By : Sharon Katz
STEPPING BACK IN TIME
“Hop on that camel!!,” I told a twittering cast member. “What, me?” “Yes. And welcome to the Avraham’s caravan!”
When you create a show based on history, you research it in every way you can. Then you forward to your cast stories about the characters involved. You send your actors photos or paintings. You try to help them relate to the people and the events they portray.
Creating a show based on biblical characters, heroes of our people, founders of our nation, is a humbling experience and a huge responsibility. “COUNT THE STARS – The Journey of Avraham and Sara” is the fourth biblical musical I’ve been lucky enough to co-author. In researching this show (which began three-and-a-half years ago when we wrote an earlier version for Raise Your Spirits, a theater company that I founded in 2001), my co-author/co-composer Avital Macales and I used the best source possible – our Torah. We learned each chapter relating to Avraham, the commentaries, the Midrashim, met with learned teachers, listened to shiurim.
Yes, we sing and dance about destroying idols, Sara’s abduction in Egypt and the evil of Sodom, but we do that in order to interest our audience, and encourage them to absorb the lessons of our heritage without hitting them over the head. We also want our cast, who will transform into biblical characters in November IY”H at the Gerard Behar Theatre, to appreciate our forefathers, and be as inspired as we are by their trials and their triumphs. We send out stirring divrei Torah, and we explain the origins, the meanings and back stories of songs in our show.
We want our cast to feel their parts – whether as the “Souls” that Avraham and Sara created, or the “Nations” that rejected Avraham’s call for kindness and belief in One G-d. Sometimes during rehearsals, we dress them up, or tell them to bring a prop that will help them understand the people whom they portray. We bring Biblical scarves and tunics and let them do a “wrap” that is both adorable and helps them get in the mood.
CAMEL PLEASE, ONE HUMP OR TWO
Recently we went one step further. We took our cast back in time – to the days of Avraham and Sara. We journeyed with them into the desert – to the endless dunes among which Avraham and Sara pitched their tents. We brought them to a majestic panorama of brown and siennas and even a little green, where they could actually imagine how mysterious and beautiful the chosen land must have been more than four thousand years ago.
We brought them to Eretz Bereishit, on the Alon Road.
There Eliezer, servant of Avraham, greeted us. That was a bit strange at first, because in COUNT THE STARS, I play Eliezer. And I was in my Eliezer wardrobe. As I looked into the face of my not-such-a-mirror-image, he said, “Brother of another mother.” We laughed and we all totally accepted his role. Another weird moment occurred as our Avraham, Avital Macales, met their Avraham. But, it worked, and we laughed at our parallel dimension existence.
We talked about Avraham’s route from Ur Kasdim to the Promised Land. Then, we climbed upon camels to clunk along to Avraham’s tent. We envisioned what it would be like to sit on these big humped creatures (one hump, not two) for days and weeks on end. Umm, not fun. Outside the blistery sun shined fiercely, while we cooled off in the tent, dining on the sweetest of dates and apricots, and drank fresh hot tea from the herbs growing around us.
Somehow life imitated art, or did art imitate life? Our show’s director Shifra C. Penkower became our “time travel director”. She guided us at the well and then took the reins, or was it the staff, in order to get those sheep where they were supposed to go. Many great Jewish leaders began as shepherds, so I know our show, IY”H, is in good hands.
We climbed upon our camels once more, and rode off into high noon, wiping our brows and singing, “This is it!”, the song Avraham and his followers sing and dance to, upon reaching the Land of Canaan. We city slickers had accomplished something we never would have believed out in the nomadic world of our patriarchs.
Women everywhere are invited to see “COUNT THE STARS” and judge whether we’ve absorbed the atmosphere, the mood, the moment of Avraham and Sara. http://www.tixwise.co.il/he/countthestars
COUNT THE STARS is a project of the Women’s Performance Community of Jerusalem and OU Israel. To read more: https://www.ouisrael.org/the-womens-performance-community-of-jerusalem/