Performer Vicki Juditz worried about her non-binary and all genders adult child who plays in an indie band touring the U.S. and performs songs such as âWish You Were Gay.ââ
Female, male, gay, non-binary, trans, black, Latino, Chinese, Persian: what do they have in common? At The Braid (formerly Jewish Womenâs TheatreâJWT) theyâre all Jewish and they all have personal stories to tell via a unique art form the company developed called âsalon theatre.â For more than 15 years and 75 shows, this diverse group of writers, actors and directors endeavors to leave no Jewish story untold.
JWT was founded in 2007, when Artistic Director Ronda Spinak convened a group of women over a pot of coffee around a kitchen table to figure out how to tell Jewish womenâs stories in an authentic wayâa group thatâs been marginalized, stereotyped and portrayed unfavorably onstage. JWTâs 2013 show, Oh, Mother, debunked the negative stereotype of âthe Jewish Mother.â
At first, literally a company of wandering Jews, the actors, dressed in black holding binders in hand, began performing Salon Theatre in 2008 in peopleâs living rooms, reaching 487 audience members in the first season. While initially stories about women, now all colors, all genders and all ethnicities are having their Jewish voices heard and stories told.
In its Bat Mitzvah Year (#13)
Now The Braid has achieved global reach, both in-person and on the virtual stage with most of its recent growth coming as a consequence of the COVID pandemic. It forced them to get even more creative, starting with mobile phone videos, then using the Zoom screen more effectively, later filming actors in their homes for live shows about how they were coping with the pandemic, reaching exponentially larger audiences than the theater could hold. They pioneered âvirtual camera,â directing and acting techniques that created a uniquely personal experience between audience and performer. Partnering with other digital platforms they succeeded beyond their expectations.
They have since expanded their mission to include training the next generation of Jewish writers, performers and directors and creating the NEXT Emerging Artists Fellowship to provide paid fellowships to work at The Braid.
Daphna Shull came in with the first class; now sheâs Creative Producer and NEXT Coordinator, as well as producing Out Loud, stories from the Jewish queer community. âWe were tasked with putting on a Braid Salon, teaching how to create a show from the ground up: from picking a theme, to finding submissions, adapting the material, directing actors, putting it up on stage and running the whole Salon show. Itâs been a beautiful process of growth and evolution for me within the organization, and itâs been a great professional development opportunity.â
Joshua Silverstein, The Braidâs consultant on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, writes and performs as part of True Colors, stories written by Jews of color, which he calls âa marginalized group within a marginalized group.â Heâs Black, his wife is Mexican, and while theyâre agnostic, their children are Jewishly religious. Heâs also performed in Out Loud. âThese shows leave the audience with an overwhelming sense of openness,â he says. âThe stories are for anybody, not just about being Jewish but about being human and thatâs a way to deconstruct prejudice.â
Communications and Marketing Manager David Chiu is an Asian American Jew. Silverstein performed Davidâs story about being forced to laugh at a joke being told using a fake Chinese accent. âI was concerned because I was being quite frank about this racist experience,â Chiu told me. âIt was surreal for me; watching Joshua perform; youâd swear it was his own story. And I was surprised to see how wonderfully it was received.â
Vicki Juditz, renowned for her solo show, Sacred Resistance, tells a story for Out Loud about obsessively cleaning her adult childâs apartment. âMy kid is non-binary and all genders and plays bass in an indie band touring the U.S. I worried about their safety in conservative states, performing songs such as âWish You Were Gay.ââ
The others were all born Jewish, but Juditz says, âI chose Judaism. As different people [including her late husband] came into my life I would drift away, come back and finally went through the conversion program at what used to be called The University of Judaism. Christianity is all about getting into some imaginary heaven, and that never worked for me. Iâm about âTikkun Olam,â healing this world and choosing to be of service in it.â
Upcoming performances of True Colors and Out Loud theater salons, along with other Braid productions, are scheduled in the month ahead, and in May, a new series, âWhat A Surprise!,â will take place in-person and virtually. For dates and locations, visit The Braid at the-braid.org.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.
Photo courtesy of David Chiu Communications and Marketing Manager David Chiu, is an Asian-American Jew, whose story is part of Out Loud.
Photo courtesy of Daphna Schull Daphna Shull, Creative Producer and NEXT Coordinator, as well as producing Out Loud, stories from the Jewish queer community.
Photo by David Chiu Joshua Silverstein, writes and performs as part of David Chiuâs True Colors, stories written by Jews of color.