The nonprofit Jewish Women’s Theatre (JWT) was founded in 2008 to bring attention to voices within the Jewish community that don’t always get heard. Its plays have challenged stereotypes, often negative, of Jewish women or Sephardic Jews. Now, the company is turning its focus on the oft-derided millennial generation.
As the troupe approaches its 10th season, JWT artistic director Ronda Spinak said it felt right to “reach out to a younger population to share the wisdom that we’ve gotten over the last nine years about how to create sustainable theater that focuses on Jewish content.”
JWT has launched NEXT @ The Braid, a new arts council of artistic, theater-minded millennials with the help of a $150,000 Cutting Edge grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. The funds allowed 12 fellows to spend nine months developing a Jewish-themed salon-style series in a theater production called “The Space Between.”
The show will be performed on June 21 at The Braid, JWT’s theater in Santa Monica, and will travel to a downtown Los Angeles loft, Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood and Westwood Village Synagogue on June 17, 22 and 25, respectively.
The show’s theme emerged from the tense political climate surrounding the 2016 presidential election and a conversation about the lack of dialogue between different groups. But the show also addresses the issues that 20-somethings in Los Angeles are thinking about.
“We are putting our finger on the pulse of the fact that we are millennials and we see the world — politics, relationships — differently,” said NEXT fellow Amirose Eisenbach, 31.
“The Space Between” is an hourlong play comprising about a dozen stories and songs submitted by members of the public and edited by the fellows. The stories range from humorous to serious. The characters include a young woman losing her mom to cancer, a woman who dates a man and learns he’s transgender, a woman who laments the difficulty of being “always the bridesmaid,” and a funny piece about a hookup gone wrong.
“We all have fears and dreams and feel like the outsider sometimes, but we’re all connected on that level of just wanting to feel like we’re not alone in this world,” Eisenbach said.
Another story is about a teenage girl who goes to a Torah dedication at an Orthodox cousin’s house in Lakewood, N.J., but feels like she can’t look cool wearing long sleeves and a long dress.
“She comes to understand that her cousin is the same age as her, though she wears things that are different and has things that are different, prays in different ways, but at the core they’re still the same, struggling to become adults, struggling to figure out who they are,” Spinak said.
Only some of the show’s content is Jewish-themed. Ten of the 12 fellows are Jewish. The show’s message is meant to be universal and speak to audiences of all backgrounds.
The salon-style show is stripped down, with five actors and no props or costume changes. The actors are dressed in black and sit on stools with their scripts. The intention is for the text and the acting to take center stage.
The fellowship offered training in how to adapt material to the stage and how to cast, direct and produce a theatrical event. All the fellows had input in the selection of the material, and each had a specific focus, ranging from directing to producing to marketing the show.
The program was created to give participants the skills needed to create meaningful work and advance their careers in theater, film and television. It’s also meant to help offset the widespread reduction in arts funding at schools and cultural institutions.
“A lot of younger people are working either one-on-one or in small groups or individually, and so they’re a lot more isolated,” said JWT Managing Director Sharon Landau. “Creating this arts council was an opportunity to create this community where they can collaborate with their peers and have both financial support and mentorship to make theater that’s relevant to their generation.”
The fellows in the program have a variety of experience, from acting in film, television, theater and web series, to hosting podcasts, playwriting and working as a singer-songwriter.
Eisenbach is a writer and producer who has worked at Warner Bros. and Fox Interactive Media, and she launched and ran the independent film division at AMC Theatres. She now has her own event and film company, Radiant J Productions.
“I went out on my own about two years ago because I wanted to make content that really mattered — that not just entertained but that really had social impact,” she said.
Another NEXT fellow, Andrew Fromer, 27, studied theater at UC Santa Barbara and worked for a theater group in Israel. He has acted in feature films, and he edits, directs and hosts his own podcast on the entertainment industry.
“What did I hope to gain? Just the crazy amount of skills that it takes to produce anything,” Fromer said. “Nobody really can concretely say what a producer actually does, and the reason is because a producer does everything,”
JWT’s audience members tend to be over the age of 50. Incorporating millennials into the theater’s creative process may bring in younger people who want to see their stories told onstage.
“We are about giving voice to various kinds of Jews and how we’re Jewish in the world, from various ethnic backgrounds to religious observance,” Spinak said. “So I’m proud and happy that we could put forth a millennial show that will debunk some of the stereotypes and myths surrounding this generation.”
“The Space Between” will be performed June 21 at The Braid in Santa Monica and travel to three venues across the Los Angeles area from June 14–25. For tickets and more information, visit this article at jewishwomenstheatre.org.