09 September, 2021

Zeyn in dinst fun — “to be in service of.”

 On 14 March, 2020, Rebecca Taichman's original production of Paula Vogel's Indecent played its second preview performance at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Previews came after a period of detailed, emotional, and spiritually grueling work on the part of our extraordinary company and creative team, and as the day wore on, the world around us began its crash into the piercing silence we all came to know far too well.

That night, my heart surged with ache for the world, but in particular for our theatre community whose very existence relies upon its live-ness. 

Theatre is a sacred ritual— it has many of the sanctities of traditional ceremonies: the repetition of words, songs and intentions; the bearing of witness, and ultimately, catharsis. Rituals matter to human beings.  The most significant moments of our lives are all marked by them, and because the significance we create is far greater than any one of us, we call upon rituals to construct the towering cathedrals of Value under which we can reside. We pledge. We graduate. We celebrate. We bid farewell. Retire. Age. Move forward. It is impossible to decipher whether we create them, or they create us. At the very kernel of who we are, human beings long to make meaning of our existence. For many, formal Storytelling is as ancient and as sacred as any formal spirituality.

Toward the end of Indecent, ten “players” gather in an attic in the Warsaw ghetto and risk their lives to tell a play to the few souls brave enough to witness it. On March 14, 2020, we, just like the players in the attic, with no clear idea what tomorrow would bring did the only thing we could to survive the terror of the moment: we all agreed to speak the words we had rehearsed, we play our parts. Sometimes ritual becomes a form of survival. So we did our play. What else could we do?

The next day I boarded a ghostly-empty plane home to New York and we all know what came next…

Inside the narrow spaces of our locked down lives we transformed into different beings— all of us. For those of us fortunate enough to emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic healthy, we are the lucky ones. Some did not emerge at all. But none of us are unaltered.

Our company kept in touch over the last 18 months on a WhatsApp thread. We Zoomed. We shared jokes, sorrows, milestones. We aged, we altered. I myself lived through many personal joys and sorrows— I both got married and had three life-saving surgeries in under 6 months that cured me of a disease I’ve lived with for years. When we returned to one another on 9 August, every single item was in its place from the final preview—the same clothes, props, words, shoes, even the wigs in the middle of being re-set. Yet nothing was the same.
Not the world.
Not my physical body.

I don’t know that I had ever been filled with so many emotions at the onset of a first rehearsal.  

There is a phrase in Yiddish: zeyn in dinst fun — “to be in service of.”

All I could do, all I can do, is serve. The play, the character, and to quote Paula Vogel “those who set aside the time to be there in person.” 

As we began rehearsal it became clear that we could not “re-create,” we had to create anew.

And I believe that is precisely what we’ve done. This production is distinct not only because we are the London company, but because we carry with us into our telling of the story all that we have shared— a company bonded together in shared trauma and informed by a cataclysmic world event. We are as equally changed as the world around us.

And yet? The play is the same. Ritual. We speak the words. We wear the clothes. We sing the songs and move in the same lines. Ritual is beautiful because it does not change, YOU do.

One of the great joys of Taichman's production is the half-hour pre-show where the entire company sits in stillness and watches the audience enter the space.
On 3 September, 2021, our company watched with tears in our eyes, as the audience of 175 people slowly filled the seats in an act of post-war solidarity and need. What I have learned from the last 18 months, from the revival of our world, industry and the company of Indecent, is that the human spirit is inextinguishable.

Every performance feels precious now, and every audience member who joins us is brave. By engaging in this sacred ritual we have been deprived of for so long, we honour all artists, theatre makers, theatre lovers, the real-life people our characters represent, and above all: the 7 million global citizens lost to us—the audience that can no longer speak for themselves.

That is zeyn in dinst fun — “to be in service of.”


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