A few minutes with some of the talent behind (and on!) the different stages we all enjoy
…Hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol. And the music crackles to life! It’s Motzaei Shabbos Nachamu and everyone is coming together, hoping, and yearning for the Geulah.
If you’re in camp or together with family or friends, there’s no better way to celebrate than with music and an exciting performance, on stage, of course.
Ever wonder what it’s like to actually be the one in the spotlight? We were lucky enough to catch a few minutes with some of the talent behind (and on!) the different stages we all enjoy.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
The curtains open and a hush falls over the crowd. Spotlights illuminate the stage as the mics begin to hum. We’re captivated as the drama sucks us in. When the final scene unfolds, we leave, smiles on our faces. However, in our excitement, we often forget about the tireless team behind the scenes that brought the production to life. Meet Mrs. R., a talented play director who has been directing plays in schools and camps for over ten years.
The first time I got involved in directing plays (I had been acting for a few years) was about 11 years ago, when I was a staff member in Camp Bnos, and assisted Aidy Rabanowitz and Miriam Handler in the camp plays. After two years, I went on to head camp plays on my own and have been putting on plays for about eight years now, baruch Hashem.
When you come as part of the audience, you see a full picture. When you’re involved in one specific part of a play, you’ll notice that detail. But when you are the play director, you’re the one keeping track of every single part of it. As a director, I have to collaborate with a lot of people. There is the stage crew, props, costumes, lighting, music, dances, choirs, etc. Since it’s impossible for one person to do it all, I delegate each job to another “head.” Finding the right “heads” for each detail of the play is a pretty difficult task. As much as I get involved, it’s really up to the capable heads to help achieve the vision I imagined.
The Best Part
There’s a lot of satisfaction in directing a play. I love working with girls, building their confidence and helping them shine. Being able to put girls onstage who don’t exactly excel in other areas and watch them really develop their talents is very satisfying. Every year the head counselor tells me, “I can’t wait to see who you put onstage — every year you shock me.”
Dealing with Stress
The actual production can be very stressful. There are so many things that have to work out simultaneously. There’s the right volume, the right line, the right second… It can be overwhelming! My assistants and I cope with the stress by just letting go. By the time we reach the final showing, we’ve already put in hours of effort, and we daven that with Hashem’s help, all will go right. Knowing that it’s not in our control takes away the stress! We come to the performance with the mindset that it’s going to be a party no matter what happens. So, when someone misses a line, or the wrong soundtrack plays, we just burst out laughing!
To Aspiring Actors/Actresses
Believe in yourself! I remember there was once a girl who came to drama tryouts and made a big disclaimer: “I only want five lines. I don’t know what I’m doing and never acted in a play….” She then picked up the script and started to read the lines to perfection! She had the exact personality for the main part and threw herself into the role perfectly.
Once she realized that we were considering her for the main part, she kept repeating, “I can’t do it! I’m not the main part type, I’m not that good….” Guess what? She was the main part. We pushed her to believe in herself and she did an excellent job! It’s a real lesson for everyone. When you believe in someone, they can be pushed to do things they never dreamed they would.
STRIKING UP THE CHORD
Do you find yourself walking into a simchah and making a beeline for the music area, parking yourself near the stage for the night? Or are you one of those who simply hums along and dances without thinking about who’s behind it all? Regardless, we could all agree on one thing. Music excites us!
Meet Yehuda Langer, from Yehuda Langer Productions, who is involved in making the music we all enjoy. Yehuda is both a one-man band as well as a full production leader.
Ever since I could remember, I’ve always had a love for music. It’s this passion that drove me to become the keyboard player I am today. I started playing keyboard in fourth grade, and by the time I turned 13, I was already performing at different events, like bar mitzvahs. While I also enjoy singing, I don’t always have the opportunity to do that.
The most fulfilling part of my job is that I get to create music for people to enjoy, especially during their special moments and occasions. There’s nothing more rewarding than being part of an event where you are literally powering the simchah and the dancing. My job is just to make people happy!
This is the hard part. There’s a lot of preparation, including transporting the actual equipment and setting everything up. Like many musicians, I’m constantly on the move, traveling to various events and simchahs. Whether I’m driving or flying, things can get a little complicated. Fortunately, I do have a transit van where I keep all my equipment — and there’s quite a lot of it. For the events that I have to fly to, I usually just take along my keyboard in a special case and treat it like regular luggage (although it’s always overweight!). As for the rest of it, I simply rent it in the city where the event is taking place.
I remember about five years ago, I was playing at a bar mitzvah in Lakewood. As usual, I came early to set up. I was in the middle of plugging everything in and connecting all the wires, when suddenly, the lights went out. Blackout or not, there was a simchah to go on! I ran out, drove across town, and got them a generator.
Baruch Hashem, the generator did the trick, and we had music like at any other simchah! Hashgachah had it that five minutes after the event was over, the generator ran out of power.
Most Exciting Glitch
I once had the opportunity to play at an event in Los Angeles and had another event scheduled in Lakewood for the next evening. My flight was supposed to land at four p.m. in Newark, and the event was set to start at seven thirty p.m. It was definitely a tight schedule, but baruch Hashem I had done this successfully in the past. However, this time, I missed my flight. I would’ve just jumped on another flight, but none of the available flights from L.A. could get me back in time. I discovered a flight headed to Arizona with a connecting flight to Newark, so I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, once I got to Arizona, I was told that there was no space available on the connecting flight. I found myself stranded in Arizona with a frustrating ten-hour delay. However, Yidden are incredible and you’re never truly stuck! I’m extremely grateful to the Unger family who hosted me (a total stranger) during that time, and even gave me supper, too!
There was a young child with cancer who was offered by the Make-A-Wish Foundation a chance to wish for anything in the world, with no price tag. This little boy, who was about 11 years old at the time, chose to “wish” for his very own sefer Torah. The organization did their research and in fact purchased a real kosher sefer Torah for the boy. According to halachah, however, he doesn’t actually “own” anything until he is 13. Two years later, at his bar mitzvah, the sefer Torah was finally his. We played many Torah songs, and everyone danced into the night, with such incredible simchah pumping — it was palpable.
To Aspiring Musicians
If you want to play and end up playing professionally, KEEP PLAYING.
I still remember being that nine-year-old standing on the sidelines watching the band!
Musicians are better than 90 percent of the world. Ninety percent have never even started playing an instrument, so if you are part of the 10 percent that did, stick with it!
There will be people along the way who will tell you that you aren’t the best. That may be true, but it doesn’t matter. Once you pick up an instrument, KEEP GOING.
THE TALK OF THE PUPPETS
I thought I’d seen it all: jugglers, magicians, dog trainers, trampoline jumpers, and more. But the performance that I watched, put on by a regular frum yeshivah boy, threw me off my feet. He walked onto stage with a small, but intriguing suitcase. Out came a puppet. It didn’t look too exciting. But then, I watched in amazement, as it began to speak.
Meet Moshe from Lakewood, New Jersey, a frum ventriloquist.
I’m a born-and-bred Lakewood boy, and, as you know, a ventriloquist, too. A ventriloquist is someone who can “make a puppet talk.” Obviously, like magic, it’s really all an illusion. In order to do that, I need to project my voice, talk without moving my lips, and then move the puppet’s mouth and hands in sync with the words the puppet is “saying.” Sounds easy? It’s anything but! I have a whole bunch of puppets but mainly use my two favorites. One is a hard plastic, more realistic looking little guy, with these huge eyes that seem to be staring at the crowd, and the other one is a large soft girl with pigtails.
Why a Ventriloquist?
There is nothing like bringing kosher entertainment to schools and camps and watching the kids (and staff) just let go, laugh, and really enjoy themselves. My older brother got into it when he was younger and performed in his elementary school talent show (which I went to as well). Once he graduated, my principal encouraged me to take over for my brother at the talent show (and even gave me class time off to practice)!
The rest is history! It took a lot of trial and error, mirror time, and a whole lot of patience, but I finally mastered it. I get so much satisfaction in giving so many people, both young and old, a good time.
One of the best parts of my job is that there is almost no way to really “make a mistake.” No one knows what the puppet or I was supposed to say, and so if I skip a line or trick, I wouldn’t even call it a mistake! However, I was once performing and asked the director of the group for a microphone so the kids would be able to hear. The director came onto the stage and graciously placed the mic… at the mouth of the puppet! Of course, I removed the mic from the dear puppet and put it near my mouth! I guess I must have been doing a good job and fooled him well!
To Aspiring Ventriloquists
Just like any other talent, with enough determination, I believe anyone can do it. My only message to any child, teen, or adult, is practice, practice, and practice again (in the mirror!). Never give up! And of course, have fun!
So, the next time you watch anyone up onstage, remember that there’s more to it than meets the eye. And if you’re the one aspiring to be up there, keep doing what you’re doing. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be the one performing!
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 971)
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