"I still remember doing lights for a local Cambridge 'off-Broadway' type playhouse and having to find a replacement for the Shabbat performances,” says Ninoska Ravid, Women in Theater's (WIT) assistant director. “At that time my options as an Orthodox Jewish woman were very limited, cutting my performing career short."
The Modi'in based women-only English Theater Company, which is currently on tour with their production of Untangled, was founded in 2008 by Tamar Krantman-Weiss and Pnina Fredman- Schechter. While many observant women shy away from performance, the group provides women the opportunity to sing, dance, and perform to their hearts content in a professional atmosphere and in "accordance to their religious beliefs."
The musical Untangled is based on the 2010 animated Disney film about Rapunzel's quest to find the stars. The WIT version of the show includes music from the original film, as well as additional original music.
“This is a story of a young girl intent on achieving her dreams,” says Fredman-Schechter, director of the production. “Fittingly, our theater group’s goal is to give talented religious women and youth the opportunity to utilize their talents and fulfill their artistic dreams.”
Krantman-Weiss, co-founder of WIT, was also limited and sheltered as a performer due to her religious beliefs. She knew that she loved to sing, dance, and act, but apart from school choir in grades 4-6 and weekly piano lessons, she had no outlet for self-expression in the performing arts. She also "did not feel comfortable performing in front of men."
The WIT group allows women to perform without rehearsing on Shabbat, for female-only audiences, and with religion-appropriate costumes (i.e. skirts and head coverings).
Ayelet Raab, the show's producer, became involved with WIT in 2009 when she met the founders, Krantman-Weiss and Fredman-Schechter. She became aware of other women in similar situations who feel they are also restricted in their desire to be on stage since they are "bound by religion."
The main issue, Raab explains, is modesty.
"Kol Eesha" is a term in Judaism that directly translates to "the voice of a woman." Essentially, it means that it is immodest for a woman to perform for a male audience. That is why tickets sales for performances are restricted to female buyers.
But, what about males on the production team?
Mordechai Gordon, the official Untangled accompanist and photographer, is only one of a handful of men that must regularly attend rehearsals. Raab says that the women must make exceptions for the professionalism of the production. "It's like going to the doctor," explains Raab. "You are not going to sacrifice your health. You look for the most capable physician you can find, regardless of gender, and sometimes you need make an exception and see a male doctor."
The cast includes a range of women from the age of nine to 70, and from all over the world, mainly the US, Canada, and Britain. There are also a few Israeli children who perform gymnastics in the show, while moving sets in between scenes.
"Women have so much experience to draw on from their years as mothers, wives, daughters, employees and employers; it was absolutely thrilling to observe the release of pure talent and expression," says Krantman-Weiss.
In 2011, WIT joined forces with the American organization AMIT, enabling it to give a portion of the proceeds to this important cause. Over the years AMIT has "untangled" numerous challenges that Israeli children face in the modern world by helping them realize their strengths and potential. Profits from Untangled will help fund scholarships for AMIT students in need.
Untangled will run on the following dates:February 7: Jerusalem, The Masorati School, 5:30p.m.
February 14: Beit Shemesh, Zinman Theater, 8 p.m.
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