Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
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September 9, 2009
"Both Sides of the Family" is a play that follows the journeys of an unrelated man and woman who share their experiences with their interfaith marriages.
We've performed the play in several venues and locations over the past two years, including theaters, an art gallery, Jewish Community Centers, temples and even churches. "Both Sides of the Family" has touched our audiences in a visceral manner, and the three of us who wrote, perform and produced it as well.
From our first two-week run as part of Cleveland's Charenton Theater in the 2006-2007 season, we found that people wanted to stay afterward and talk about what they had experienced and seen. Why was this unique? Because there were no post-play discussions scheduled. The audience just stayed to talk after the final curtain.
Jacqi Loewy, who conceived and produced the play, participates in the post-play discussions with the audience and the two performers who wrote it, Maryann Elder Goldstein and me. This has been a constant over our performances in various venues over the past two-and-a-half years. Each of us has a strong connection to the play's content, and has invested our own personal journeys in interfaith families and related experience into its development, writing and performance. The question we faced was how to make "Both Sides of the Family" more than a play, and how to enable our work to help change perspectives and perhaps lives.
We realized soon after the play's debut that it was important to each of us to have the play performed in other communities interested in stimulating interfaith dialogue and understanding. At InterfaithFamily.com in Boston, Micah Sachs, Ed Case and Ruth Abrams enabled us to extend awareness through IFF's electronic network, and we began receiving inquires about bringing the play to different communities. We had a successful performance and post-performance discussion in April 2007 in suburban Boston. This became our model for using "Both Sides of the Family" as programming for interfaith families and communities. It was our jumping-off point for contacting foundations and approaching other national organizations. This raised new questions for us and provided a lot of helpful guidance, both from funders and from mentors like Jen Kaplan, writer and producer of the documentary Mixed Blessings.
One of the first comments I received from a national foundation had to do with our expertise. It was clear to the foundation officer that we were able to create and produce good theater. However, she wondered, what were our credentials to create programming and content?
A second comment/need has surfaced among virtually all communities and organizations with whom we speak. This relates to most organizations' dearth of staff time and available programming funds. While the need for interfaith outreach has continued to grow, available funds and professional time among many interested organizations has lessened, due to the country's economy and related philanthropic giving. Our need for professional programming and the lack of available funds and staff time for our play has, ironically, stimulated what has become "Both Sides Now."
Last summer, Cleveland's nationally recognized Jewish Community Federation published the findings of a two-year study on interfaith trends. In the wake of the report's publication, we were able to draw together seven Greater Cleveland organizations interested in promoting more discussion of the issue of interfaith marriage and the Jewish community. A Cleveland community-wide event, scheduled for Thursday evening, Sept. 10, will bring together a number of temples and synagogues, the Jewish Community Center, Hillel, American Jewish Committee, Jewish Education Center of Cleveland (JECC), Siegal College and the Jewish Community Federation. The event will feature the play and a post-play discussion with the cast, audience and two area rabbis.
As a result of having the JECC as a co-sponsor, we were fortunate to have met the JECC's senior director, Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz. Separate from her contribution as a JECC co-sponsor event representative, Nachama has helped us create our professional facilitation guide for use with "Both Sides of the Family." A nationally recognized educator, Nachama has provided us credibility and expertise in creating a guide that anyone may use when producing "Both Sides of the Family" in their particular community.
Planning the community events stimulated Jacqi Loewy and me to create a new non-profit entity dedicated to the creation of stimulating theater and related programming focused on the interfaith community. "Both Sides Now" will provide several plays and related programming, and offer resources to enable communities to effectively implement a play or plays for their audience.
We are beginning the writing of our second play, "Both Sides of the Campus," which is being developed with the assistance and input from college students. The Cleveland Hillel Foundation's Jill Ross, one of the Sept. 10 event co-sponsors, has been working with us in the development of this important play. We plan to write additional plays focusing on the parents/grandparents of interfaith couples, the children in interfaith families and clergy over the next year. Each play will have a professionally created discussion/facilitation guide that will provide key talking points for post-play discussion.
If you are interested in learning more about "Both Sides Now" and related theater and programming, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website at www.bothsidesofthefamily.com.