How theater transcends culture
Posted 05/15/2015 03:00PM

By Valerie Carlson, Theater Director

Fiddler on the Roof was a rich experience for all of us involved.

The students were deeply engaged in exploring the characters’ situations and the Russian-Jewish environment of 1905, and it was only after the play was performed that the extraordinary nature of our production was brought home to me. 

We were creating a sympathetic, affectionate portrayal of Russian-Jewish characters facing prejudice and oppression by their Tsarist Russian government and neighbors. Our cast and crew, meanwhile, were composed of students from many national, cultural, religious, and political backgrounds. And yet it never occurred to me to be concerned about prejudices from within our company.  

I credit our TASIS actors and techies with the qualities of open-mindedness, care, and a desire to tell the story. Our Jewish roles were played in part by Muslims from Canada and Turkey, Catholics from Italy and Central America, and Jews from Russia.  Our Orthodox Christian roles were likewise played by a multi-cultural mixing bag, including Catholics from Italy, Baptists from the US, and Orthodox Christians from Russia.   

When spurred by a comment from an audience member about our multi-national, multi-cultural company, I broached the subject with a few cast and crew members. They said that they never thought about our company atmosphere as being “weird” or “unusual” or even “special”. Of course we would treat the material with respect, and of course it didn’t matter what religion anyone was. 

While this play is rooted in strong religious history and beliefs, everyone approached this play with excitement about exploring the story and the characters and portraying them truly. In retrospect, I know how fortunate we are to live and work in such a rich, welcoming, open community of students and adults at TASIS.

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