Style Guide for Musicals That Focus on Judaism/Antisemitism
(with a heavy focus on Cabaret and Fiddler on the Roof, since those are two shows I have been in, but I will also mention Parade, Falsettos, etc)
Rule 1: Know why you are doing this, honor the story and the culture behind it.
Rule 1 informs every other rule here.
Rule 2: if you are going to change things, consult the team if possible, and if not, consult other Jewish people.
You do not have to de-emphasize the Jewishness of a story to focus on queerness, for example. And you shouldn’t. There are queer Jews. Like me, and most likely like the writers. Whitewashing history, especially trying to “soften” the oppressor or de-emphasize the antisemitism is bad. Adding incredibly charged words like “shiksa” and putting them in the writer’s mouth is also bad. (We know what I’m talking about, yes?)
Rule 3: Scheduling matters. If you are doing a show where antisemitism is a major theme, you do not schedule important performances or rehearsals during the High Holy Days. I don’t care who you are. Fix it.
Never again. Or I will do Jesus Christ Superstar on Christmas and make gentiles work on their day.
Rule 4: If you are unfamiliar with pronunciations of words, or how many candles we use on Shabbat (it’s two), or things like that? Consult people.
Do NOT use it as an opportunity to, as a white non-Jew, make jokes about our culture. Go back to rule 1.
Rule 5: Know that Jewish people have not and do not all speak like they are from Brooklyn.
If the story takes place in Russia, or Germany, or Georgia, or Israel, they’re not all gonna sound like Bernie Sanders.
Rule 6: There are Jews of Color. You can and should cast non-white actors in some of these stories sometimes, like Falsettos.
Rule 7: Humility is key. Admitting you don’t know is key. And then ask and listen.
Rule 8: Intergenerational trauma is a real thing.
Be equipped to handle the responses to content in your show.
Rule 9: Always consider your motivations for doing this work.
Rule 10: If there is not a single Jew on the production/creative team, first of all, huh? How did you do that? And second of all, get a dramaturg and involve them. Do not solely ask the actors.
And if you managed to have a cast/creative/production team for a show about Jewish people and/or antisemitism, I am disappointed but impressed. Still, definitely get a dramaturg.