 months in a row—for the first time since 2013.

I’ve lost time, sleep, my beloved hair, my singing voice, my dignity, my personality, so much weight, foods I loved, many friendships, important relationships familial and romantic, and some very real innocence; but I’ve gained an appreciation for being alive in ways I lack language for.

Today we often only choose to share our joys on the internet and social media. Trust me when I tell you this has been a terrifying private journey, one filled with so much uncertainty. I have not had answers to so many of my health questions, thus did not feel confident sharing the truth in its entirety until I was more confidently on the other side. (I also did not want to court anyone's rogue advice—however well-meaning!)

Today, in this joy I also admit the very real struggle, but the exhilarating triumph of a fight well won. There is no cure for an autoimmune disease, but remission is possible! Today, I’ve achieved a 6-month version of that. Now it’s about maintaining it. 

This health triumph would not be possible without my main (SUPERHERO) physician, Dr. Steven Fochios, the Mayo Clinic, Mount Sinai Hospital, my incredibly brave mother, a sense of humor, and a very small circle of friends who knew (and bore witness to) what was actually going on. Some of these people held me while I wept, helped me change my diet, stayed awake with me all night, and once, even carried me up the four flights of stairs to my apartment when I was too weak to walk after a two-show day at Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway. 

Dad.
I also felt extraordinarily close to my father during the darkest days. What I endured is likely 1-1000th of what my father had to physically and mentally go through, and I do not even have a spouse and child to leave behind should I not survive. But the uncertainty, the physical pain, the endless tests and hospitals and unknowns... I experienced an empathy for what he went through in his last years, a full immersion of understanding I feel so grateful for. What my father fought for, fought against, what he physically did and endured to remain alive in the face of unnameable uncertainty is something I now understand in my marrow.

Whoever you are, no matter how low, know this: being fully alive is worth fighting for. I had no idea how much I wanted to live until the option of not being alive was truly presented to me. "Okay Al," said Life, "You wanna be here? Act like it." So I did everything in my power to do just that. (This is my gentle reminder to... stop "powering through" and maybe go to the doctor like a damn adult.)

Don't get me wrong. I lost many things—friendships, (not-cute amounts of) weight, my precious hair, a very important relationship, dignity, inclusion in social events, money, probably some people's patience, understanding, and respect.

But I also did some extraordinary things while ill—sang at Royal Albert Hall (twice!), and San Francisco Symphony (twice!), Carnegie Hall, Caramoor, Disney Hall, did a solo show for a week in London. I rehearsed and opened a 3 hour Broadway musical and consistently did 8 shows a week. I taught time (and overtime) at Pace University (and even continued to teach during the run of Fiddler...WTF...), staged two readings of my adaptation of Antigone, recorded the Arlington cast recording, sold two books—a novel and memoir, and published one (the other soon to come), and all the while managed, somehow, to stay awake, not to die and even keep a few friends and not kill my cat

Show up.
 I say this to merely share this simple truth: we are limited in life only by what we believe we are capable of. I know I know, I can already see you rolling your eyes over there! But reader trust me: I had days when it hurt to breathe. When I could not physically stay awake for more than 3 hours at a time (no amount of coffee or sugar would fix this level of medical fatigue). Days when I could not stop shaking from the intensity of the pain. When the weakness and starvation I experienced were so intense I lacked the capacity to even shed tears or cry out. 

But reader? I showed up. To work. To life.

I am not remarkable. No. I am a human being just like you—capable of everything from the most deplorable of errors to the vastest glories. As are we all.

But when we stare down the black infinity of not being on earth anymore, we experience the most considerable democracy of all: the democracy of mortality. We all—no matter how wealthy, beautiful, talented, kind, willful, adveturous—die. 
We all die. 
You will, someday, die. 
And in the end, we all must face the same questions: 
Was I brave? 
Did I use my gifts? 
What did I believe in? 
What did I stand for? 
What did I stand against?
Did I do what truly mattered?  
Did I say yes to life? 
And above all, did I love enough

As mentioned before, there is no cure for autoimmune diseases—only remission and maintenance. But know this: though there will be setbacks, I look forward to many more healthy, fully-lived, days to come. 

Onwards, with courage and integrity.

©Emma Mead

31 January, 2018

'Dust of Snow' by Robert Frost

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.


16 January, 2018

Questions from Book Tour, Part 3

1. What are the main differences between working in the two art forms: performance versus writing?

It’s fascinating. Two major observations.

The first is the difference between the social versus private nature of both art forms. (These are not exclusive observations and, of course, there are exceptions).

The theater is an innately social art form— created in collaboration with others, and enacted in the presence of others. Though I suppose you can technically recite speeches into thin air, that is not why theatre was created. In Ancient Greece, the theatre was born out of the need for communal catharsis— a shared cleansing of the mind and spirit, performed to and for the people. Aristotle defined it as “the purification of the spirit…by witnessing the playing out of such emotions or ideas on stage.” The result is personal, as well as sociological, positive change. Therefore it is an art form that cannot be created or experienced in solitude.

Literature is the opposite. Its nature is of solitude— both in its creation and in its consumption. It is an art that must occur within the confines of an author’s inner world. Though collaboration may occur in the later parts of the process, the majority of the writing experience takes place (necessarily) in utter solitude, quietly attempting to capture a universe before it escapes from your fingers. Further, literature (specifically) is experienced in solitude. The relationship between a writer and her reader is among the more intimate relationships that exist. The reader is being taken on a journey, often experiencing many emotions along the way, all taking place within the confines of the “theatre” of their imaginations. Writer and reader in a private, intimate space for a period of time. I have relationships with authors I will never know or meet, but have had more of an impact on my life than certain boyfriends or family members.

The second has to do with the form of creativity that is exercised.

Both art forms are, of course, creative. But being an actor in the theater is, at its essence, an interpretive creative art form— one is interpreting (and hopefully, elevating and breathing very real life into) characters that one did not write, dress, light, or direct. Your role in the creative process is to interpret. This is in no way to diminish this art form, it is merely to clarify it. Interpretive artists are among our highest contributors in society, shedding an illuminative light upon the intricacies of life.

Whereas writing, I contrast, is innately creative. A story, a character, a sentence, did not exist before the writer created it.

Something about these artist dichotomies deeply enriches me— it provides a satisfaction across the spectrum of creativity. I wouldn’t want to be without one now that I’ve tasted the gratifications of both.


2. What is the reaction of readers who attend your book signings and events? 

I’d say less than 5% of interactions are a little unpleasant and have included such gems as cornering me about politics, presenting me with pages of critical notes they have on my book (one woman even told me she’d “wait” so she could go through them with me in person, thought by thought), pearl-clutching about the darkness of the book, dozens of people trying to set me up with their grandson/the Rabbi’s son/literally anyone. Those were mostly sort of hilarious and happened quite rarely (okay, the setting-me-up part happens every time...). But pah! Worth it.

The best parts are always meeting people who have had an emotional experience with your book, who have spent hours in this world that prior to a year ago, only I lived in. Now these characters that I love as if they were real, are known and sometimes loved by others. These readers share their insights, stories, their vulnerabilities, and reflections, and sometimes illuminate my own work to me in a way I had never considered.

Further, though many of these people are incredibly cultured, not all of them would have the chance or funds to make it to a theatre, let alone a Broadway theatre, let alone to the stage door after the show. I am meeting so many people I would never otherwise cross paths with because literature is the ultimate democratic art form—thanks to libraries, the written word is accessible to all. There have been some people I met in Austin, St. Louis, Naples, Saratoga Springs, that I have formed lifelong connections with, and will be indebted to for the rest of my life. Connections I would not otherwise have.

Above all, I endeavor to share my story with as much authenticity as I can with both the organizers and the attendees of these events, and when they respond with the same generosity back, when they hold your personal story and honor the depth of love that went in to creating a project like a novel, there is no greater transaction— gratitude always begets gratitude.



3. Other than writing, have you got any hidden passions you’d like to pursue?

I love the accordion and have taken lessons! I passionately love travel of all kinds— Antarctica is at the top of my list.

I would also love to spend more time creating visual art of some kind— I once took a collage workshop with my idol Nick Bantock several years ago now, and I’d love to try my hand at engaging with the visual on a more consistent basis. But apartment living + curious cat = not conducive? Still worth a try! I just have visions of Tati-shaped paint paw prints all over the place…



4. Do/did you feel any extra responsibility or pressure playing and writing about Hodel/Tzeitl in London/Broadway— seeing as they are among very few overtly Jewish characters in musical theatre?

I believe that if you portray any character or story with honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability, the work will resonate. Our only responsibility as artists is, to tell the truth.



5. Your next book is White Hot Grief Parade, about the death of your father. How has After Anatevka impacted that book?

They say that all fiction is in some way non-fiction, thus, yes, these two works are very much companion pieces.

The writing of After Anatevka felt like a necessary personal exercise for me because of the extraordinary significance playing Hodel had in my personal life. That significance was directly related to my experience playing Hodel, and “saying goodbye” to him every day (whilst singing “Far From the Home I Love”)— an experience I felt robbed of in my actual life, approximately five years after the death of my father. White Hot Grief Parade is a direct account of the experience of that loss.

So you see, one could not truly have happened without the other. In fact, if I were to chart the writing in real-time: I wrote the first two-thirds of After Anatevka very quickly, got terrible writer’s block for over a year, marked the 10th anniversary of my father’s death, then, almost in a frenzied trance I wrote the first draft of WHGP in about three months. It came galloping out of me! Then, almost as if the writing of WHGP had shifted something essential within me, the finale of After Anatevka became clear to me and I felt ready to complete it.

There are definitely crossover characters as well—Hodel is in every way a combination of myself and my mother. Perchik is a version of my father (particularly his experience in childhood). Gershom is modeled after my paternal grandfather. And Rabbi Syme is a real man who oversaw my father’s funeral service and gave me the great gift of advocacy when I need it the most—I wanted to honor him in After Anatevka by making him Perchik’s advocate as well (thus Rabbi Syme is the only actual character in both books).

But to answer the question directly: I am a direct descendant of these people from the Pale of Settlement. Their legacy of suffering, endurance, oppression, and persecution trickled down and affected the generations that eventually touched my life directly. To write about their trials helps me feel compassion for the “characters” in my actual life. We all come from somewhere, and these two books, though wildly different in tone, genre, voice, and setting, have threads that reach across all barriers and interweave.



10 January, 2018

Coulda-been-ku 13

13.

Breadcrumbs are savage. 
I am nobodys just in case.
Hear this: Crumbs arent food.


31 December, 2017

from The Once and Future King by T.H. White

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."
—T.H. White, The Once and Future King


19 December, 2017

"The Impossible Dream"

Last night I performed in a concert version of Man of La Mancha at Merkin Hall in Manhattan for The Transport Group. It was one of the most moving nights of theatre I have ever participated in and among my 'Top Five New York City memories.'

I was fortunate enough to be tasked with Aldonza's big emotional scenes at the finale of the piece but also partnered with longtime friend, the golden-throated Jason Danieley in the "Impossible Dream" scene at the finale of Act 1.

Quixote says:
"Love not what thou art, only what thou may become.
Do not pursue pleasure...
or thou mayest have the misfortune to overtake it.
Look always forward.
In last year's nests...
there are no birds this year.
Be just to all men, courteous to all women.
Live in the vision...
of the one for whom great deeds are done.."

As the scene progressed, it became abundantly clear that Don Quixote's idealism and vision of fighting for a better world was painfully relevant and poignant in a way none of us participants were prepared for. Jason and I came prepared to embody a scene, not knowing we would be embodying a philosophy for our age—lifting the audience to a higher, more hopeful place.

The scene began, and with it, the music.

To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;
To right the un-rightable wrong.

To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!

This is my Quest to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far,
To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause!

And I know, if I'll only be true
To this glorious Quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,
That one man scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable stars.”

Jason singing with his glorious voice, that song, with those lyrics accompanied by a full orchestra, in this moment in history? All with the emotional aid of our friendship and connected “eyeballs”... it was one of the greatest artistic moments of my life thus far.
I will never, in all my life, forget it.

Thank you, dear dear Jason, and Jack Cummings III for giving it to us.


Highlights from the entire spine-chilling evening are captured here:

13 December, 2017

Coulda-been-ku 12

12.


We endured so much.
No one else could have done it.  
I loved you. Im sorry. 



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