Two years ago, our theater company, The Women’s Performance Community of Jerusalem had planned to hold auditions for a new musical, written by myself and the talented Avital Macales. This historical musical, “WHISPER FREEDOM: The Soviet Jewry Struggle”, transports us to 1970s Moscow. Displeased that Jews are rediscovering their connections to Israel and the Jewish people, the Soviet regime and the KGB are tightening their grip on the Jewish community – preventing them from living as Jews, or leaving as Jews.
Then COVID got in the way. Auditions, rehearsals, performances were put on hold.
But enough is enough. We decided to end the isolation that this pandemic had forced upon us, to bring women together again, to sing together, dance together and even put on a show. But again, it wasn’t the show that had to go on. Life had to go on, and the show was a vehicle to take us out of our four walls, bring us face to face (or at least eyes to eyes) with other women, create a supportive warm environment with friends, and give us something positive (in the old sense of the word) to look forward to.
Rehearsals began on “WHISPER FREEDOM” this past October. Two nights every week in Jerusalem, more than fifty gifted and warmhearted women gathered at our home-base, the OU Israel Center, to sing, dance, act, and as a group, gain courage to face the frightening COVID-filled world outside.
That would have been a nice normal project, except for the fact that these women had to rehearse with masks, following all the MOH rules, trying to keep their fellow cast members safe and healthy. We’ve smiled extra wide at each other, purposefully sending a twinkle up to our eyes. We listened with concentration, straining to hear our fellow actors’ lines, although muffled by a face mask.
And when a member of our “WHISPER FREEDOM” family tested positive or went into quarantine, we all did home or PCR tests, came to rehearsal and kept zoom open on a laptop, so everyone would still rehearse the scene. We’ve had three out sick, five, 20. We’ve even rehearsed in the street to escape the masks.
While we’ve never cancelled rehearsal, we held a full cast zoom rehearsal during the snowstorm. It wasn’t the ideal way to rehearse, but we finally got to see everyone’s mask-less faces.
ADDICTED TO THE NEWS
Simultaneously, we continually read the news. We follow announcements from the Hebrew University infectious diseases team and are encouraged by their opinions that we have passed the peak of the Omicron wave. One specialist said that we can start to relax. “Relax” means “theater” to us.
We speak with other theater companies planning February and March runs. We wish good luck to each company. We pray that everyone’s show will go on.
We booked our stage with the hopes that we would once again play to SRO audiences, as we had always done. While Omicron’s daily infection rates weigh heavily on our minds, we are encouraged by the medical community’s belief that we’re on our way to freedom.
March is supposed to be a good month, according to the scientific teams. In other words, the show can go on. We wish the public well, and we hope audiences will return to the theater. We heard that the Green Passport may well be a thing of the past, and we’re yearning for an end to COVID commotion in the outside world. We’d like drama to be confined to the stage only, as our show recalls the Soviet Jewry activists, refuseniks (Russian Jews who requested an exit visa but were refused), Hebrew teachers, prisoners of Siberia and their supporters around the world who fought for the freedom of Soviet Jews.
“WHISPER FREEDOM” is the third epic-themed musical co-authored/composed/produced by myself and Avital Macales, from the partnership of The Women’s Performance Community of Jerusalem and OU Israel. Our lead team returns for the third time, as well, including director Shifra C. Penkower, music arranger Amit Ben Atar, music director Ellen Macales, choreographer Judy Kizer, associate producer Bati Katz-Koplon and stage manager Ruth Hyman. The new musical follows the highly successful “Count the Stars” (2016) and “Hidden: The Secret Jews of Spain” (2018).
Avital and I spent more than two years on research through in-person interviews with refuseniks and Soviet Jewry activists, plus reading dozens of history books and autobiographies by Prisoners of Zion. For us, there was no question that the show must go on.
“WHISPER FREEDOM” premieres on Sunday, March 6 at the IASA Theater in Givat HaMassua, under MOH guidelines. It will be performed in English with Russian and Hebrew subtitles. Profits from our production will benefit teens at risk through an OU Israel youth program.
For tickets: http://bit.ly/WPCJM
To follow WHISPER FREEDOM’s journey to the stage: