Zoom rehearsal
Zoom rehearsal Sharon Katz

Whether you’re in show business or not, you know and surely have used the expression, “The show must go on.” It means that no matter what the difficulties are around you, you must find a way to surmount them, and continue moving forward!

In the theater, it’s about the leading lady breaking a leg and being replaced on Opening Night by an extraordinary chorus girl or the cast giving a stellar performance on an empty stage when the scenery truck broke down 100 miles away.

But, “The show must go on,” means more than a theatrical troupe giving its all under any conditions. It means that the show of life must go on – continuing despite the challenges, and all the stumbling blocks that keep popping up in front of us. Problems with our children, our spouses, our family, our co-workers can be abundant. We must smile when we want to cry, hug when we feel like screaming, wake up to face a problem when we’d rather stay in bed with the covers over our heads. We must go on, because the show must go on.

Still, sometimes we are talking about both shows – the show of life and that of the stage. We all know what the past two years have been like, living in fear of COVID, and even afraid of contact with our friends and family. We all know the pain and sorrow of the pandemic-engendered isolation.

ENDING THE ISOLATION THROUGH THEATER

Two years ago, our theater company, The Women’s Performance Community of Jerusalem had planned to hold auditions for a new musical, written by myself and the talented Avital Macales. This historical musical, “WHISPER FREEDOM: The Soviet Jewry Struggle”, transports us to 1970s Moscow. Displeased that Jews are rediscovering their connections to Israel and the Jewish people, the Soviet regime and the KGB are tightening their grip on the Jewish community – preventing them from living as Jews, or leaving as Jews.

Then COVID got in the way. Auditions, rehearsals, performances were put on hold.

But enough is enough. We decided to pull down the “Iron Curtain” that this pandemic had fabricated for us, to bring women together again, to sing together, dance together and even put on a show. But again, it wasn’t the show that had to go on. Life had to go on, and the show was a vehicle to take us out of our four walls, bring us face to face (or at least eyes to eyes) with other women, create a supportive warm environment with friends, and give us something positive (in the old sense of the word) to look forward to.

Rehearsal with masks
Rehearsal with masks צילום: Sharon Katz

Rehearsals began on “WHISPER FREEDOM” this past October. Two nights every week in Jerusalem, more than fifty gifted and warmhearted women gathered at our home-base, the OU Israel Center, to sing, dance, act, and as a group, gain courage to face the frightening COVID-filled world outside.

That would have been a nice normal project, except for the fact that these women had to rehearse with masks, following all the MOH rules, trying to keep their fellow cast members safe and healthy. We’ve smiled extra wide at each other, purposefully sending a twinkle up to our eyes. We’ve listened with concentration, straining to hear our fellow actors’ lines, although muffled by a face mask.

And when a member of our “WHISPER FREEDOM” family tested positive or went into quarantine, we all did home or PCR tests, came to rehearsal and kept zoom open on a laptop, so everyone would still rehearse the scene. We’ve had three out sick, five, twenty. We’ve even rehearsed in the street to escape the masks.

While we’ve never cancelled rehearsal, we had a full cast zoom rehearsal during the snowstorm. It wasn’t the idea way to rehearse, but we finally got to see everyone’s mask-less faces.

ADDICTED TO THE NEWS

Simultaneously, we continually read the news. We follow announcements from the Hebrew University infectious diseases team and are encouraged by their opinions that we have passed the peak of the Omicron wave. One specialist said that we can start to relax. “Relax” means “theater” to us.

We speak with other theater companies planning February and March runs. We wish good luck to each company. We pray that everyone’s show will go on.

We booked our stage with the hopes that we would once again play to SRO audiences, as we had always done. While Omicron’s daily infection rates weigh heavily on our minds, we are encouraged by the medical community’s belief that we’re on our way to freedom.

March is supposed to be a good month, according to the scientific teams. In other words, the show can go on. We wish the public well, and we hope audiences will return to the theater. We heard that the Green Passport may well be a thing of the past, and we’re yearning for an end to COVID commotion in the outside world.

We’d like drama to be confined to the stage only, especially in Jerusalem, as our show’s Soviet Jewry activists, refuseniks (Russian Jews who requested an exit visa but were refused), Hebrew teachers, prisoners of Siberia and their supporters around the world fight for the freedom of Soviet Jews.

Notes:

“WHISPER FREEDOM” is the third epic-themed musical co-authored/composed by myself and Avital Macales, from production team of The Women’s Performance Community of Jerusalem and OU Israel. It follows the highly successful “Count the Stars” (2016) and “Hidden: The Secret Jews of Spain” (2018).

Avital and I spent more than two years on research through in-person interviews with refuseniks and Soviet Jewry activists, plus dozens of history books and autobiographies by Prisoners of Zion.

“WHISPER FREEDOM” premieres on Sunday, March 6 at the IASA Theater in Givat HaMassua, under MOH guidelines. It will be performed in English with Russian and Hebrew surtitles.

Profits from our production (link to tickets) will benefit teens at risk through an OU Israel youth program.

Book, Music & Lyrics/Producers: Sharon Katz & Avital Macales
Director: Shifra C. Penkower
Musical Arrangements: Amit Ben Atar
Choral Arrangements/Musical Director: Ellen Macales
Choreography Director: Judy Kizer
Associate Producer: Bati Katz-Koplon
Stage Manager: Ruth Hyman