Rosh Hashanah, Renewal and Rita

For Rosh Hashanah, a friend was asked to speak about renewal at his shul. He’d seen FEED THE MONSTER and thought Rita’s story spoke to the theme (renewal of identity, of religious beliefs, of community). Here are my musings:

Rita’s story begins in the early 1960’s, a time when women’s roles were limited and prescribed. Possessed of an outsize personality and unconventional looks, she felt there was no place for her in such a conservative world. Her only solution was to run away from her quiet, stifling home and community, both of which were teeming with Jewishness. It’s no surprise that she equated her Jewish identity with conventionality and immobility; had she stayed in the community, there were few options for a happy, creative life. As she states early on, because she was obese, she would have been relegated to the role of caregiver for her parents and died a spinster.

Clearly, that was not Rita’s destiny. Her journey takes her far a field, provides her with many experiences, both good and bad, and ultimately brings her back to where she started. Rita’s renewal starts in an Irish bar where she battles her inner demons. She fights with herself. Should she sing? That’s what got her into trouble in the first place. The microphone symbolizes a lot of things for her: it’s her unrequited love—John, it’s her need to perform, it’s her one true love. She literally and figuratively needs to ‘lose this skin’ she’s ‘imprisoned in.’ She can’t stand herself and needs to shed the layers of misery she’s piled on over the years; she also can’t be fat anymore. By the end of the song, she’s consciously decided to cast off all her extra skin.

Back home in Brooklyn, she finds comfort in things she’d never considered. When she says yizkor for her father, she knows the words, even though she’s probably never recited them before. After so many years of going to shul, the words seeped in through osmosis, and they sustain her in mourning. While sitting shiva, Rita sees the kinder side of her community. They bring food, tell stories of her father, and even make her feel welcome. It’s during this very Jewish ritual that she turns a corner and finally understands who her parents were, so she can appreciate their quiet love for her.

She no longer feels like an outcast and even sees a place for herself in the community. Her choice in the end to stay in Brooklyn and teach music to yeshivah girls is her way of embracing Judaism, happily accepting her identity, in a way that makes sense for her. We don’t know if she becomes frum, but Rita is clearly a Jewess whose newest project celebrates God in the way she knows how. She rocks some Old Testament gospel. Loud!

As for me, I grew up in an Orthodox community. When we left Brooklyn, we left religion behind. Our lives became almost completely secular and we barely spoke of our previous life. On Long Island, none of my friends knew I had been religious. At college, I studied Religion; my junior year, I went to Oxford to study Judaism. It was all very academic. On Long Island being a Jew was de rigueur but at college in Ohio, there weren’t that many of us so I latched onto my Jewish identity and wore it on my sleeve. Since then, it has been a huge part of my persona.
You could say that I am fiercely, culturally Jewish. So although these days I am barely a ‘High Holidays Jew’ there is no one who does not know which box I check off for the census report.

Because of my Orthodox childhood, academic study of Judaism and secular adulthood, I wanted to write something about finding a way to be Jewish on one’s own terms. That’s Rita’s story. It’s my story too.

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FEED THE MONSTER performance video

From the Wednesday, August 18th Feed The Monster Live show:

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Joshua/Shout Performance Video

From the August 18th, 2010 performance:

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Lose This Skin performance video

From the August 18th, 2010 performance:

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To Love Somebody Performance Video

From the August 18th, 2010 performance:

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From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everybody who made the show possible.

A little over three years ago, I started singing again. Almost two years ago, I started writing FEED THE MONSTER. Six months ago I started taking acting classes. It’s been a whirlwind of activity, an adventure, and the most satisfying challenge I have ever undertaken. What have I learned from all this? If you love doing something, and you surround yourself with talented people who believe in you, somewhere along the way you start to believe in yourself. That’s when great things happen. Was the show perfect? Was my performance the end-all/be-all? Did everything go according to plan? No. No. And no. Does any of that matter? Not a bit. What matters is that I set out to do something and I did it. I had ridiculous amounts of fun doing it. And a lot of you came along for the ride.

Who knows what’s next. When I figure it out, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Meanwhile, thank you to the following people without whom this nutty project would never have happened:

Lorraine Ferro
Matt Hoverman
Mike Jaffe
Jim Keyes
Todd Spenceman
Dan Stein
Howard Rappaport
Mike Roderick

Thanks to Garry Novikoff, Greg Nemec, Lola, Christian Polanco, Kia Rogers, Anthony Bova.

Special thanks to classmates Mary Dimino, PJ Walsh, Josh Rivedal and Michelle Glick for their support.

I am eternally grateful to FringeNYC for taking a chance on me.

To my amazing, funny and brilliant husband Matt Unger — there would be nothing without you.

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Final FEED THE MONSTER performance this Thursday!

Come on down to La Mama and catch the final FringeNYC performance of FEED THE MONSTER this Thursday, August 26th.  It’s going to be fantastic!

Update: Tickets now available at the box office only:

The Club @ LA MAMA
74A East 4th Street
Between Bowery and Second Avenue

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FEED THE MONSTER + Dinner + Mad Men = The Perfect Rainy Sunday?

Just saying: If you’re looking for a way to spend this rainy Sunday, you can catch FEED THE MONSTER from 5-6, enjoy a relaxing meal in one of the East Village’s many delightful establishments (or even see another FringeNYC  show) and still make it home in plenty of time for “Mad Men”.  I may spend my day this way, though of course I’m actually going to be performing FEED THE MONSTER.

Come down to the Club at La Mama (74A East 4th St) at 4:45 and grab a seat!

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Have you seen FEED THE MONSTER?

If you have, tell your friends! If you haven’t, come on down! Only two shows left: Sunday, August 22 at 5pm and Thursday, August 26 at 9:45 pm. Hope to see you there!

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Gene Simmons of Kiss says…

‘… sex jugs and rock-n-roll. That’s adorable!’

My big brother, Michael Ehrlich, recently shared news of FEED THE MONSTER with the Kiss star. Yes, my brother. Yes, Gene Simmons. Michael is very good friends with Kiss’s hairdresser and before Saturday’s concert at Jones Beach, he made sure to tell Gene about my show. Considering Tsippy Scheurmann changed her name to Rita Emerson, Gene Simmons was originally known as Chaim Witz, and Paul Stanley was born Stanley Eisen, we should all have lots to talk about… Maybe some day soon!

From your mouth to G-d’s ears.

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