Student actors in two Jewish schools, the Atlanta Jewish Academy and The Weber School, are carefully watching the news, wondering if they’ll get to perform before the school year ends. The Weber Thespians and the Jewish Academy Players are uncertain whether they will be able to present their plays, which were nearing show time when the schools were closed due to the coronavirus epidemic.
Weber senior Caroline Goldman plays the part of Ti Moune in “Once on This Island,” the multiple-award-winning play about a peasant girl on a tropical island who uses the power of love to bring people of different social classes together. If Goldman isn’t part of this year’s show, she won’t get another chance because she’s planning on being in college in Boston by the end of August.
She’s also troubled by more than her own circumstances. “Our close-knit troupe is beyond frustrated. We became really close during rehearsals and I, as a senior, had the opportunity to be friends with remarkable kids in other grades.” She added, “I’ve been in every Weber show, and this one is special, with an all-student cast, our director Brad Bass’ vast Broadway experience, and Emmy-nominated musical director John Burke.”
Weber freshman Miriam Burmenko, who plays Asaka, hopes she can go back to Camp Stone this summer, but would be “extremely happy to be in a summer performance if the other actors are in town. We need everybody! We’ve learned so much from Brad, and we perform very well together. The songs are beautiful, and I love the costumes. Half of us are freshmen, so this is our first chance to show how much we’ve learned and what we can do.”
Kayla Mintz, an eighth grader at AJA who plays the parts of Fruma Sarah and Fyedka in the popular musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” credits director Simonie Levy with keeping the cast spirits up. “Ms. Sim is very upbeat, optimistic and encouraging. If we get a chance to present our show this year, we’ll be able to use that energy on stage. We’ve worked hard and spent many, many hours in rehearsals. We’ve been fitted for our costumes and mastered the big ensemble numbers.”
Mikey Wilson, who plays Lazar Wolf in “Fiddler,” thoroughly enjoys his part and appreciates the opportunity to dance. He, like Kayla and the majority of the lead characters, is an eighth-grader. These students enter high school next year, so they are especially eager to make it to the stage before the end of middle school. Mikey says, “I’ll be extremely disappointed if the show never happens this year. It’s taken a whole lot of time and work, and I really hope it’s not wasted.”
AJA’s Levy has years of experience directing teen theater. “I love this group! We’ve blocked every scene; the students know their lines and learned all the choreography. We have a big cast, and it’s complicated, but with a couple of weeks of rehearsals, we’ll be ready to go. Barring that, I’m confident that we’ll figure out something else.”
Weber’s Bass said he needs only a few days of rehearsal to be ready for a performance. “We have a full-company production, which means that each of our fantastic actors is onstage throughout, in constant support of the others. This ensemble is so talented and competent that they could deliver a great show even without mics or a set!”
In the meantime, Bass and musical director Burke are creating a montage performance of the cast, which will soon be available online. Burke said, “The show must go on, … in the best way it can!”
Marci Joel, whose ninth-grade son, Jordan, plays Tonton Julian in “Once on This Island” at Weber, and whose seventh-grade daughter, Kayla, plays Chava in “Fiddler on the Roof” at AJA, expressed her family’s double disappointment. “Kayla had been rehearsing since October, and Jordan had spent every Monday through Thursday of this semester in rehearsals until 6 o’clock at night. Our children have sacrificed and juggled other commitments because of their love of performing! I do believe that both schools will create alternate showcases.”
Weber headmaster Rabbi Ed Harwitz noted, “These are strange, uncharted and challenging times. We’re taking every step to utilize online tools for curricular and co-curricular programs. We’re doing our best to ensure the excellence of activities and, until we reconvene, to maintain the morality, creativity and spirit of our school.”
AJA headmaster Rabbi Ari Leubitz considers the unique personalities of teens. “This age group needs human contact and interaction. Theater folks display their energy, talent, and desire to connect through performance. Their venue is the stage. Hopefully, we can find a way, through technology, to help them express themselves.”
Now, we have the answer to the uncertainty. As we went to press, both schools announced that they will not reopen this school year. True to their determination to showcase the plays in some way, Weber created a mashup of the play’s opening number, and AJA put together moments from performers.