30 September, 2019

'The New Year' by Emma Lazarus

Rosh-Hashanah, 5643
Not while the snow-shroud round dead earth is rolled,
And naked branches point to frozen skies.—
When orchards burn their lamps of fiery gold,
The grape glows like a jewel, and the corn
A sea of beauty and abundance lies,
Then the new year is born.

Look where the mother of the months uplifts
In the green clearness of the unsunned West,
Her ivory horn of plenty, dropping gifts,
Cool, harvest-feeding dews, fine-winnowed light;
Tired labor with fruition, joy and rest
Profusely to requite.

Blow, Israel, the sacred cornet! Call
Back to thy courts whatever faint heart throb
With thine ancestral blood, thy need craves all.
The red, dark year is dead, the year just born
Leads on from anguish wrought by priest and mob,
To what undreamed-of morn?

For never yet, since on the holy height,
The Temple’s marble walls of white and green
Carved like the sea-waves, fell, and the world’s light
Went out in darkness,—never was the year
Greater with portent and with promise seen,
Than this eve now and here.

Even as the Prophet promised, so your tent
Hath been enlarged unto earth’s farthest rim.
To snow-capped Sierras from vast steppes ye went,
Through fire and blood and tempest-tossing wave,
For freedom to proclaim and worship Him,
Mighty to slay and save.

High above flood and fire ye held the scroll,
Out of the depths ye published still the Word.
No bodily pang had power to swerve your soul:
Ye, in a cynic age of crumbling faiths,
Lived to bear witness to the living Lord,
Or died a thousand deaths.

In two divided streams the exiles part,
One rolling homeward to its ancient source,
One rushing sunward with fresh will, new heart.
By each the truth is spread, the law unfurled,
Each separate soul contains the nation’s force,
And both embrace the world.

Kindle the silver candle’s seven rays,
Offer the first fruits of the clustered bowers,
The garnered spoil of bees. With prayer and praise
Rejoice that once more tried, once more we prove
How strength of supreme suffering still is ours
For Truth and Law and Love.

30 April, 2019

On Discovering a Butterfly
Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov wrote the following:
Listen: I am ideally happy. My happiness is a kind of challenge. As I wander along the streets and the squares and the paths by the canal, absently sensing the lips of dampness through my worn soles, I carry proudly my ineffable happiness. The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal’s black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness.” 
— an excerpt from A Letter That Never Reached Russia

And then below that a poem, which, according to the marginalia, is only a part of longer text:

'On Discovering a Butterfly
' by Vladimir Nabokov

I found it and I named it, being versed

in taxonomic Latin; thus became

godfather to an insect and its first

describer — and I want no other fame.
Wide open on its pin (though fast asleep),

and safe from creeping relatives and rust,

in the secluded stronghold where we keep

type specimens it will transcend its dust.
Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss,

poems that take a thousand years to die

but ape the immortality of this

red label on a little butterfly.

© Australian artist, Ashvin Harrison

02 April, 2019

Questions from Book Tour - Part 7

Book tour!
1. In addition to grieving and overcoming pain, the book really seems to explore keeping up appearances in a lot of ways. What did this tragedy instill within you about that and how society so often avoids talking about death, in general?

     Death is the Great Unknown, and most human being love nothing more than snuggling up and getting all cozy with certainty. The trouble is— certainty hardly ever truly exists in our lives.

     The greatest fears all living things hold within them is the loss of someone they love and the loss of their own lives. Avoiding death and survival instinct is built into the tiniest amoebas, and they don’t even have intricate death mythology or structure of beliefs about an afterlife. Humanity has been mythologizing death since we had cognizance, one to make peace with it for our own demise, but also to ease the profound suffering of being left behind in death by anyone we love.

     Around Christmas, my mom and I were going through some of her life treasures in the basement.
    “Oh I like those shoes,” I said salivating slightly.
    “Patience, Al, you can borrow them now but you keep them when I’m dead.”
    “Roger that, Mom.”
    “Cheer up. You’ll get it all when I’m dead! Who am I gonna leave it to— the cat?”

     This level of banter is pretty standard for us.

     But the other day I experienced a very special career highlight, and my wonderful, witty mother was there to bear witness. We have an unspoken tradition where after every major life event of mine (such as an opening night, a book launch, a concert), she takes me aside and we pause a few minutes to revel in what has just transpired. After we did that, I paused as said:
    “Mom. Just so you know, this tradition means everything to me.”
    “Me too,” she replied.
    “And,” I continued after reflecting a moment, “I don’t know about the details of the afterlife and all that, but I’m just letting you know now, that if you do get to come back and haunt or visit or say hi, this ‘after the show’ moment would be when I’d really like to know you’re popping in.”
    “Okay,” she said, then smirking added “Good talk.”

     We laughed. Life and death and real-talk chat is no big deal to the Silber ladies anymore. As you can see, the ability to so blithely operate in that kind of dialogue does not put a damper on the joyous occasion, it made it even more memorable, without being a huge downer.

Ta-DA!!! Real Talk!
     Taking death and grief out and looking at them directly seems unpleasant, unnecessary and downright “grim,” but it removes the stigma from a human experience every single one of us is going to have sooner or later, and avoiding the subject is not going to prevent it, and certainly not the solution for making any kind of peace with it.

     My suggestion is to very simply: think and talk about it. Recognize that you might be avoiding the subject out of discomfort or fear. The more you accept the reality of death and grief, the more you can get on with the business of truly investing in and fully living your life.

the real Rabbi Daniel Syme
2. Why did you make the choice to fictionalize Rabbi Syme [in After Anatevka]?

     What a wonderful question. Ah, beautiful beautiful Rabbi Daniel Syme...

     I went about fictionalizing the real Rabbi Syme (who is chronicled literally in WHGP) into the fictional version that captured his spirit, in Rabbi Syme.

     The real Rabbi Daniel Syme was a crucial advocate to and for not only me, but to and for my father’s human legacy.

    Fictional Rabbi Syme (in After Anatevka) is based very loosely upon the real-life Rabbi Syme (chronicled literally in WHGP)—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 fictional version of the character was my way of honoring the man who was my father's advocate, and thus, Perchik's (who is modeled in many ways after my father). He was also my first spiritual teacher of any kind.

    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. A fleeting moment to one, might bear a lifetime of profundity to another, for better and for worse. So it is in these tiny actions that we must recognize that our influence on earth is vast, has meaning, and should never be taken for granted.

To read more about Rabbi Syme click here:
The Real Rabbi Syme
The Real Rabbi Syme continued

3. What questions do you still have for G-d?

Why so many Fast and the Furious movies, Big Guy?

4. Later, with the chapter "Where Memories," you state that you "have always clutched fiercely onto ordinary moments." As I was reading the book, I had a pad of sticky notes + immediately scrawled "Anton Chekhov," whose plays featured plots with very little actually happening (The Cherry Orchard is a favorite of mine). Many people don't or aren't willing to find the poeticism in the mundane, the little moments that don't seem to many anything on the surface. Is it human nature to only remember the big, life-changing moments?

     It is interesting you mention Anton Chekov and The Cherry Orchard. I don’t state it directly, but the “mysterious man” Perchik meets in the Moscow bar in 1903 (about 2/3 of the way through After Anatevka) is indeed Anton Chekhov. I drop about a dozen or so clues, even going so far as to have Perchik inspire Chekhov with the phrase “All Russia is our orchard…” but I never state it explicitly. It was my little nod to the theatre.

     I don’t think it is human nature to only focus on big life moments— I think many people vividly recall the seemingly minute details of their lives. What I think most people do not practice is the meaning-making around and of these details. Making meaning of our lives is why many people participate in religion, why they read and go to the theatre, why they read horoscopes and attend spiritual gatherings. Not every human being finds meaning-making fruitful— some prefer to live utterly in the present and that is okay if it works for them.

     I happen to be a person who not only enjoys, but needs to make meaning of my and all human life. I do think I have a gift for creating a myth around an experience almost instantaneously, but as a few very wise friends have observed, sometimes my speedy ability to mythologize hijacks my experiencing of the moment itself. And noting that, I endeavor to stay fully aware in the present, and meaning-make later.

with Rabbi Syme

31 March, 2019

Risk by Anaïs Nin

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

©Nick Bantock

29 March, 2019

Ask Al: Missing Shows

I realized recently that so many of my "Ask Al" questions come either from curious laymen, or artists who are either in training or embarking upon their careers. In other wordsnot from working professionals who are asking their colleague for support or insight. I exchange texts and emails (both asking and answering) with my friends and colleagues all the time, and I thought it might be interesting to hear about the cares and concerns of high-flying professionals and what concerns them on a daily basis.

In this instance, a friend in a Broadway musical reached out about missing performances due to illness. Many performers are flooded with guilt and shame, as well as fear and insecurity. What my friend and I worked through was a crucial part of self-love and acceptance, as well and, I believe, applicable to all professions.


 * * *

    Dear P(al), 

    I have the fate of laryngitis from this all-over-the-place weather. As a result, I’m missing shows and feel totally defeated and unworthy and just plain gutted. The shame of being given the enormous honor of leading a company, only to let down that company, the producers and the audience is a level of guilt I can't bear! Yet, without my voice, I can't do the job I have been tasked to.
    Can you tell me it’s ok to be sick? I feel as though these thoughts are keeping me from truly healing!

Love you,


    Oh, my friend.

    First things first— you are anything BUT unworthy. You are a beast of a performer, spirit, athlete, and artist. Illness happens to all of us for any number of reasons. It is not an indication of weakness or lack of commitment in any way. You’re sick. It’s not your fault. It’s not a crime.

    Second— missing shows is always hard because you’ve been tasked with a high honor that I know you revere. But if it is any help for a “re-frame” — I always like to think of the CHARACTER and what they need. Taking the pressure off of myself.

     “What does this character need from me to get her story told today?”


     “Am I the best person to tell her story today?”

— if the answer is no, then say:

     "I should step aside and allow someone else to take care of her story until I can return."
Because that outlook has the wisdom, maturity and ego-less energy of recognizing that this isn't about you and your fame or glory, it is ultimately about putting the character first, and that is the thinking of one's highest self.

    Finally — I know you (like so many of us) suffer from a mix of fierce ambition as well as imposter syndrome. I identify with that. I think moments like these can exacerbate that fear — the fear that somehow we don’t deserve these honors and opportunities we’ve fought and bled for. That somehow our luck is catching up with us and we’re going to be revealed as hacks.

That’s just your fear taking you hostage. It’s a liar.

    I love you so much.
    And I believe in you.
    And I’m really honored you trusted me with this.



    You. Are. Yoda.
    I cannot thank you enough for this. 

— "Them"

02 March, 2019

I've Been: Winter 2018/19

  • playing Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • hosting the Chicago edition of The Hanukkah Hoedown!
  • feeling more lonely than I ever have in all my life
  • wondering why some people are absolute jerks
  • letting go
  • accepting
  • endeavoring to reveal my inner self
  • Writing writing wrting...
  • freezing my ass off in Chicago
  • "Chicago-ing"(at Steppenwolf, the Art Institute, IO Improv night, Magnificent Mile and many more wonders)

  • baking paleo bread
  • participating in a really interesting and genre-busting play-reading of The Block Association Project with a phenomenal group of talents

  •  So Sad Today: Personal Essays by Melissa Broder 
  •  The Nightengale's Sonata
  • The Big New Yorker Book of Cats
  • New Family Values by Andrew Solomon
  • The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
  • Why You Are Who You Are from The Great Courses
  • The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
  • Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
  • My sisters!
  • Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

  • recording a cut song from Fiddler on the Roof titled 'Marry for Love' (which was ultimately replaced by 'Matchmaker') with Roslaind Harris and Neva Small (Tzeitel and Chava from the Fiddler motion picture, respectively!)
    with Rosalind Harris and Neva Small
  • hosting friends from far away (both named Alexandra)
  • reuniting with my Fiddler family at 54 Below!
  • re-connecting with old friends who live locally!
  • hanging with MamaSilbs
  • and (shockingly, surprisingly... in THE most unlikely of places and circumstances) falling in love... 

Him. <3

28 February, 2019

'Romance Sonambulo' by Federico Garcia Lorca

Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea
and the horse on the mountain.
With the shade around her waist
she dreams on her balcony,
green flesh, her hair green,
with eyes of cold silver.
Green, how I want you green.
Under the gypsy moon,
all things are watching her
and she cannot see them.

Green, how I want you green.
Big hoarfrost stars
come with the fish of shadow
that opens the road of dawn.
The fig tree rubs its wind
with the sandpaper of its branches,
and the forest, cunning cat,
bristles its brittle fibers.
But who will come? And from where?
She is still on her balcony
green flesh, her hair green,
dreaming in the bitter sea.

–My friend, I want to trade
my horse for her house,
my saddle for her mirror,
my knife for her blanket.
My friend, I come bleeding
from the gates of Cabra.
–If it were possible, my boy,
I’d help you fix that trade.
But now I am not I,
nor is my house now my house.
–My friend, I want to die
decently in my bed.
Of iron, if that’s possible,
with blankets of fine chambray.
Don’t you see the wound I have
from my chest up to my throat?
–Your white shirt has grown
thirsty dark brown roses.
Your blood oozes and flees
around the corners of your sash.
But now I am not I,
nor is my house now my house.
–Let me climb up, at least,
up to the high balconies;
Let me climb up! Let me,
up to the green balconies.
Railings of the moon
through which the water rumbles.

Now the two friends climb up,
up to the high balconies.
Leaving a trail of blood.
Leaving a trail of teardrops.
Tin bell vines
were trembling on the roofs.
A thousand crystal tambourines
struck at the dawn light.

Green, how I want you green,
green wind, green branches.
The two friends climbed up.
The stiff wind left
in their mouths, a strange taste
of bile, of mint, and of basil
My friend, where is she–tell me–
where is your bitter girl?
How many times she waited for you!
How many times would she wait for you,
cool face, black hair,
on this green balcony!
Over the mouth of the cistern
the gypsy girl was swinging,
green flesh, her hair green,
with eyes of cold silver.
An icicle of moon
holds her up above the water.
The night became intimate
like a little plaza.
Drunken “Guardias Civiles"
were pounding on the door.
Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea.
And the horse on the mountain.

31 January, 2019

Kidspoem/Bairnsangs By Liz Lochhead

it wis January
and a gey dreich day
the first day Ah went to the school
so my Mum happed me up in ma
good navy-blue napp coat wi the rid tartan hood
birled a scarf aroon ma neck
pu'ed oan ma pixie an' my pawkies
it wis that bitter
said noo ye'll no starve
gie'd me a wee kiss and a kid-oan skelp oan the bum
and sent me aff across the playground
tae the place Ah'd learn to say

it was January
and a really dismal day
the first day I went to school
so my mother wrapped me up in my
best navy-blue top coat with the red tartan hood,
twirled a scarf around my neck,
pulled on my bobble-hat and mittens
it was so bitterly cold
said now you won't freeze to death
gave me a little kiss and a pretend slap on the bottom
to the place I'd learn to forget to say

it wis January
and a gey dreich day
the first day Ah went to the school
so my Mum happed me up in ma
good navy-blue napp coat wi the rid tartan hood,
birled a scarf aroon ma neck,
pu'ed oan ma pixie an' ma pawkies
it wis that bitter.
Oh saying it was one thing
but when it came to writing it
in black and white
the way it had to be said
was as if you were posh, grown-up, male, English and dead. 

08 January, 2019

Coulda-been-ku 20


We met high above 
Chicago. Both in pain. But 
you shared your heartbreak-

-for a collection 
of moments my soul was nude.
You melted my ice.

© Nick Bantock

31 December, 2018

"To a Child at the Piano" by Alastair Reid

To a Child at the Piano
by Alastair Reid

Play the tune again: but this time
with more regard for the movement at the source of it
and less attention to time. Time falls
curiously in the course of it.

Play the tune again: not watching
your fingering, but forgetting, letting flow
the sound till it surrounds you. Do not count
or even think. Let go.

Play the tune again: but try to be
nobody, nothing, as though the pace
of the sound were your heart beating, as though
the music were your face.

Play the tune again. It should be easier
to think less every time of the notes, of the measure.
It is all an arrangement of silence. Be silent, and then
play it for your pleasure.

Play the tune again; and this time, when it ends,
do not ask me what I think. Feel what is happening
strangely in the room as the sound glooms over
you, me, everything.

Now, play the tune again

28 December, 2018

FAQ - Part 6

1. You’ve premiered a bunch of new works (such as Arlington at the Vineyard Theater and Love Story at Walnut Street Theatre). What is the best thing about premiering a new theatrical work to an audience?

In my experience, there is absolutely nothing that can compare to being present at the birth of new work. I think the most profound experience I had with that was Arlington by Polly Pen and Victor Lodato— a solo (with a pianist/vocalist played brilliantly by Ben Moss) piece, told in direct-address about a woman waiting for her husband to return from fighting in a war that I debuted at Inner Voices in 2012, that went on to a fully realized production in 2014 at the Vineyard. It was one of the most challenging, confrontational, exhilarating experiences of my life in any arena. To be inside the creative crucible at the birth of a new work that felt so relevant, contemporary and important, crafting it daily with the creators, was the absolute honor of my life.

The world we live in deserves, craves, and needs new stories. Sometimes difficult, sometimes hopeful, stories.

2. Are there some specific works of art that have gotten you through tough times?
©hula seventy

A  real mixed bag here but here we go:

"Kid" Stuff:
  • The Magician’s Nephew
  • The Secret Garden
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Funny Stuff:
  • It’s Called a Breakup Cuz It’s Broken

Deep Stuff:

  • The works of Marcus Aurelius
  • Far From the Tree
  • Braving the Wilderness

I find children’s literature to be particularly soothing in times of crisis—perhaps because when I was a child, my life was in a state of low, sonorous, but constant crisis. I identified with the protagonist children in the stories above because I recognized their conditions—not necessarily the exact conditions, but close. I identified with The Magician’s Nephew because the protagonist wants nothing more than to retrieve a magical apple to make his dying mother well again. I wanted that for my father.
    Similarly,  The Secret Garden’s Mary Lennox saw the power of nature heal her chronically ill cousin back to health.
    By the time my father had passed away I was sharing my days with Harry Potter, who, in The Prisoner of Azkaban, thinks he sees his dead father perform an act of heroism in a time turning spell, only to learn the profound lesson that he did not, in fact, see his father—he saw himself. And Harry this performs the act of heroism because, having seen the image of himself perform the act, he now knows he is capable. That image has never left me.

It’s sardonic, brutal, best-friend-holding-your-shoulders bracing. It’s hilarious, painful and real: It’s Called a Breakup Cuz It’s Broken was given to me like a Holy Bible of how to break up by a friend from college passing through New York after her own horrendous breakup, at the dawn of one of mine. It’s not great deep literature but it’s fantastic. And crucial? It actually helped.

3. How do you feel you've grown artistically since your career began?

Tyne Daly taught me a phrase that her mother (also an actor) taught her:
    “Deeper. Fuller. Richer. Better.”
I think that sums it up as well as anything ever could. It’s my intention, it is my aspiration, it is my devotion.

I give fewer f*cks about the stuff that doesn’t really matter (praise, awards, fame, followers), and a lot more f*cks about the stuff that does (ethics, growth, lessons learned, relationships made, contributions to society at large). It’s less about me and more about how I can serve.

4. Where do you see yourself artistically in 5 years?

I would love to see each of my artistic “arms” lengthening and broadening.

I’d love to be consistently working as an actor and theatrical writer— contributing to the theatre.

I’d love to continue to relinquish my singing baggage and sing with greater ease, less drama, more joy, more clarity, and feel freer inside my technique so that there isn’t a single sound I don’t feel confident making.

I’d love to write more books. I’d love to see my books dramatized for the screen and play an active role in manifesting their creation.

Overall: I intend to continue to create and make works that matter to me personally as well as socially. I want to continue to learn new things and sharpen old knives. I intend to make personal, profound, universal, connective, and relevant work that matters to humanity on any scale.

I intend to keep walking my talk.

©hula seventy

09 December, 2018

Preview of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' at Chicago Shakespeare

Cast members Melisa Soledad Pereyra, T.R. Knight, Alexandra Silber and Sam Kebede and took time out of rehearsal to share their excitement about the production, and why this production of Shakespeare’s audience favorite “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will have the whole theater laughing and dancing. Performances begin on December 6 in the Courtyard Theater at CST’s home on Navy Pier.


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