Shira Epstein BLOGS!

“I am looking for a ROYAL PARTNER!”

With these words, StorahtellingLab/Shul Maven and LABA Teaching Artist Shawn Shafner, as King Ahashverosh, drew      my children, along with scores of young children pulling their grown-ups along, to engage in the Purim story last Sunday morning in the bright lobby lounge of the 14th Street Y. He also seemed to catch the eye of Lab/Shul educator Jess-Ann Smith, aka, Queen Esther–who shared her snacks and her wisdom with the king, proving that a winning partner is one who was unselfish, kind, wise, and brave. 

For a peek at the fun, click here!purim - jessann and shawn

“And I am looking for a more permanent position as the King’s jester, so please laugh at my jokes,” stage-whispered a Leprechaun-green creature with glitter-dusted cheeks, a blue wig, and eyes that seemed to sparkle a lot like those of  Lab/Shul’s incomparable Naomi Less.

In the corner, 14th Street Y Senior Program DirectorShayna Kreisler was quickly motivating staff and volunteers to change over our mask-and-gragger-making tables to be filled with treats to make “Goody-Foodie-Bags.” All were invited to make one for family or friends, and another to deliver to patients and staff at Beth Israel Hospital who might not be able to celebrate Purim– fulfilling the mitzvot of “misloach manot,” sending gifts of food to people in need of some love.  My son’s favorite part of the morning was walking to the hospital and meeting with Chaplain Rabbi Sheldon Goldsmith, who explained that he helped patients, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to heal their souls while the doctors and nurses heal their bodies.

purim - spacemanpurim - bakerPartnership, levity, good works inspired by Jewish narrative, and relationship-building were all apparent as we brought together a diverse community in celebration of this Jewish holiday.  As a mom, I was delighted to see my family having fun with the friends we have made participating in Shabbat at Lab/Shul. As the new Executive Director of the 14th Street Y, I couldn’t have been happier to see Lab/Shul and Y community members and staff working to bring Lab/Shul regulars, Y members, and new friends together–some who sought out a Purim party, and others who had never heard of Purim but wanted to join in the fun.

In my first few weeks at the 14th Street Y, I have come to understand how this community center can work with our partners, like Lab/Shul. Together we can attract and create a diverse community of people who build relationships and seek meaning through engagement with Jewish celebration, stories, ideas, and values-inspired action.

 purim - shaking homemade groggersThere is a history of partnership between the 14th Street Y and the creators of Lab/Shul that long precedes my arrival on the scene. I look forward to continuing to build together and hopefully to extend that reach to include many other organizations and groups who are working to revitalize Jewish life downtown. (SPOILER: Stay tuned—we have great plans in store for Shavuot!)

It is through partnerships that are unselfish, brave, kind and wise that we will continue to build a vital, meaningful, and diverse community filled with levity, good works, and culture inspired by Jewish narrative and tradition.

TOP 5 Indoor Gym Workouts to Try (while it’s still cold)



So….you woke up this morning cursing the cold and wind, right?  It was a very King Lear moment for most of us as we woke to the world, despite the additional dose of light coming in earlier all the time.

Take heart though.  Spring is on it’s way, and before long you’ll find yourself getting a healthy dose of vitamin D outside while you get in your daily activity level.  While it’s still chilly, head over to the 14th Street Y and try some of our favorite classes!  In no particular order:

1.  7:00PM Monday night:  PUNK ROPE.  The Y is happy to host Tim Haft’s PUNK ROPE in our Basketball gymnasium every week, bringing in the vibe, people and music of the East Village.  The class is a combination of everything that was fun about recess, and everything that is challenging about a solid, sweaty boot camp class.

2.  6:15PM Tuesday night:  NIA.  Love to dance?  NIA is a combination of the grace and power of dance, martial arts and overall body conditioning. Plus, our instructor is Yvonne Pucket, a former Hollywood dancer.  Real Hollywood.  Like, California.  With Elvis!

3. 6:20PM Wednesday night:  ZUMBA.  There’s a reason Zumba is so popular.  In our version, the energetic and popular Adja Diarra leads you through Latin rhythms, easy to follow and fun moves, plus some resistance training to help you tone, sculpt and burn.

4.  6:30PM Thursday night: TABATA.  This is that thing where you alternate periods of short, intense aerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods, for the entire hour. Taught by the amazing Jennifer Hamlin,  You’ll sweat like it’s summer.

5.  11:30AM Friday Morning: Power Sculpt and Ab Blast:  45 minutes of intense power sculpting that works your endurance and strength, followed by a 15 minute classic abs workout.  Taught by Elizabeth Schneider, who’s style makes you feel really good about the fact that you can barely lift your arms to put away your mat.


Try these and so many more fitness classes at the Y by becoming a member!  Click here to find out how.


–Camille Diamond is the Director of Community Engagement and Communications at the 14th Street Y.  Her arms still hurt from last Friday.

MT Works Brings “Dark Water” to the Y

“Dark Water” MT Works

We spoke with Antonio Miniño the Co-Artistic Director of MT Works as the company presents “Dark Water” at the Theater at the 14th Street Y March 13-29th. MT Works is a part of the new Theater Series at the Y. The series presents cutting edge downtown theater. Antonio told us about the production and the company.

Q: When was the company founded and what type of work do you do in your season?

A: The company started in 2006 when David Stallings, Cristina Alicea (now producing director Vermont Stage), and I worked on a show together: “Folie a Deux”. Our artistic aesthetic and work ethic just gelled together and we decided to start Maieutic Theatre Works (what we now know as Manhattan Theatre Works). We knew we wanted to showcase new plays and we knew we wanted to make a social change through our work and not just create theater for entertainment.

We have different programs aside from our mainstages that we’ve been developing throughout the years. Such as our Newborn Festival, Fireworks, Reworks and MTWorkologues.

Q: How do you choose the work that is being performed?

A: Plays are chosen through open submissions to our Newborn Festival which is a free annual reading series. Once a finalist the plays are part of the Living Room Series and we incorporate the astute feedback of our MTWorkers (company members) and our board to help us pick the plays that will be presented to the public.

"Dark Water" MT WorksQ: How important are social and environmental issues to the company?

A: Social issues are everything to us. It our society and beyond we cater to. The core of our mission is to challenge our perception of diversity, be it race, geography, sexuality or creed. “Dark Water” is our first environmental piece and through it we’ve learned and implemented ways to save on both material and energy.

Q: How does your company deal with social and environmental issues?

A: We tackle them head on. We are not shy or apologetic when it comes to presenting our work and we try and expand beyond the plays, with talk-backs, panel discussions and audience awareness.

Q: Welcome back to the Y, how does it feel?

A: We are thrilled to be back at the Y! We have been gypsies for a while renting at different locations but until the Y we had no sense of belonging or real support. Through the Theater Series we have been able to expand the reach of our message while feeling in very good company. The staff at the Y also goes above and beyond to make sure we have everything we need and to help us spread the word.

Q: Tell us about Dark Water and the company’s work with the writer, David Stallings, and director Heather Cohn.

A: David is our co-artistic director and one of the founders of our aesthetic. He shared with us a couple of play ideas he was toying with and one of them was “Dark Water.” We  immediately got goosebumps, “that must be the one you develop first and MTWorks has to produce it”, was the feeling in the room.

Heather Cohn has been with the play since January 2013 when she directed the reading of an earlier draft and they are the perfect match. The three of us collaborated outside of MTWorks in another Stallings play, “The Stranger to Kindness” (along with Susan G. Bob who is also in “Dark Water”) and they have that wonderful “finish-each-other’s thoughts” artistic connection.

Q: Tell us why to see “Dark Water”? "Dark Water" MT Works

A: Come see it! It will change you, enrage you and hopefully invoke change.

Click here for more information and to get tickets for “Dark Water”

Top FIVE Reasons to join a Gym

Hi, I am Jennifer and I work here at the 14th Street Y as the Membership Sales Coordinator.

I basically introduce people to the Y and get them started on membership.  In this role, I am often called upon to be a motivator and an ear for people who have hit a wall in their health and wellness and don’t know how to move forward.  I feel like I have gotten pretty good at motivating, and I think it is because I am, in a way, talking to myself.

I am a normal woman who skips workouts, indulges from time to time, guilts myself for not fitting into a mold and throws a nasty side eye at fashion magazines with unreachable images of beauty.  Most mornings, my alarm goes off, my eyes crack and with a sigh of sadness I dramatically heave myself off of my bed to begin another day.   I make a mental list of everything I have to accomplish that day and working out is always on that list.  And every day, almost immediately, I start scheming ways to get out of it.  Is that a headache?  A cramp?  Wasn’t I supposed to call my best friend and talk her through a crisis?

How do I motivate myself and how do I talk to people about fitness when they come to the Y?  I begin with honesty.  I don’t like to work out.  More precisely, I hate it…for the first 10 to 15 minutes.  Once I have passed that initial hatred and my heart rate really starts going and I realize that it is too late for me to leave, then I feel GLORIOUS!  Like everything in life, the key to success is getting past all the negative stuff we allow to hold us back and move into the “I deserve to feel good and live a good life” phaseBelow are the all the things I tick off in my head when I talk to people about fitness and the very things that form my health and wellness philosophy.

1.  Support from your peers.
Your peers are the people who are around your age and share the same ideas and goals as yourself.  I will broaden that definition when speaking about the support network you get when you join a gym:  You have a building full of people who are working hard to achieve the same goals that you have!  You want to succeed, they want to succeed, you want them to succeed and vice versa!  It is a virtual love fest of the best kind of people feeding off each other’s best energy.  If you stick with exercising and make it a regular part of your life, you actually have an endless supply of support and help as often as you walk through the door!

2.  It’s Social.  But not in that way.
I am just going to say it-sometimes it is nice to get away from your friends and family and the people you work with.  Sometimes it is nice to be surrounded by people who you don’t know very well.  Gym friends are sharing the same goals as you and can be an awesome support system but beyond that, joining your community and being present in your life outside of work and family obligations is good for the soul. Some of the best conversations I have had about books and music have happened in the locker room after an intense workout when I was feeling relaxed and quite pleased with myself for working out hard.  Try putting the incline all the way up on the treadmill and chatting with the woman next to you about Game of Thrones (this usually turns into ten people gathered around a treadmill nerding out in all the right ways).  You don’t have to talk about working out while you are at the gym, you can actually just BE at the gym in a way that you cannot BE at work when you are filling deadlines and answering endless emails.  Trust me, it is magical.

3.  Addressing Stress Relief, Seasonal Depression, Energy Levels, or a combo of all three.
Instead of sitting at home and watching The Bachelor (seriously, don’t watch The Bachelor, it is bad for your brain) and sinking deeper into seasonal depression, GET MOVING.  When you are exercising and burning fat and building muscle, you have all kinds of endorphins running around like crazy in your body telling you how very awesome you are.  And you are awesome, you just didn’t realize it when you were drinking your third glass of wine last night and wondering if you will get four or five hours of sleep before you have to go to work the next morning.  If you work out regularly you WILL sleep better, have more energy during the day, be more motivated to achieve goals and cut WAY down on your stress levels.  I like you better already!

4.  Being the person you are meant to be!  (treat Yo’self!)
Not much to say about this other than the fact that being your best self is the truest of love stories.  Looking good, feeling good and surrounding yourself with people who support you being happy leads to a great life.  And who does not want a great life?  You deserve it and so do the people you love.  Stop looking at working out as something that you have to do and look at it as time spent taking care of yourself.  If you can put it on the same level as getting a pedicure or taking yourself to the movies then you are one step closer to making exercise a regular part of your life.

5.  Your Basic, Overall health
There is a ton of science out there about what to eat and how to work out.  I won’t try and sell you any of that.  I am just saying to move.  Walking on a treadmill, stretching on a mat, jumping in the pool and doggy paddling in a circle-these all lead to immediate health benefits.  A long life sounds wonderful but imagine if you could live a long life where you also FELT great?  Doesn’t that sound like something you would want for yourself?

jennier in snow

Jennifer Cutillo is the Membership Coordinator of the 14th Street Y with over 10 years experience in the fitness industry.

Winter is her favorite Season.

Spotlight on our Teaching Artists!

This spring break, the Y is feeling Wicked!

During our Spring Break Theater Camp, middle school students will get the chance to work with two Wicked performers in our Broadway Now! class. Every day, students will learn a song from a hit Broadway musical in the morning and then learn the original choreography in the afternoon. The day ends with a performance for the younger campers. Not excited enough yet? Check out the amazing work of our teaching artists:

Carla Stickler —  Vocal Performance

Carla-Stickler carla-elphaba

Carla is currently understudying the role of Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway, has toured nationally with Wicked, Mama Mia!, and The Sound of Music, and educates young artists all over the country through various workshops. Carla also works with the Educational Theatre Association to provide scholarships for high school students.

Visit Carla’s website here. Check out the videos to hear her amazing voice!

Napoleon W Gladney —  Dance

napoleongladneyNapoleon was recently a featured dancer in Wicked‘s first national tour. Napoloen has performed and taught internationally with Broadway Connection, Odyssey Dance Theatre, Backhaus Dance, and The Dance Cartel. Commercial credits include Bud Light, Spiderman, and Funny or Die.

Visit Napoleon’s website here.

Albert Iturregui-Elias — Shakespeare

AlbertElias_2Master Teaching Artist Albert joins us through MCC Theater. He has taught at Lincoln Center Theater, Enact, Theater for a New Audience, and many other theaters and non-profits  to direct and educate students in the dramatic and performing arts focusing on social conflicts. He is a native of Peru and moved to NYC to study at the Actors Studio 1993-1998. Albert has appeared in such featured films as Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep.

Click here for a video of Albert’s students in a workshop of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

A Questioning Writer

A Conversation with LABA Fellow and writer, Clemence Boulouque


Q: In one word, describe your work?

A: Questions

Q: What is your primary medium or style of work?

A: Fiction and non-fiction, sometimes interwoven.

Q: Your work is so full and complex, what influences you?

A: Trying to capture the moment before the abyss, and hearing the voices of those who were swept away by history. Human frailty, I guess. And the immense enigma of grace and loving-kindness, which I find even more mysterious than evil. What can writing heal or repair? And how?

Q: Describe your process for us.

A: I don’t have a routine- in a way, it is unceasing, I take notes all the time, whether I write them down or not. I wish to believe that thoughts that I forget also become… sediment which I will use at some [future] point. So something builds up inside and then there is a sense of urgency, of these moments when not writing makes me suffocate. Right now I am at the final stage of writing my dissertation and I have no time for fiction – and I acutally feel how I miss it, it’s almost physical.

Q: How has being a LABA fellow informed your current work?

A: Studying , being in a community where diversity bonds us, is quite unique. I come with my academic baggage and I am happy to check it at the door (alright – sometimes my nerdy self kicks in).

Q: What…are you able to take from being a LABA fellow?

A: The group dynamics, listening to the other fellows’ perspective[s] – it is refreshing, inspiring and uplifting.

Q: How long does it take for you to conceptualize, create, and get to the presentation stage of your work?

A: It depends- I wrote my first book in a couple of months but it had taken almost a decade to let the words come to me.

Q: Is there anything else you would like us to know about you and your work?

A: Speaking of mothers, my mother tongue is French and I did not learn English that early (Italian, German came first). So switching to English in my new projects sometimes makes me feel like a child again: a bit scared by the world outside but so eager to take the plunge.

Join Clemence Boulouque, THIS Sunday at 7:30pm for the debut of a new work in progress, “The Faith in Her Eyes,” a new one-act play about Regina Jonas, the first-ever female rabbi. For more information and tickets, click here.

Quick-Witted Writer

SigalAcclaimed writer, Sigal Samuel, is a LABA Fellow with many influences. Her newest play “Four [Women] Entered Paradise,” is premiering at MOTHER: Power on March 16th at 7:30pm. The play looks at what happens when the four matriarchs enter paradise, a twist on the famous Talmudic tale about four rabbis. Sigal took a moment to tell us about her influences and the new play.

Q: In one word, describe your work?

A: Interstitial.

Q: What is your primary medium or style of work?

A: The written word — from fiction to journalism to playwriting.

Q: What influences your work?

A: My work owes a lot to Jewish texts, from the Talmud and Midrash to S.Y. Agnon and Yona Wallach. Contemporary philosophers, feminist artists, and queer theorists also play a major role.

Q: Any advice for aspiring writers?

A: In the immortal words of Dorothy Parker: “The art of writing is the art of applying the ass to the chair.”

Q: How long does it take for you to “pen” a new project?

A: It depends on the project. Playwriting, for me, is usually a fast process; I once wrote an entire one-act on the bus from Brooklyn to Montreal. But I’ve also just spent much of the past three years writing my first novel. So, there’s a range.

Q: How has being a LABA fellow informed your current work?

A: My new play, “Four [Women] Entered Paradise,” would never have come into being without LABA. One of the program’s study sessions provided the text that served as the initial jumping-off point (Eve’s first lover was not Adam, but the snake? Who knew!) and one of the fellows provided the setting by drawing a connection to the mystical garden known as the Pardes (thanks, Siona Benjamin!) in her own work.

Q: What have you been able to take away from being a LABA fellow?

A: For me, the Beit Midrash or study hall has always been a culture laboratory — a place where Judaism’s rich literary tradition inevitably sparked off creative ideas. But, studying in yeshiva settings, I always felt that I had to either sneak those ideas in covertly, or else go home and follow up on them in the privacy of my own notebook. That’s why participating in LABA, where those projects are actually the express purpose of the text study and not some weird unintended spinoff, has been such a positive experience.

See “Four [Women] Entered Paradise,” March 16th at MOTHER: Power, 7:30pm. Click here for more information and tickets.

Red Fern Theatre Company Returns with “Since Africa”

Red Fern Theatre Company invited us backstage to learn more about the company and their current production at the Theater at the 14th Street Y, “Since Africa.” The production is apart of the newly launched Theater Series at the 14th Street Y. The Theater Series partners with cutting-edge theater companies to present new work including Red Fern Theatre Company, MT Works, and the jewish plays project. The play has garnered so much buzz and positive attention here at the Y. For more information and tickets click here. The socially aware company gave us insight into their process, history, and current production “Since Africa”.

Jenny Anderson
Jenny Anderson

Q: Give us a little background about Red Fern Theatre Company. When was the company founded, why, and what type of work does the company do?

A: Founded in 2006, the Red Fern Theatre Company strives to provoke social awareness and change through theatrical productions.  Each play developed by the RFTC addresses social issues that range in scope from local to global, and it is paired with a philanthropy whose work relates to the social themes of the play.  By associating each production with a philanthropic organization, we are able to bridge the gap between the issues we present to our audience and the change we seek to create.

The RFTC has produced a diverse range of programming including the revivals of 10 plays, 3 New York premieres, 4 World Premieres, the World premiere of 4 evenings of commissioned short plays, and countless staged readings.  We have also partnered with 17 philanthropic organizations.  Since shifting our focus to new work, Red Fern has supported the work of over 40 playwrights.

Q: How do you choose the work that is being performed?

A: We read hundreds of scripts.  Obviously we consider the quality of the work, but we want to create a better sense of awareness about the issues we present.  Our plays strive to cause conversation about an issue as opposed to presenting a one-sided message.  We realize that only through education and conversation true change can develop.

Q: How does your company deal with issues of diversity and cultural differences?

Jenny Anderson
Jenny Anderson

A: Diversity and cultural differences are at the heart of our work, and we expose issues many people do not realize exist.  Given the nature of our work, we often address the under-represented in our community.  Our current production “Since Africa” includes an extremely diverse cast.  We also produce a significant number of female playwrights.  Our plays have tackled many issues including  AIDS, political hostages, sexuality, childhood development, death row, the Holocaust, Vietnam Veterans, political corruption, environmental issues, bipolar disorder, gentrification, rape in the military, online gaming and its effect on our youth, among many others.  We are always looking for topics that other companies might not tackle and we often produce plays inspired by true stories.

Q: What drew you to presenting work at the Theater at the 14th Street Y?

A: We love the community at the Y.  We also love that we have been a part of the theater’s revitalization in the past few years.  It has been a privilege to grow with the theater, and it has been a pleasure working with the Theater staff.  We also love the theater’s commitment to a green space and are happy to have been a part of this programming with the creation of the costume collection.

Jenny Anderson
Jenny Anderson

Q: Tell us about “Since Africa” and the company’s work with the writer, Mia McCollough, and director Nancy Robillard.

A: “Since Africa” follows Ater, a refugee from the Sudanese civil war as he attempts to adjust to cold weather, processed food, and a new life in Chicago.  A recently-widowed socialite and an African-American Deacon from the local Catholic parish try to help him embrace his new home and all its opportunity. But assimilation is not that simple and their efforts cause each of them to question their identity.  A look at American culture through the eyes of an African, “Since Africa” explores the tensions between blacks and whites, Africans and African-Americans, and the devout and the non-religious.

“Since Africa” came to us through Jennifer Dorr White who plays Diane, the socialite.  She had done a reading of the play with director Nancy Robillard a few years ago.  This past summer they discussed who might be interested in producing it.  Jennifer had been in one of Red Fern’s first productions and thought of us.  We then offered them a position in our fall staged reading series and fell in love with the play.   The playwright is from Chicago, but she came to NYC during the rehearsal process and was with us during tech and through opening.  The last scene of the play was rewritten the day before the first preview!

Q: How do we get involved with the social activism aspect of Red Fern and “Since Africa?”

In addition to supporting new works and hundreds of artists, Red Fern also partners its productions with an organization making a difference in our community.  For “Since Africa”, we have partnered with Water for South Sudan, Inc.  The organization was started by a Lost Boy to bring safe drinking water to remote villages in South Sudan.  You can read more about them at .

Nathan Johnson/Dan Ouyang
Nathan Johnson/Dan Ouyang

To see “Since Africa” running February 20-March 9, 2014 at the Theater at the 14th Street Y and for more information about Red Fern Theatre Company click here.