Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Notes from A Jewish Exploration of LGBT Musicals

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Session 1, November 1st 

Here's the course abstract from the Lehrhaus course catalog:

A Jewish Exploration of LGBT Musicals: FUN HOME & FALSETTOS
Taught by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and CBST Member Jonathan Shmidt Chapman

Explore two iconic musicals currently on Broadway that feature LBGT stories front and center. Through text study, hands-on activities and discussion, participants will actively engage with these two dynamic works of art while making connections to Jewish teaching.
(Note: CBST will organize member trips, featuring talk backs with the creative teams. These trips are not included in the class registration).

Required Reading In Advance: FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel

Here are my notes from the first session: 
  • Four sessions each -- Fun Home & Falsettos
  • Favorite theater experience ever, we were asked, by way of self-intro. Don't over-think it, we were told. Thought first of "The Children's Hour", but Jonathan asked for favorite theater experience, not favorite play. Ok. The original version of "Pippin". First Broadway play was Gigi with my dad, but fave was Pippin at age eight or 10. Best drama experience was "The Beauty Queen of Leenane". Pippin because of the music and lyrics and the drama because it was just crazy -- what an intense mother-daughter relationship. [Now, I'm also thinking of "'night, Mother", another mother-daughter drama.]
  • Asked why we were drawn to the class: "I just need more fun in my life. This sounded like pure fun."
  • We were asked to interview each other in pairs, asking about each other's week so far.
  • Dramatized each other's interview by drawing it. Paralleled what Alison Bechdel did with the graphic memoir of Fun Home. Liked how well I listened. 
  • Rabbi Kleinbaum: "Lisa Kron [the playwright of "Fun Home"] is Jewish and was deeply drawn to Alison's story." She did a one-woman show on her relationship with her father. 
  • My parents (z"l) are taking the class with me; they're up there on the Yahrzeit wall, since we're having this class in the downstairs chapel, davke with Session 1 on the English calendar death anniversary of my dad (z"l), who died 34 years ago today.
  • I also like that even when we turn off the lights to see a clip of the play, the Ner Tamid (eternal light) stays on.
  • Who mesmerized me first? Unlike Alison's version, where she identified with the butch woman, wearing a ring of keys, and felt like she had found her people, but wasn't attracted to her per se, mine was an object of desire -- a dark-tan, bright-blond woman, who was acting in a local, community play, the star of it. I think I was five or six at most.
  • So far during this class, I drew, I wrote, I read dramatically, I interviewed. Loved the experience.
Further jots during my train-ride back from Penn Station to Montclair: 
  • Why do I like graphic novels and memoirs? They are more immersive for me? They give me permission to linger? They forgive my relatively slow reading pace?
  • Election Day, we'll have class. Hope we won't during Thanksgiving Week, since I'll be in Green Bay with Pat & Jim [my brother-in-law].
  • My experience of "Fun Home" also included seeing new friend Lauren & her partner, and her mothers in the audience. Was jealous of Lauren & her partner. [Pat's & my mom were already dead by then.]
  • My mom (z"l) and I went to "The Lion King", but not to "Fun Home". Not sure she'd have loved it, so best we didn't get to go.
  • My mom (z"l) and dad (z"l) and me.
  • My mom (z"l) always had my hair cut short and let me wear all sorts of clothes. My dad (z"l) let us dress up as Uncle Sam. 
  • When I asked my mom (z"l) for clues about me, all she could say was that it seemed strange to her during our first trip to Israel, when I was eight, that when she let me pick out a commemorative Israeli doll as a memento and I chose a male Chassid, rather than a female doll.
  • I said simply that I liked his shoes and shtreimel [faux-fur-rimmed hat], but that didn't explain it for her.
  • There was a girl who seemed like the me I didn't want to be when I was 13, David's friend. I forget her name -- blocked it out.
  • There was a baby girl at the Charbroil Grill Diner in Montclair, who wouldn't stop staring at me and smiling at me. I was like her ring-of-keys moment, or she thought I was a "boy", perhaps, since I was wearing a baseball cap and had short hair then.
  • The Ring of Keys song, Rabbi Kleinbaum emphasized, was the star's/Alison Bechdel's identitification song, not her love song. Even the joy she felt in finding someone like her was tempered by her father's unhappiness at observing her recognition.
  • All of us have secrets. Mine just burst forth because they were harder to hide, since they were physically visible.
  • Ever since I've known her, Joyce [one of the people in the class], has been an activist around aging, and older people's rights.
  • Am I still an activist around being a lesbian? Does my identity -- that part -- still dominate my days/existence? Or have I settled into being a corporate suburbanite, who just wants a peaceful life?
  • [Like the star of "Fun Home"/Alison Bechdel], what are the three pivotal stages of my life?
At 11, staring at my beautiful best friend and her gorgeous brother in bathing suits and realizing I preferred looking at my best friend, rather than her brother, and being devastated by what I realized.
In college, hunting for men & women till owning my lesbianism senior year.
As an adult, after 19 years together, marrying Pat legally in my hometown, Stamford, surrounded by my family, at 45, including a short video on and a wedding listing in "The New York Times".

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