It is not often that I give acting advice but my meeting with the cast of Irvington High School's Fiddler on the Roof was too rich an opportunity to pass up.
Last week Matt Ballin invited me to speak to his Irvington High School drama students. I had a wonderful time enriching their understanding of the Jewish themes in Fiddler: the tension between tradition and modernity, between men and women’s roles, and between Jews and Gentiles. I spoke about Jewish rituals and customs for Shabbat and for weddings.
After responding to their questions, I shared a nugget of acting advice. Many years ago, when I was a rabbi in Dayton, Ohio, I had a similar invitation from high school drama students who were performing Fiddler. Many weeks later, I attended a performance. While all the students performed admirably, I was perturbed by the student who portrayed Tevye.
This young actor clearly had watched and re-watched countless times the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof. The young man replicated exactly Chaim Topol’s characterization of Tevye. He imitated Topol’s every gesture and inflection.
I’m sure the student meant no harm, but a slavish imitation of another actor is not good theater. Ultimately, I told the Irvington students, you have to use your own intuition and follow the guidance of your director in order to make a character your own.
I am sure that with Matt as their director, the Irvington students will not make the same mistake as that Dayton student. I have no doubt that their Fiddler will be wonderful and I urge you to attend a performance. The show runs April 13-22. Ticket information was in Ronnie’s weekly last night, but you can also click here for all the details.
Here’s an added bonus: next Tuesday night at 7pm, at TBT we will have a session with an expert in the literature of Shalom Aleichem, the originator of the character of Tevye. There are many layers to Tevye the Dairyman that are in addition to what’s portrayed in Fiddler on the Roof. On Tuesday night, you can come and learn more!