Convinced that art can stimulate discussion and eliminate barriers, Jewish Women’s Theatre (JWT) and NewGround, a Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, hosted the world premiere of a new theatrical collaboration and art exhibit in Santa Monica on May 6. The salon-style play, entitled More Courage will tour throughout the Southland until May 22, with a show at the IMAN Center in LA on May 11.
The performance shares stories, plays, and poems chosen from submissions by both Muslim and Jewish writers and artists. The pieces, both dramas and comedies, explore brave acts that may contrast in motivation and action, but illustrate how people of different faiths are more alike than they are different.
“We hope members of our audiences will hear stories they haven’t heard before, sit next to someone they haven’t met before and then talk to that person,” explains Maryam Saleemi, NewGround’s communications director. “Our collaboration with JWT is about communication. When we communicate, we see the number of similarities we have.”
More Courage’s wide-ranging, diverse stories are all deeply thought provoking, and superbly performed by a multi-talented cast, displaying palpably emotional portrayals. They cover personal topics that range from forbidden love and marriage between Jews and Arabs, to the struggles of a transgender Hasidic Rabbi, to thoughts regarding the teachings about women in the Quran, to soul-searching exchanges at a funeral, to a Syrian kidnapping, to the trials of being the first Jewish Miss America, and more.
In “Mothers,” a story by Leora Eren Frucht, the realization occurs that shared life experiences are far more important than religious labels. During a “Neighbors Encounter” session held in Modi’in, Israel, attended by Jewish residents and six Arab families from the nearby traditional Arab village of Jaljulya, an Israeli mother (Ayelette Robinson), meets a Muslim mom (Aneela Quereshi) clad in the traditional hijab. While conversing, both women discover they are adoptive parents. At the conclusion, the Israeli woman says, “I no longer notice what she’s wearing because I am too focused on what she is saying.”
“Better understanding is the reason that More Courage came to be,” explains Julie Bram, a JWT Board Member and one of the show’s co-producers. “I have long been active in projects that promote interfaith relationships” says Bram. “One example is Israel’s Hand-in-Hand schools where youngsters study both Hebrew and Arabic from their first day. The result is shared humanity. More Courage has the same goal.”
Co-producer and JWT Board member Sandy Savett agrees. She explains that the idea for the show grew out of a Wilshire Boulevard Temple event that was held to celebrate the end of Ramadan. It provided a forum for conversation and connection. “I met people who are just like me, except their religion is different,” Savett explained. “I’m hoping the similarities and sameness will hit our audiences like it hit me.”
JWT’s artistic director Ronda Spinak says, “At a time when there is so much dissention and division in our world, JWT and NewGround want to do our part to heal by providing a thoughtful forum for coming together. Theatre can do that. We hope LA will want to be a part of the process.”
More Courage is superbly directed by New York-based theatre veteran Eve Brandstein, who directed Rain Pryor in JWT’s production of Fried Chicken & Latkes among others, and Susan Morgenstern, who is the Producing Director at JWT, with several salon-style touring shows in her resume.
THE CAST includes LA actors Ayelette Robinson and Tiffany Mualem, SAG-AFTRA members with many film, television and theatre credits; Aneela Qureshi, who has appeared in scores of movies and television shows and speaks Farsi; comedienne Travina Springer, who will discuss her conversion to Islam, and Mark Jacobson with an extensive list of acting credits.
JWT provides a home for the diverse and eclectic community of artists and creators who comprise L.A.’s Jewish women’s community. At The Braid Art and Performance Space in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Arts District, in intimate salons throughout the city, and on tour throughout the nation, JWT stages and displays traditional and contemporary works that provide a forum for the development, performance and showcasing of Jewish talent.
NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change was founded in 2006 to create a national model for healthy relations, productive engagement and social change between American Muslims and Jews. The organization empowers Jewish and Muslim change-makers with the skills, resources, and relationships needed to improve Muslim-Jewish relations and strengthen cooperation on issues of shared concern.
Curator Georgia Freedman-Harvey, a Board Member of the Jewish Artists Initiative, assembled a special exhibition to accompany More Courage, that looks at the many ways courage can be expressed. One piece, by Ehren Tool, reminds viewers that Women Make Peace and that we can all find the courage to mend fences and create harmony around different cultures and faiths to find common ground.
More Courage opened on May 6th, and will be performed at the Braid, 2912 Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica on May 15 and 16 at 7:30 pm. An art gallery show, featuring Jewish and Muslim artists, will be on display.
On May 11, The IMAN Cultural Center at 3376 Motor Avenue will host the show, beginning at 7:30. There will be additional performances in the South Bay, San Fernando Valley, and on Fairfax Avenue. Tickets are $40 and are available at www.jewishwomenstheatre.org or by calling 1-800-838-3006.