On Thursday, March 16th, LABAlive Two: Others will present an evening of art works and subversive teachings exploring our annual theme, OTHER. The evening will feature teachings by LABA Scholar Ruby Namdar and works by fellows Gordon Haber, Hadar Ahuvia, and Abigail Katz, who will present her theater-work-in-progress, Route One.
Here, Katz introduces her work and presents its thematic focus: the potential relevance of the concept of exile to present-day American Jewry.
Route One places fictional characters in a real historical event – the meeting of a group of Jewish spiritual leaders with the Dalai Lama and members of his community to discuss living in exile. In the scene we will present at LABAlive Two: Others, two Jewish American siblings have joined this group to witness this significant exchange between two of the world’s oldest cultures and religions. As they travel the very bumpy road to their destination, they discover that while they come from the same background, same environment, same parents, they have wildly different views on belonging, community, home, and otherness.
What I’m exploring in this piece is the concept of exile as it relates to these views. Specifically, do American Jews in the last 25 years really have a concept of exile? Do we still feel like we are in exile, and as a result do we still feel a sense of otherness even in the land where we grew up? And how does visiting a strange land further inform our concept of exile? Do we ever feel fully at home anywhere, given our history of existing without a recognized homeland for so long?
Inspired by the events in Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus, director Ben Kamine (LABA alumnus) and I had many conversations about these ideas, bringing in our own experiences of feeling othered, or how we as a community have placed a sense of otherness on people outside our faith and culture. We explored various ways we wanted to express this on stage: we considered interviews with people who were in fact on this trip and with members of the Buddhist community; we wondered if music and movement were potential elements in this piece; we discussed who are the people represented on stage – can it only be Jews if we are writing from a Jewish perspective? Can we write Buddhist characters? Can we put the Dalai Lama on stage?; are we attempting to dramatize this event or are we really exploring something else?
It’s possible that some of these approaches may eventually find their way into this process, but the scene we will be presenting is the first phase, which came to me in my own personal frustration of having divided feelings over these issues. On the one hand I can’t claim to be a person in exile, I grew up in America, never having fled from somewhere else or feeling the threat of having to flee. On the other hand there have been times where I have felt like an outsider within my own community, leading me to wonder if I am, in fact, a member of the community. Is that exile? And was it done to me or have I done it to myself?
The piece may continue in this direction or we may decide to incorporate some of the other approaches we discussed. We are at the beginning of this process, so we will see what makes sense as the play evolves and comes into contact with other artists.