By Stacey Dresner
WORCESTER – With an eye toward presenting Jewishly-themed plays for audiences of all ages, Hal Schneider has founded The Central Massachusetts Jewish Theatre Company.
“The Central Massachusetts Jewish Theatre Company is a volunteer community theatre organization deeply committed to both Judaism and theater,” Schneider said. “Our mission is to present high quality plays based on Jewish life, themes, and values.”
This project is brand new – Schneider decided to start the theater company around the first of the year and has been promoting it since mid-February.
He is seeking volunteer actors and stage production people who are interested in his mission.
“One of the things I am trying to promote in doing these plays is that so many of these Jewish themes are universal,” Schneider explained.
But another goal is Holocaust education, especially with the rise of anti-Semitism occurring around the world.
“I’m trying to find pieces which are applicable to really all age groups, from middle school and above. I’m just trying to do things to make people more aware of the Holocaust and what went on, and this is just another way of doing it.”
A resident of Worcester and member of Temple Emanuel Sinai for more than 40 years, Schneider ran his own television production company, New England Video Productions, for many years.
Now retired, the longtime theater lover also works with the local theater group, 4Th Wall Stage Company on its sound work and graphic projection design.
When he read the script for a play called “Survivors,” he suggested it to 4th Wall. While that company has performed several Jewishly-themed plays, they passed on “Survivors.”
“After reading the script I felt it was just a very important play to have done here in Worcester. So I decided I’m going to do it myself,” Schneider said.
“Survivors” was originally written for the Center Stage theater of the JCC in Rochester N.Y. By Wendy Kout, the play is written using the actual words of ten Holocaust survivors living in Rochester.
“Between their performances at the JCC and then performances that they took to a lot of local schools, they had a total audience of over 6,000 people,” Schneider stated.
He also has gotten the rights to a second play called “The Trial of Uncle Charlie,” depicting characters of the refugee ship Exodus 1947 and the trials they went through fighting with the British to reach Palestine.
Written by Yehudit Shier Weisberg, that play just had its first run in the Kahn Theater in Jerusalem.
“It’s another very moving and educational piece,” Schneider said.
But he added that he doesn’t intend for every piece the new theater group does to deal with the Holocaust and its aftermath.
“It doesn’t have to be Holocaust-related but it has to be Jewishly-themed,” he said. “There’s a wealth of plays out there. As I started researching, I was amazed at how many Jewishly-themed plays with universal appeal are out there — more than I could ever do in a lifetime.”
Schneider has the support of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass. He has two sponsors, Christopher, Hays, Wojcik & Mavricos, and Bartholomew & Co., but he is seeking more.
“Hal’s proposal is very exciting; bringing Jewish theater to our community will provide a new enriching experience that will add to the fabric of Jewish life in Central Mass.,” said Steven Schimmel, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass. “Jewish Federation works to promote Jewish life and this is a new opportunity to do that, and one that should appeal broadly within our area. While this is still in its earliest stages, we are looking forward to seeing where this can go and hopeful for its success.”
“Things are moving along nicely. One of my goals right now is just to publicize it, to let people know what we are doing,” he said.
He posted a notice in a Facebook group called Central Mass. Theater, which is devoted to actors and other people interested in community-theater.
“I’ve been getting a tremendous response from people wanting to be on the list for auditions. I’ve heard from 10 people in only two days.”
And the company’s volunteers don’t have to be Jewish.
“It is open to all religions, races, creeds, and national origins,” he stressed.
Schneider said he is hoping to do auditions and rehearsals in the summer. Temple Emanuel Sinai could be a possible venue.
“It sets up beautifully for an audience of 100 or so. That is the type of audience I am looking for,” he said. “I’m purposely not looking to produce the plays on a stage; I want the actors to be at the same level as the audience. I think there is an intimate message in these plays and this way you are not isolating the actors. And they are relatively easy plays to stage. There are not fancy elaborate sets involved. It’s not about the sets, it’s about the message.”
For more information visit www.cmjtc.org or contact Hal Schneider at email@example.com