CB Davies had a conversation with alumna of JET, Lauren Flaherty, to discuss her experience with the theater world and the Jerusalem English Theater community. This conversation took place in May 2019 and much of what was said is so important today.
The conversation started when Lauren’s mother walked into the room.
Lauren: We were in a huge show this weekend. So she came in to see it.
You were in the show?
Lauren: Me, all my kids, my niece, my husband. Six of us in our family were in it. This was part of Wish Upon A Star and it’s a huge benefit show that we do every Memorial Day weekend. Eight shows in one weekend and all the money goes to the children’s hospital in Oakland. And it’s through the Peter Pan Foundation.
What brought you to Israel?
Lauren: My husband works in the foreign service and so his job means that we travel all around the world and that brought us to Jerusalem.
You were involved in theater beforehand?
Lauren: Oh yeah. I was in my first show when I was four years old and my whole family was in this show Carousel. I was cast as the right hand to the angel and my one job was to throw a star out into the audience. I wouldn’t do it because I was afraid I would hit someone. And no matter how much they told me that I couldn’t hurt anybody I refused to throw the star. That was when I was four years old. So I always had a mind of my own but I always cared about people. I mean all through my childhood I did theater. I was in the King and I as one of the kids, I was in Annie as one of the orphans. I did dinner theater for ten years from when I was 10 until I was 20. And that actually raised me in theater and it taught me how to treat directors. Taught me how to treat the cast and it taught me the value of being on stage and being part of something special. And also what it was like to be part of another kind of family.
So dinner theater. Would you say that was more similar to what community theater is?
Lauren: Yes. It was a community dinner theater. It happened every summer. It was called summer dinner theater. And so I started when I was 10 but most of the people were in college. It was actually a college course. And so you got college credit for it. And they taught you makeup, they taught you responsibility, we all had to work in the costume shop or on the set in a technical aspect. And we all had to do something to support the show in addition to being on stage.My brothers were in it with me so it was very much a family thing and it was really special. Because I have three older brothers – it was really special to have that as something that my family did together for many years. And they used to say that there had to be a Goldberg in the cast. Because my maiden name was Goldberg. And so forever there was a Goldberg in the cast and that was awesome.
And you’re carrying on a tradition?
Lauren: That’s right. It’s true. It’s a family thing. Then I decided to go to college and get a degree in theater and speech communication. So I got two Bachelor of Arts degrees. And then once I was out of college I was deciding whether I wanted to do it professionally or whether I just wanted to keep it as something that I loved. And so I did some work. I got paid. But it just felt stressful and it was taking away the joy of it all. And so I tried out careers in event planning and public relations. And then I decided that I wanted to do something with entertainment again. And so I got into television. And that’s when I became a tv producer for Discovery Channel and for NBC. Then we started our life overseas.
So where were you before you were in Israel?
Lauren: I had my first child in America while my husband was overseas. And then we all moved to Dubai together. And we were there for four years. And my daughter was born there. And then we moved to Jordan. And I had another child there. And then we moved to Jerusalem and we were there for three years.
And how did you hear about the community? What was your first experience in the theater community?
Lauren: Jerusalem was an interesting story because I had young babies in Dubai and Jordan so I didn’t do theater there. But I did sing the National Anthem for every event and I led the Christmas Carols. That was like my big performing opportunity every Christmas. And so when I moved to Jerusalem – being Jewish and having lived in an Arab country I was excited to move to Jerusalem. I was thinking finally I’m gonna really feel connected to the place. And when I got there I didn’t feel that. I was struggling because my husband was Christian and I was Jewish. I felt I wasn’t Jewish enough for the people who are Jewish and I wasn’t not Jewish enough for the people who weren’t and so I spent six months feeling depressed because I really felt like I was – I had expectations. I was gonna feel a certain way and I wasn’t feeling it. And that is when I started researching online for English-speaking theater in Jerusalem. And I remember it was a Thursday night because the Hello Dolly auditions had just finished at Beit Hillel. The very next audition was for Guys and Dolls at Encore that following Sunday. So I decided that I was going to go audition for that because I really really wanted to feel connected. And theater for me was always that place that made me feel that way. So I went to the audition and I got into the show and I was a hotbox girl and I was Mimi – like I had a name. And all of a sudden this community of people made me feel just right. They made me feel perfect. Like I was interesting because we had traveled around the world. And they loved me and they embraced me. And all of a sudden the theater community meant that I found my place in Jerusalem.
Is there a specific conversation you had with somebody or some moment/experience that made it feel right?
Lauren: Yeah. So when I was in Guys and Dolls all the people just accepted me. All I can say is that they were interested in who I was. They didn’t make any judgement about my choices. And all of a sudden they were inviting us for Shabbat. And inviting us for Passover seders. And they were sharing their homes, their families. They welcomed us into their lives. And that was the first experience I had like that here. I had an experience before finding the theater community; it was Shabbat and I was walking on the street. There was a guy on the corner and I was like Shabbat Shalom. And he looked at me and he was like “Do I know you?” And I was like “No, I’m just saying Shabbat Shalom.” He’s like “fine, Shabbat Shalom then.” And I was like oh my gosh, like what’s the deal. It was weird. And maybe I was too friendly. The American-Jewish experience is different. So when I was with Encore all of a sudden we were just loved and welcomed.
And that was your general experience?
Lauren: Oh my gosh, yes. So I did Guys and Dolls with Encore and then I basically was in five different shows on the Jerusalem stage within the three years we were there. And then I also started a Parent Theater Players at the local school and directed for different shows at the Anglican International School where I started this whole thing. We brought storybooks to life during book week and then I directed these pantomimes which is a British type of theater. Do you know it?
Yes. I was in London. I went to get introduced to this program called Chickenshed. And I learned about Pantomimes.
Lauren: Yes. So at the school I started these big evenings where there were teacher talent shows and parent pantomimes. And it was to build the community and bring it together. And so I found that theater for me in Jerusalem was the biggest community builder and the biggest thing that really just raised people’s spirits and made them feel a part of something special.
So what shows did you do? You said five shows?
Lauren: I did Guys and Dolls and then Iolanthe. And then Aladdin. I was Jasmine. And then the Wizard of Oz. I got to join the stage with my daughter for the first time. She was a munchkin and I was Glinda and that was really cool. And then I was in Singin in the Rain with Starcatcher.
What came first? The Anglican International School projects or Guys and Dolls?
Lauren: Yeah. The Anglican International School was the school my kids went to. I found that when I got there there was a lot of stress and strain. Parents complained a lot about the parking situation and they complained about the school calendar and what holidays they wanted and what holidays they didn’t want. There was just a lot of complaining. So I took over the PTA and became the president of the elementary PTA. And I basically said I’m happy to do this job as long as its building this community instead of complaining. And so I started Screen on the Green, you know, movie nights on the lawn at the school and I started this Parent Theater Players. And so I had parents from – so it started out with eight different parents from several different nationalities when we began. And it was going to be a one off. So book week is this fun week where they celebrate the joy of reading. And so I was bringing a storybook to life for the elementary school students. We would have a discussion on character, kindness, standing up against bullying, that kind of thing. And then it was a big success so all the parents were like when is our next one? So I directed the Pantomime…that same year. And then they wanted more so we did another week performance and another Pantomime. And by the end I had 18 parents. I had a violinist, a violist. I had original music. And then we started taking our books that we brought to life to Bethlehem. To orphanages there.
This all came before you were in Guys and Dolls or after?
Lauren: No, it came after.
So would you say that the community helped you get to that place where you were able to bring theater to the school? To be able to take on all that?
Lauren: So I would say that I was in a very happy place performing with Encore in Guys and Dolls and being in that place allowed me to flourish as a creator and bring that gift to the Anglican School. And they are still doing Pantomime now. Since I left it’s become a school tradition.
That’s amazing. There’s a lot of theater going on all over but to see that the community is helping it happen – what you did that’s fascinating. It’s amazing. It’s so good. So if you had a highlight of the theater community what was it?
Lauren: I had so many. I really did. I can speak to both Encore and Starcatcher. Aviella Trapido is one of my highlights. Haim Tukachinsky was one of my highlights. And obviously Robert Binder was a big highlight for me. At the Encore parties whenever people would do these funny skits it was really special. And Starcatcher was this incredibly special place where everybody built each other up and really was inspired by each other’s talent.
And does that happen initially or was that something very special?
Lauren: That’s what we strive for. Right. I think that’s one of the benefits of community theater over competitive or professional. Is that people really benefit – really motivated by each other’s talent and are really building people up rather than knocking them down. And the beauty of Starcatcher was that there were people who were leads and the ensemble or whatever. But everybody shined on that stage. It didn’t matter what part at all. There was just this incredible ensemble feel where everybody brought their A game. I was so proud to be in that production.
I still use your hand circle. I did it in February. I was a lead in this show “The God of Isaac” by James Sherman. It was like five of us and we still did the circle.
Lauren: That’s so awesome. So good. Thank you. That’s what it is. The energy circle. It’s that shared ensemble feel where everybody is important. Everybody is sharing each other’s energy and building each other up on the stage.
It is amazing. Beit Hillel used it the past two years. Because I was in a show and then Dena was in a show. We kept it going. So how did being in the community affect you coming back to the United States and what are doing now?
Lauren: So I am really proud of the work that I’m doing now. Every place we go I have to reinvent myself and figure out how I can impact a community in the most positive way. And the Parent Theater Players that I had started in Jerusalem – when I got here to Lafayette, California I realized that the adults in this town did everything for their kids and they were really – they were starving creatively and so I approached a local theater. A local community theater called Town Hall Theater and I met with the director of education over coffee and I just basically pitched her a storytelling and acting class for adults. We would then go on a school tour and bring storybook to life. Similar to what I did in Jerusalem. And they hired me to create this program for adults for their theater. And so in the Fall 2018 we brought a book to life in four different elementary schools. We did eight different performances and discussions that followed. We did it in “The Round” in the multipurpose room and the kids were mesmerized. And part of the discussion was that I would have the kids stand up in front of their whole school and just talk about the issues and speak their mind from kindergarten through 5th grade. And they were so empowered and their voices were heard. And they had really great ideas. You could see how that was building them up and building their confidence in terms of public speaking. And then the women – we used all women – the women that were in the class that had signed up for the class – I had ten – they all wanted to sign up again. So we had a Spring class and I had a co-lead teacher. So the two of us did it together. And my co-lead teacher was a gifted Improv artist. And so we both brought different things to the table. So we decided that we were going to tackle middle school in the Spring. Which terrified everybody in the class. And we didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like. But we did know that it was not going to be in the same format as the elementary school where we do a big assembly. We wanted to tackle middle school issues in a personal way. So we developed a workshop for individual classes. And I met with principals, vice principals, counselors, teachers, and students over several months to discuss what issues were really affecting middle school kids. And the main issues that kept coming up over and over again were anxiety, depression, identity, social isolationism, and navigating friendship groups. So we took these five issues and we decided to create a workshop that would be – that would do three things. We wanted them to feel heard, we wanted them to know that they were not alone and that struggle is real and that everybody goes through it. And finally and most important was that they’re in control of their own lives and if they want to make change they can because they’re powerful and they have the power to make the change — So we created this workshop through improv and through seven different experiences that the students were all involved in. We took it to three different schools hitting students from 5th through 8th grade. We took it to over 500 students. And the students asked when we were coming back. The schools loved it so much that they asked us back already. And so the thing that theater has done for me is it’s created this space not only for me to be creative, to inspire others creativity, but to also change the world around us. In the past year I’ve also gotten certified in life coaching and life strategy. So it sort of combines theater with life strategy and really empowering people to make change in their life.
You’re staying connected with theater through what you’re doing. That’s amazing. Do you have any connections still with anybody from the community here in Jerusalem?
Lauren: Yeah. Aviella Trapido and I are still connected. Obviously Facebook is a great medium because I know that Yakir Abelow graduated or that kind of thing. You remember Yael Silver, right?
I don’t know her because I wasn’t here when she was here. We kind of crossed paths. I left the United States when she went there. She was in A Chorus Line with Starcatcher. Everyone talks about her. I’d love to interview her as well.
Lauren: We were in Guys and Dolls together. And we became very close. And I actually saw her two weeks ago when I took my daughter to New York. And then Miri Fraenkel; she came and visited me in California a year ago and stayed with me for ten days. I’m still in touch with Meirav Wine. So I would say that I’m certainly in touch with people from the theater community whether it’s a shout out on Facebook or a conversation here or there. We become family, right. I mean I’m still in touch with the owners of this art ethnic cooperative shop on Jaffa Road. Riv and Dovid. So I still send so many people to their shop and Whatsapp with them on a regular basis.
Whatsapp is fascinating to me.
Lauren: My storytelling and acting class that I teach; we are on Whatsapp. Our group is a Whatsapp group. And then I’m also in a vocal group called the Stay at Home Moms and we are also on a Whatsapp group. All my kids and I are all in vocal groups. We perform once a month in Orinda Community Theater and we also raise money for Peter Pan Foundation through Oakland for Children’s Health. So we combine a lot of theater and philanthropy. I think that’s the theme in our lives. Like taking theater to do good in the world.
That’s amazing that you’re able to do that. So which was your favorite show or role to do while you were here?
Lauren: I really loved Lena Lamont.
We did too.
Lauren: I mean who wouldn’t love that. All those wigs and these costumes. Oh my gosh, I loved filming the silent movie. That was the most fun day ever. It was just such a fabulous production. But I also have a very sweet spot for Guys and Dolls because it was my first one. Of course Aladdin; I get to be Jasmine. That was really fun and beautiful and colorful.
So Starcatcher announced that they’re doing Chicago last week.
Lauren: I literally just said yesterday that I want to do Chicago.
So are you coming back?
Lauren: I wish. When’s it going to be? In March?
Right around Purim.
Lauren: I am so jealous. That would be such a dream. I’ve done the Cell Block Tango before.
So you have said this already, to change the world, a few times. What can the theater community really encourage people and help people to learn more about the world? What do you think the biggest message the community in Jerusalem can give to somebody?
Lauren: I think that theater is really important because it’s so inclusive. There can be so many different people who have different beliefs – you know whether it’s different religious beliefs or what not but it’s something that unites people. Because when they create together something unique and special they’re building up a community. And so different beliefs are okay because there’s this thing that they share and it’s just something that makes a community great. It takes a community from being good to being great.