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For the third consecutive summer, a group of young girls has spent the school vacation working together under the direction of Avital Sykora to star in their own Broadway-style production. Calling themselves the Off the Street Summer Theater, they have enchanted audiences with their highly skilled performances.
The acting, singing and dancing are surprisingly professional, but what is most impressive is that their director and producer is only 16 years old.
From an early age, Sykora was exposed to fine classics and musicals; by the age of eight she was fascinated by theater and acting. She honed her singing talent by participating in the all-woman Bat Kol Hasharon acting group.
"I was always putting on skits and even full plays for my English classes. I was encouraged by Devorah Schwartz, who has guided and encouraged me to go into it," she says.
Sykora says she developed a special fascination for musicals after watching a borrowed video recording of the show Into the Woods. She discovered that "musicals don't have to be sugary sweet but can be real theater. There is more out there than just The Sound of Music."
Three summers ago, at the age of l3, she realized that she was ready to direct a show on her own. With some help from her parents and her own tremendous drive, she invited girls to audition for her first show, Into the Woods, Jr.
For hours each week throughout their summer vacation, the girls rehearsed and studied their lines while Sykora used her own vision to make the show a reality. With the continued help and guidance of Schwartz and Avital's mother, Gabi, a group of 20 girls aged eight to 14 succeeded in producing a flawless performance of this adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine Broadway production.
The following year, the girls were ready for another fun show and chose You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, based on the famous comic strip of the late Charles Schultz.
By last spring, Sykora was advertising for young girls aged 11-14 who could carry a tune and would like to take part in this year's Off the Street Summer Theater musical production of Little Women, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott. Imagining the father in the story going off to war was not difficult, as war was being fought in the North; throughout the summer rehearsals, war news was on everyone's mind.
The musical performance was presented in the Mishkan L'omanuyot in Ra'anana on September 4 to the delight of a spellbound audience. Each girl sang her part and transported the listeners to another place and time.
Sykora and her mother, with their talented young co-stars including a commanding performance by Maya Tischeler as Jo, added their voices and talent to the show and gave it that professional polish that made all the girls rise to their best abilities.
Sykora has been a very busy girl. In addition to a demanding high school schedule, she is part of the Youth Drama Club at the Beit Tzvi school in Ramat Gan and spends her spare time with earphones on, listening and learning all the songs and words for her shows.
She is currently part of the Hebrew adaptation of Wicked, a rewrite of the Wizard of Oz told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch. It will be coming out at the Icon Festival in Tel Aviv during Succot.
What else lies ahead for her?
This winter, we will be watching the ads for what promises to be another not-to-be-missed performance. In collaboration with her mother and other talented women and girls, Sykora will take part in a benefit featuring Broadway show tunes. They are already choosing which pieces to include and are working out the logistics to turn another artistic vision into an enchanting reality.
Because many of the cast members are Orthodox, the performances of music, dance and drama are relegated to women's audiences only.