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Jewish theatre by women, for women

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Observant women rarely have the opportunity to show their talent for theatre, dance, and song, but they proved their abilities last week in The Power of Song.
by GILLIAN KLAWANSKY | Jun 20, 2019

This adaptation of the Sound of Music, held at Eden College in Johannesburg from 13 to 19 June, was an all-woman production for an all-women audience – and it was all-out phenomenal.

“There are many observant women who, because of halachic restraints, won’t perform in front of men,” says Linda Zulberg, the brainchild of the production. “Our idea is to ensure an all-female audience, giving [performers] more creative outlets. It gives them the opportunity to sing, dance, and act on stage, an opportunity many thought they’d never have.”

Zulberg, who over the years has written, directed, and produced many acclaimed school plays, first conceived of the idea of the Joburg Jewish Women’s Theatre a year and a half ago, inspired by similar companies in Israel and the United States.

“There are women’s groups doing just this, and I’ve watched their productions,” says Zulberg. “Both my children who were involved with such groups in America and Israel said to me, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it now’.

“So, a year and a half ago, we did it for the first time with The Fortunate Two. It was like jumping into cold water, but we had an overwhelming response,” Zulberg says. “For me, this is a project that’s come out of a very full communal and family life. It’s a wonderful outlet, and I love doing it.” Having now completed their second production, the theatre group is flourishing.

Word about the auditions spread throughout the community via shul and WhatsApp groups.

“Many, many people came, and we saw very talented women,” says Zulberg. “It’s tough, because if you do it by audition, you can take only those who are appropriate to the parts. Some heartbreak is involved, unfortunately.”

Yet, what resulted was a highly talented group of singers, actors, and dancers. “We’ve also got a wonderful production team including top managers, choreographers, and musical directors. It’s given those of us who are observant in the production team a chance to express ourselves. People are very excited about this production. We’ve had capacity audiences.”

Zulberg says the play brought women from all corners of the Jewish community together. “Every single part of the community has been involved,” she says. “Amongst the cast, there are people from every religious background. For example, just by chance, each of the seven children of the household in the play came from different schools – from King David to Hirsch Lyons to Torah Academy to Sandton Sinai. It’s really a unity project.”

The story of a young governess who comes to look after seven wayward children, and fills their home with light and music has entranced audiences for decades.

In this version, the governess is the impetuous Ashira, who comes from a Jewish seminary. “We decided to do The Sound of Music because it’s an absolute favourite with everyone,” says Zulberg. “It’s a delightful musical, well-rounded, and the songs are gorgeous. I adapted it to have Jewish relevance, and wrote the words to the additional songs.

“It’s a difficult musical to do because the demands on the voice are extremely high – it’s only really for sopranos. Baruch Hashem, through auditions we found our lead, Daniella Winer. She was literally the last person to audition. We were just completely dumbstruck. What a voice!

“This production has been an amazing experience because everyone worked together well. They’ve all done it voluntarily, and they’ve all been very committed.”

The play was financed through ticket sales, with additional proceeds donated to the charity DL Link.

“Sitting in the lighting box watching this show, I’m already thinking about what the next play will be.”

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