FIDDLER ON THE ROOF AT WESTON PLAYHOUSE
by Erin Leigh Peck
When I was growing up Vermont in the mid 1970’s, I felt like we were the only Jewish people in the state. Of course, I also thought that my parents knew the Beatles personally since they referred to them as “John, Paul, George and Ringo”, so take it as a preschooler’s perception rather than fact. My earliest memories have a backdrop of snow covered mountains and red covered bridges, and my brother was born in Vermont. We moved further South after my father finished his medical residency at Dartmouth, but we always went back up to Vermont for the skiing on weekends and holidays. My whole life, Vermont has been a second home and a place that ties me to my family and my childhood.
During the time that we lived in the Green Mountain state, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to theatre. One of my earliest theatrical memories is of dancing around my grandmother’s living room while watching the Beta tape (remember those?) of Norman Jewison’s Fiddler on the Roof staring Topol. I always dreamed of one day playing Hodel, the middle daughter who sings Far from the Home I Love. (Although given the fact that I’m turning 40 this year, I think we can all agree that ship has sailed). I auditioned for the 2003 Broadway production and attended a callback for the role even though I had just discovered I was pregnant. I actually thought I could make it through the rehearsal process, have a baby and then jump back into previews! Good thing I didn’t get that part.
I’ve been looking for a production of Fiddler because my daughter, who is about to turn nine, is now old enough to understand and appreciate the show. Fiddler is of course about tradition and custom and how communities maintain the markings of their heritage in an ever-changing world. In this way it speaks to all immigrant groups. But like so many Ashkenazi Jews, it is quite specifically the story of my own family’s history. My great-grandparents were villagers who left their Russian shtetls in the early 1900’s to escape the Tsar’s persecution, and they fled to New York and Chicago, just like many of the characters in the play. This past year has been about exposing my kids to theatre, and I have been hoping for the chance to expose my daughter to this musical that is so relevant to who she is and where she has come from.
The last place I thought I’d find the perfect production of Fiddler on the Roof was in Vermont.
Last month, my husband and I took the kids to Vermont for a few days of vacation, and I was delighted to find that the Weston Playhouse, Vermont’s oldest professional theatre, was completing it’s run of Fiddler on the Roof. In fact, we were invited by close family friends who happen to be the only other Jewish people I know from Vermont.
The theatre and production were perfect for a summer family excursion. Set in the picturesque town of Weston that does not host a single commercially franchised business, the theatre is a quaint and beautiful addition to a perfect New England setting. Having survived everything from the Great Depression to the flooding of Hurricane Irene, the Weston Playhouse is a living testament to the community’s support of the arts.
Inside, I was overjoyed to find a spacious house with plenty of leg-room. The show was well attended but in Vermont there is less of a premium on space. The stage is small for such a large cast, but this intimacy only helped serve the feeling of being a visitor inside the tiny village of Anatevka where the story takes place.
My daughter was able to follow the story with a bit of explaining from me. One moment that stands out is during the intermission when my daughter asked what would happen to the third daughter, Chava. I explained (avoiding spoilers) that Chava was going to marry someone unacceptable to her traditional father. My daughter asked if that meant Chava was going to marry another girl.
Sitting in that spacious, historical house watching Broadway actors performing on a small but mighty regional stage, I was once again struck by what a perfect musical Fiddler on the Roof is. Every time I see it I discover new things…this time, something that stood out for me was Tevye’s close relationship with God. I send my children to Jewish school and try to observe the holidays but this tangible daily connection is usually missing from my life. I also took notice of one moment when Tevye asks God to take a break from all of the world’s catastrophes. On the anniversary of Irene, one could not help but appreciate the stamina and tenacity of both the community (Weston AND Anatevka) and the Weston Playhouse.
Experiences like this remind me of how important it is to see theatre outside of New York. By ignoring the regional experience and only seeing what comes in to New York, moments like these pass you by. In my interview with the Weston Playhouse’s Producing Director Steve Stettler, I learned that one of the theatre’s main goals is to reach families.
“We have a deep commitment to making sure there are a lot of entry points in our season for families,” he told me. “The future of arts and culture is dependent on the younger generations. We recognize that.”
In fact, each season at Weston, where the arts and culture are primarily summer-based, the playhouse produces at least one classic family musical or play. “Next year will probably have both,” says Stettler.
Every season starts out in June with a show by a young company of six or seven actors imported from various BFA and conservatory programs around the country. The group does a show for young audiences at a low ticket price in Weston’s 90-seat theatre. Keeping ticket prices affordable for families and locals is a priority.
“We’re a 300 seat house in a 600 person town in Vermont. It’s significant. In the theatre world it’s intimate,” said Stettler.
“You feel closer to the actors than anywhere I’ve been. You are seeing Broadway shows with Broadway performers and you are drawn into the humanity and the talent. That’s something that always connects with kids.”
I can definitely attest to that. My daughter had one of her favorite theatrical experiences to date seeing Fiddler on the Roof at the Weston Playhouse.
“Our litmus test has always been the school groups. They are often our best audiences. If kids aren’t grabbed by what they see on stage, especially kids who grow up around here to don’t see a lot of live theatre, it’s a sign that what we are doing is important to them.”
If you are looking for something extremely cool to do this weekend, there is a new show that’s appropriate for teenagers debuting at Weston. It’s called Pregnancy Pact and it’s directed by Joe Calarco. Weston is stunning this time of year, and with all the ski areas competing for summer thrill seekers, you can break up your weekend of hiking and antiquing with a trip down the Alpine slide or across a zip line.
I never expected to find a little bit of Broadway so far from the home I currently love, or to share a connection with my Jewish heritage so far out into my personal diaspora. I guess if you wait long enough, your worlds will eventually collide.
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