When the founders of The Shalom Collaboration performed for a synagogue sisterhood event in Deerfield, they said they felt a close bond with the audience over the course of the evening due to shared heritage. "By the end of the evening, it felt like we were all best friends, which is something that this kind of work does so well," said co-founder Katie Klein. "Improv really does bring people together."
And that doesn't only apply to in-person shows.
The dynamic duo behind The Shalom Collaboration is T.J. Shanoff, a native Chicagoan who has been with
The Second City
since 1997 and the creator of
Jewsical! The Musical
, and Klein, improv performer and television actor. After a fateful meeting at
, the pair teamed up over the years on a variety of collaborations, including performances at Jewish organizational events.
When the pandemic hit, it soon became apparent comedy would look very different. "We didn't know what to do since most of our work is in live performance spaces. We go to large events in public places, so that was paused," Klein said. When she and Shanoff experimented with online gigs, "it became apparent that people crave that connection, learning, and spending time with other people in this new landscape over Zoom." Add in a bit of Jewish inspiration, and The Shalom Collaboration was born.
The Shalom Collaboration was designed to bring "togetherness, community, laughter, and love" to Jewish organizations at a time when many people feel scared, Shanoff said. By working with synagogues, agencies, and other Jewish organizations, they hope to bring joy by performing improv, emceeing events, hosting interviews of community leaders, and more. With each event, they collaborate with the organization to create something unique.
Even with the challenges of adjusting to the new Zoom platform, including delayed reactions to jokes, Klein and Shanoff have also found plenty of positives. From using the breakout room feature to sharing private moments with some participants to using the chat feature to inspire sketches in real-time, "it's been more fun than I thought it would be," Klein said. "I was worried about not having the in-person experience, but a lot of audience participants aren't as nervous and are more open. The virtual space has some perks that have been really fun to explore--plus, you can be pants-free!"
Judaism inspires Klein and Shanoff's performances in many ways. "Writing for the Jewish audience is something inside of both of us," Klein said, enthusing about the ability to use familiar Jewish jargon and traditions in sets. "It's easy and fun for us to do custom songs and scenes for a Jewish audience because it's our truth. It's so natural for us to write for that audience; a Jewish audience feels like one big inside joke."
"Katie and I had very different Jewish experiences growing up, but we have shared experiences that many Jews feel," Shanoff said. "We share these commonalities that have always subconsciously come out in our respective work. Even my non-Jewish material is rooted in my Jewish experience, my sense of humor, and what I know, and it's shaped my worldview as a person and a comedian."
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