Y-Member Back on Stage after 20 years

Last fall, we asked Y members an intriguing question… Wanna be in a show?  Y member Josee Lavoie Falcone said “Yes!” and has joined an extraordinary group of people with the AfterWork Theater Project taking our stage over the next few weeks, some for the first time in a long time, and others, for the first time ever. AfterWork’s mission is to bring fun, community, and creative self-expression to anyone and everyone who wants to be a part of their productions, and over the next year, they will become the Y’s first Adult Theater Education partner.

Josee is taking the stage for the first time in 20 years in the moving play, The Laramie Project,  a breathtaking theatrical collage that explores the depths to which humanity can sink and the heights of compassion of which we are capable.  The Laramie Project is about a twenty-one-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, Matthew Shepard, who was kidnapped, severely beaten and left to die, tied to a fence in the middle of the prairie outside Laramie, Wyoming because he was gay.

Learn more about Josee, her prior acting experience, and her time here at the 14th Street Y. Also, check her out in the Laramie Project with the AfterWork Theater Project at the 14th Street Y, Friday, January 31st through Sunday, February 2nd.

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Q: Have you ever done theater before? If you have when was the last time? If you haven’t, why now?

I loved the theater as a child and read a lot of plays. I still know by heart the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet that I taught myself when I was 12.

As a teen, I was part of a group that earned a grant to write a play. We rented an apartment for the purpose and had many wintry get-togethers where we had a meeting of the minds, then all-out shout fests followed by resolution. Truly great.

I also was in a play, as a teen, by the Quebecois playwright Michel Tremblay. I played an outrageous, outspoken diva named Brigitte. Not Juliet, but wonderful, campy joy. The first man I ever loved was “the musician” in that play.

I haven’t done any theater since then, and that was 20 years ago, so when this opportunity came up, my husband urged me to be a part of it.

Q: How else have you been involved with the 14th Street Y?

I love the fitness classes and their wide array and have had a couple of personal training sessions. Thanks to Becky Skoff, we also got the chance to see the wonderful Jake Goodman in Kaddish. We plan on being much more active attendees of the events at the Y. We just weren’t aware of all that goes on here. And, of course, AWTP is a case in point.

Q: What is your favorite thing about being a part of Afterwork?

It’s more than a little clichéd but it remains true that it’s the people who make an endeavor more or less worthwhile. We have a great team for the Laramie project and I am very happy to have gotten to know them all a little bit. I love our team. Lee Kasper, our director, is very talented. He always makes the right call–really!–which is sometimes deep-nod inducing, sometimes a bit startling, like when a new way of seeing suddenly becomes manifest. It’s a bit of a thrill to watch!

It is also quite a learning experience to watch professionals put a show together. While we may be producing “amateur” productions, nothing about the process feels amateurish. Lee and Devan, our Stage Manager, are exacting and there is great passion on everyone’s part to put on the best piece we can. It’s most interesting to witness all of the little complexities and background noise that goes into putting something like this on its feet and before an audience. I’m also learning the lingo.

Q: What role/roles are you playing? How do you get into character?

One of my roles is a university professor. Aside from the usual mnemonics, I just have to imagine the fear and the outrage that she would feel, as a prominent lesbian in a town where a gay hate crime has just been committed, and her second-guessing her decision to come to this town, thereby potentially placing herself, her child and her partner at risk. My other role is more of a challenge: I have a few lines as a homophobic male rancher. It’s tough to get those lines out! I throw myself into the body of a cud chewing, tobacco spitting, er, limited person with the kinds of opportunities attendant to that. He’s a cliché too, but he’s real, literally and in the wider sense.

Q: What do you love about the 14th Street Y?

There is so much to love. The programs that keep growing, the arts opportunities, the sense of community, whether you are Jewish or not. To my great pleasure, the Y turns out to be a treasure trove that I did not rightfully explore until now.

Q: What are we going to see you performing in next?

My manager is currently negotiating that; I’m not at liberty to say. 😉

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Check out Josee in the Laramie Project with the AfterWork Theater Project at the 14th Street Y, Friday, January 31st through Sunday, February 2nd.

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On the Other Side of Portraiture Photographer Davina Zagury’s Lens

Award winning portraiture photographer, Davina Zagury will be shooting family portraits on Sunday, February 2nd in her whimsical, unique style at the 14th Street Y. Davina shared some of her favorite photographs with us. Get to know Davina and her engaging work from her perspective.

Image“A few years ago a family came for a regular family portrait. I told them to bring some masks that the kids play around in and enjoy. From the shoot, this turned out to be the best image out of the lot. I was so inspired! I have been wanting to do the Family Portrait Dress Up Series because of this experience.”

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“For this shoot, I told the girls that we are going outside. I asked them to bring their favorite masks. On our walk we found this magical spot. This magnificent photo was the result.”

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“I was invited to this family’s home because they really wanted to include their dog. The dog just wanted a nap.”

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Sign your family up for this unique opportunity on February 2nd at the 14th Street Y here.

Meet LABA’s International Guitar Virtuoso

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We had the privilege of speaking with guitairist/composer virtuoso Nadav Lev, a LABA Fellow with serious international performance credits that include Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, the Centro Cultural Espanol in Miami, and Iglesia De Sampaio De Antealtares in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Nadav let us into his past and his current process as he is deep into rehearsals for his premiere work Shomeret Layla (the Night Watcher): for female vocalist, electric guitar and live electronics. The piece will be performed on Saturday, January 25, 2014 at MOTHER: Creator/Destroyer at 7:30pm at the Theater at the 14th Street Y. Click Here for Tickets.

Q: Tell us about your musical background. When did you start playing and what musically inspires you?

I started playing the guitar when I was 9 years old, in kibbutz Nachshon in Israel, where I grew up. I loved music and was attracted to it from a very young age. I had an urge to be able to produce music by myself and express myself with sound. I then discovered the guitar and fell in love with it. The first music I loved and was inspired by was Israeli folk-rock music, especially Shalom Hanoch, of whom I knew all songs by heart at age of 11. Since then I had gone through a great variety of musical styles – as a teenager I was immersed in jazz, later playing rock and from there made my way to study composition and classical guitar. Today, although formally in the classical world, I try to defy strict categorization and allow the various influences I’ve acquired אם resonate and help me create my own personal voice and language.

Q: How does the study of ancient Jewish texts inspire the creation of new work?

The connection between text and music is a complex issue, which I think about a lot. Although we are used to encountering this juncture of music and text all the time, it’s important to remember that these forms of expression are two different entities. What connects them and make them “work together” is in many ways a mystery.
In my work, it is always a delicate dance between analyzing and interpreting intellectually on the one hand, and trying to allow the text with its meanings, but also with it built-in music, to reverberate into me on the other, and come back out as it “wants” to.

Q: How has being a LABA fellow effected your work as an artist?

The opportunity to study and interact with other artists in an open and stimulating environment has been inspiring and enriching. The ways in which my artistic activity is influenced by this study and encounters are often indirect and hidden, but they are doubtlessly felt and present. Just like with physical nutrition this food for the soul gives me, after digested well, the energy and nutrients are vital for creation.

Q: Tell us about your collaborators. What are they contributing to your new work?

I feel very lucky to work with composer and sound artist Guy Barash, singer Re’ut Ben-Ze’ev and visual artists Omer and Tal Golan. Both the audio and visual artists contribute their unique voice and vision, in a way that responds to my music and connects to it in various levels: Guy Barash’s live electronic processing serves as an expansion of the singer’s voice, allowing it to resonate in transcendent sonorities and with multiple layers. Omer and Tal Golan add video projection that includes both prearranged materials and live processing of visuals, taken by live cameras on stage. In both cases there is a strong emphasis on the reaction of these collaborative artists in real time to what happens in the moment. Re’ut Ben-Ze’ev is a uniquely expressive performer who is bringing to the piece a strong theatrical presence and distinct, uncompromising artistic personality, along with her beautiful voice.

See Nadav Lev’s new work Shomeret Layla (the Night Watcher): for female vocalist, electric guitar and live electronics. The piece will be performed on Saturday, January 25, 2014 at MOTHER: Creator/Destroyer at 7:30pm at the Theater at the 14th Street Y. Click Here for Tickets.

Dual Identities

Tom Block
Tom Block

LABA Fellow, Tom Block, is a multi-dimensional artist presenting a premier play and art sponsored by LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture. His artwork is being shown in the Gallery at the 14th Street Y and his multi-media play “La Bestia: Sweet Mother” is making a premier at MOTHER: Creator/Destroyer on January 25th at 7:30pm at the Theater at the 14th Street Y.

Tom is letting us into his dual life as a father and an artist.

Q: You have an installation in the Gallery at the 14th Street Y, you had a staged reading of an original play in December, and now you are presenting a premiere play with dance and music at MOTHER: Creator/Destroyer on January 25th here at the 14th Street Y. WOW! What inspires you to work in so many mediums?

A: I find that different mediums reach different audiences, so the short answer is that the more manners of expressing myself, the greater audience I can find for my work and ideas.  Additionally, different media touch people in different ways.  By working with one theme across a variety of media, I can add depth, nuance and complexity to the message.  With a subject matter that is so near and dear to my heart as Mother as Creator/Destroyer (not only do I have a mother, and am married to a mother, but my personal theology is based on that exact moment when nothingness is destroyed by creation — and the desperation that the original Creator — i.e Mother — must have felt to undertake such a radical departure from perfection), I want to explore the subject from as many different angels as I can muster.

Also, I love creating.  I live to create.  If I am not creating something which attempts to be sublime — at the intersection of pain and beauty — I feel empty.

Q: Tell us about where you currently live, your family, and how you find the time to make so much new work?

A: I live in Silver Spring, MD and have a wife and two girls, ages thirteen and nine.  I actually live kind of a dual-personality life — at home, I am more or less a stay-at-home father (my wife works in the county government), getting the kids off to school, picking them up, getting them their afternoon snack, gently reminding them (!) of their various obligations.

However, I also (in my own eyes, at least) am a New York artist, and all time not occupied with my family, I am writing, painting, noting, sketching and creating.  I find that each half of my personality feeds the other.  A delicate but, in the best of times (which the LABA Fellowship era certainly represents) a wonderful and inspirational balance.

Q: How has LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture influenced your work?

A: Tremendously.  It has given me profound fodder (to put it in horsey terms) for the exploration of specific theological and philosophical themes with which I have been working my whole career.  The sessions with Ruby, Ronit and Elissa have stirred up many ideas and emotions, and the interaction with the incredibly talented and passionate collection of fellows has energized and inspired.  I am creating my first truly multi-media piece of theater as part of the fellowship and would not have had the inspiration or support to do so without the LABA Fellowship.

Q: Your new work premiering at MOTHER: Creator/Destroyer, “La Bestia” has spurred the creation of a play with original music, dance, and a series of original art with a Latin influence. How did you get a Latin vibe from your work with LABA and the texts you studied?

A: Well — hmmm.  By “Latin vibe,” I assume you mean basing the narrative of the theater piece (and title) on the freight train “La Bestia” (a real conveyance) which illegally brings illegal immigrants toward the US border from Central America.  Since I was working with the idea of Mother as Creator/Destroyer, this seemed like an ideal metaphor: not only is it literally a snake (think: Garden of Eden and the original mother, Eve) in its physical appearance, but it is also an object that gives new life (the hope that awaits in the United States) as well as takes it (many who board the train in Arriaga never make it to the US border, due to the dangers of the conveyance itself).  Additionally, it helps particularize the mythological and theological themes that I am working with.  As the French poet Baudelaire noted, “true beauty is a combination of the particular and the eternal.”

Q: Is there anything else you want the readers to know about you and your work?

A: My work is an ongoing artistic and philosophical exploration of what it means to be human — to be cast into this world with enough of a consciousness to know that something is going on, but not enough to be able to figure out exactly what it is.  At the heart of every work I produce, in all media, is a question mark, not an answer.

To learn more about my painting, writing and theater works, please visit: www.tomblock.com

Tom Block will be presenting “La Bestia: Sweet Mother” at MOTHER: Creator/Destroyer on January 25th at 7:30pm at the Theater at the 14th Street Y.

Click Here for Tickets and More Information

WHY KADDISH? WHY NOW?

Why Kaddish? Why Imre Kertesz? Why Now?

By Kaddish actor, Jake Goodman and Kaddish director, Barbara Lanciers

Solo actor, Jake Goodman, and director, Barbara Lanciers, give an in depth look into why the inspiring writer Imre Kertesz and their play Kaddish, returning to the Theater at the 14th Street Y January 10-13th, 2014, is so important to them.

Barbara Lanciers, Imre Kertész, and Jake Goodman after the opening of Kaddish in Budapest in June 2013.
Barbara Lanciers, Imre Kertész, and Jake Goodman after the opening of Kaddish in Budapest in June 2013.

Economic collapse, political turmoil, and a general decline in the everyday quality of life of the masses leads to blaming, to demonizing anyone viewed as “other,” which, in Europe, means the usual scapegoats: Jews, Roma, and the LGBT community. No, we’re not talking about 1930s and 40s Europe, we talking about Europe today. Right now.

A wave of openly anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, and anti-gay groups have emerged and increased in strength and influence across Europe. In Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Romania, Sweden, and the UK, these groups have been making headlines in major international papers. And in some countries, Hungary being a prime example, they have come to political power with members representing the EU Parliament. Recently, the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights published the results of a survey of 5,847 self-selected individuals in 8 EU member countries. The report, titled “Discrimination and Hate Crime against Jews in EU Member States: experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism,” reveals that a vast majority of European Jews feel unsafe and live in fear of verbal and/or physical abuse in their homelands.

In response to the results of this study and using several years of reporting on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, with a particular focus on Hungary, the New York Times recently announced a long-term project titled “Exploring Anti-Semitism in Hungary.” From their website…

The Times will be taking a deep look at anti-Semitism in Hungary this coming year. As we report on this issue, we are hoping to hear from Hungarian Jews on their experiences. If you are Jewish and living in Hungary or are from Hungary, we invite you to answer the following questions.”

When talking about governmental consolidation of power, growing intolerance, and the rise of openly anti-Semitic political groups (Jobbik, in this case), Hungary is a particularly compelling and disturbing case study.

This brings us to our friend and collaborator, Imre Kertész. Why stage Imre’s words now? Imre was born in Hungary in 1929. He is a survivor of the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002; he is the only Hungarian writer to ever receive this honor. In January 2013, The New Yorker highlighted the disturbing situation in Hungary through the lens of Imre’s decision to house his personal archive in Germany rather than his native Hungary. The article was appropriately titled “The Frightening Hungarian Crackdown.”

In Hungary and throughout Europe, Imre is widely regarded as one of the most eloquent and arresting voices on the subjects of identity, memory, history, survival, political culpability, reactions to intolerance, and yes, the horrors of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, Imre’s work is not widely known in the United States. A recent, glowing NY Times review of Imre’s 2013 “Dossier K” should help with that, but when we talk to Americans about our production of “Kaddish,” based on his novel “Kaddish for an Unborn Child,” we get a lot of blank stares. “Who is that?”

The answer: Imre Kertész is one of the most important writers of this century, living in a country and a region of the world where there seems to be collective amnesia regarding the dangerous mistakes of the past. Also, it seems that the American press finds his story, his personal narrative, compelling in describing the situation in Hungary. Arguably, this is not just a European or a Hungarian story – the universality of one of the overarching themes of Imre’s work – namely, the citizenry grasping for rationality in the face of evil by way of protecting themselves from implication – that theme crosses border, region, nationality, time.   Here in the United States his words desperately need to be heard, and now. Right now.

When Barbara first met Imre and asked his permission to stage his beautiful novel, he asked her, “Do you like Beckett.” She immediately answered, “Yes!” And he responded, “Then I think you’ll do a fine job.”

Imre is our Beckett and our muse on this project. In “Kaddish,” the protagonist struggles with his decision not to father a child in a world where the Holocaust occurred and could occur again. Imre has referred to his novels, his collective work, to both Barbara and Jake as his children. We hope, through this project, we can also include ourselves in that category.

We invite you to join us in January at the 14th Street Y to see our production of “Kaddish.” Please let us introduce you to our friend and grandfather, Imre Kertész.

Kaddish at the Theater at the 14th Street Y

January 10-13th, 2014

Tickets and Information