"I am very concerned about the continuity of the Jewish people, and I am also concerned about the continuity of Jewish performing arts," said Devorah Richards, founder and executive director of Continuum Theater. A mother of two whose children are now in their teens, she started asking herself what was most important to do "with the rest of my time?" A little self-reflection pointed the way: "What do I love? I love theater," she said. "So that intersection of my performing arts/theater background plus my business background skills…"
Voila! Her newest project is an ambitious endeavor which leverages all her strengths and interests in service of these intertwined commitments.
Explaining her goals for Continuum Theater, Richards actually describes four continua. The first is the continuum of Jewish observance from orthodox to secular. The second is the continuum of Jewish family life from traditional to contemporary (including interfaith families and families with LGBT members). The third is the continuum of ages, from kids to seniors.
Continuum Theater will seek out performers of interest to audiences at multiple points along all three continua, and present them in a fourth continuum, a continuum of modalities, including:
• Competitions such as play contests (in which professional actors read scenes from brand new, never performed plays that have been pre-selected by local participants, and vote for the one they consider most promising) and Battles of the Bands (in which all the contestants play Jewish-themed music),
• Staged Readings in which professional actors present a fully rehearsed play, but without sets or costumes,
• Jewish-themed productions at one of Chicago's famous theaters (e.g., Goodman, Steppenwolf, etc) to which members go as a group (by ordering tickets from a block of seats pre-purchased by Continuum Theater), typically followed by an after-event for schmoozing and noshing.
Follow where she leads, and Richards believes that wherever we fall on these continua, each one of us will find something to challenge, provoke, inspire, or simply delight us.
The application Richards wrote to the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago last year was so persuasive that she received one of their highly competitive Breakthrough Fund grants, which she is combining with a smaller supplemental grant she received through the JCC PresenTense Program.
The major project planned for 2015 is The Chicago Jewish Play Reading Festival, eight staged readings to be presented at eight separate locations. The schedule for the festival runs from mid-January through late April. Most of the performance sites are local congregations, but the list also includes the Mayer Kaplan JCC in Skokie, and Theater Wit in Chicago.
"I am hoping to see how we can create a very robust organization, and that means robust artistically as well as in terms of its partnerships," Richards said. "How do we support synagogues with their missions? What do they need? What we're trying to do for the community is become the performing arts partner… how do the performing arts help build community?"
The Chicago Jewish Play Reading Festival kicks off on Sunday, Jan. 18 with a staged reading of G-d's Honest Truth, by Susan Calarco, at Temple Chai in Long Grove. Co-sponsors of this first program are the Northwest Suburban Collaborative (Congregation Beth Judea, Congregation Or Shalom, Shir Hadash Synagogue, and, of course, Temple Chai) plus the JUF, the JCC Chicago, and Big Tent Judaism (a new initiative designed to reach out to unaffiliated Jews).
Tickets for G-d's Honest Truth can be purchased on the Brown Paper Tickets website, which also has tickets available for a staged reading of Scrambled by Beth Kander on Feb. 8 at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, and the second annual Midwest Jewish Play Writing Contest on March 22 at Theater Wit on Belmont in Chicago.
Additional programs not yet posted include: The Last Schwartz on March 8 at JCC Skokie, Estelle Singerman on March 10 at Temple Sholom in Lakeview, Paris Time on April 12 at Congregation Solel in Highland Park, and Oh God! on April 26 at Congregation Beth Shalom in Naperville. All program updates will be available on the website: ContinuumTheater.org.
To purchase tickets for G-d's Honest Truth, on Jan. 18, or Scrambled, on Feb. 8, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/ and enter "Continuum Theater" in the search field. You can also order tickets by phone at (800) 838-3006, ext. 1.
For more information on Breakthrough Funds, visit www.juf.org/grants/breakthrough.aspx.
After 35 years in Chicago, Jan Lisa Huttner now lives in Brooklyn. Follow her activities on her Blog: www.SecondCityCity.com