The Great and Powerful 24 Hour Show
As the pre-play hecticness reached a crescendo — people finding their seats, the lights only minutes from dimming — a figure wearing all black rushed out from backstage into my aisle. Being the obnoxious reporter that I am, I smiled, introduced myself and asked David Levene (YC ‘20) — who I discovered, about three quarters into the production, was none other than Oz himself — if he had any pre-play words to offer. “What can I say … The last 24 hours have been extremely, extremely hectic,” he said smiling. “But this has been an amazing chance to do something with a lot of my friends, be a part of something — something different.”
The production, presented by Stern College Dramatics Society (SCDS) and Yeshiva College Dramatics Society (YCDS) on the night of Sunday, October 28, truly proved unique, one of the reasons being that it allowed the participation of both Stern’s and YC’s dramatic societies.
As someone who grew up participating in and attending Bais Yaakov plays, I was sorely disappointed to find that YU still splits the sexes when it comes to theater. In the community from which I hail, and many others similar to it, each production involves women trying to lower their voices and donning loose trousers in an effort to depict male characters. Meanwhile, male dramatics societies must search for scripts that have little to no female roles. I assumed all of YU’s productions were destined to follow a similar pattern, but it turns out that, although major productions cannot be co-ed, staged readings can be. This is why the announcement of “The Wizard of Oz” piqued my curiosity. I knew this show was going to be different, and I was eager to see how it would balance YU’s strict rules with its own flavor and creativity.
Instead of avoiding the awkward halakhic limitations that come with a YU production, the dramatic societies embraced them to their advantage. One of the aspects of the show that made it so humorous (there were many) was its self-awareness. Not only were there several shomer negiah jokes scattered throughout, but arguably the most iconic moment of the play was when Dorothy, played by Brielle Broder (SC ‘20), mouthed the lyrics to the iconic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” while Matthew Shilat (YC ‘21), a YCDS board member and one of the directors of the show, stood behind her in black, singing the song while echoing her movements like a shadow.
“I really enjoyed bringing ‘Jewish’ comedic aspects into our performance,” said Broder. “Where but at Yeshiva University would we be able to use these kinds of jokes? It’s worth having co-ed plays just for that alone.”
What else sets this play apart from other shows put on by YCDS and SDSC? Well, nearly everything. While most staged readings, also co-ed, usually take place in regular rooms and incorporate minimal props and sets, “The Wizard of Oz” went all the way. It almost had the feel of a major, once-per-semester show: all the necessary props, intricate, albeit whimsical scenery, incredibly imaginative and colorful costumes (the kind you’d never get a chance to use unless your script incorporates munchkins) — and it filled nearly every seat in the Schottenstein Theater, a phenomenon typical of full-fledged productions.
The most obvious difference, however, remains the short amount of time allotted for casting and rehearsal: 24 hours.
When asked about the beginning of the process and how the production came together, nearly everyone used the word “hectic.” Yaacov Siev (YC ‘20), the show’s lighting technician, said, “As the hours wore on throughout Sunday, things slowed down a bit and the caffeine started wearing off. But as the performance grew closer, and people replenished their coffee cups, that energy and excitement came back in force.” Describing the process, he mentioned that while the Schottenstein Theater remains largely unused for most of the year, “during the 24 Hour Show, every single floor was abuzz with people working. Making the backdrops for the set on one floor, gathering props and costumes on others, rehearsing downstairs in the basement; there was life and energy on every single level.”
“It was like magic watching the whole thing come together,” said Chana Weiss (SC ‘21), an SCDS board member. “At the first read-through and then again at the costume-fitting, it was so incredible to see how perfectly everyone was cast and how perfectly things fell into place.”
For the first show of its kind put together by the boards of both dramatics societies, the “semi-professional product of 24 hours of preparation” — as the promotional flyer described it — was more than a success; it was unique, self-aware and proof that YCDS’s and SCDS’s creative capabilities far exceed our expectations.
Photo Caption: The Wizard of Oz bestows gifts upon Dorothy and her fellow Oz-seekers.