On Dec. 20, Chaya Mushka elementary and middle school’s fourth through eighth grade girls performed “A Light for Greytowers,” as the school’s first full-scale theatrical production.
The musical play, based on a book by Eva Vogel and Ruth Steinberg, takes place in a Victorian orphanage. It follows one courageous orphan’s struggles to hold onto Judaism and empower the other orphans despite the headmistress’ determination to remove all connections to Jewish life from the girls in her care.
According to Chaya Mushka school principal Leah Sollish, the play was chosen to highlight the talents of the middle school girls and also involve the younger girls. Importantly, the play reflected the values of the school and established a precedent, style, and tone for the future.
Finding the right play was an arduous process; ultimately, Atlanta director Rachelle Freedman, who had taught the master acting class at a summer acting conservatory in Los Angeles, suggested using the script from “A Light for Greytowers,” a film by the conservatory director, Robin Garbose, which was adapted from the famous book, with music by her husband, Yitzhaq. Many Chaya Mushka students were familiar with the book and movie on which the play is based.
Freedman, who directs productions at several Atlanta Jewish schools, included all the girls in Chaya Mushka’s fourth through eighth grades, an unusually wide age group. Happily, the bonhomie and upbeat spirit of the girls was evident throughout the months of working on the production, in which Freedman taught acting techniques, held auditions, and staged the dialogue and musical numbers.
Freedman met sections of the large cast twice a week, initially dividing the cast into three age-related groups; then, as the performance date neared, she held full-cast rehearsals, ultimately at the Atlanta Jewish Academy, where the play was performed.
Chaya Mushka parents were pleased that all rehearsals — except for the final week of production, with the full cast on the AJA stage — were held during the school day, negating the necessity of cast members needing to stay after school to rehearse. Principal Sollish remarks, “This arrangement worked well because the excitement for the play spanned five and a half months and didn’t inconvenience parents with too many out-of-school practices.”
Sollish added drama as part of the school curriculum for the entire first semester of the school year. Mandatory auditions were held for the seventh and eighth grade girls, who were expected to get the biggest parts, and many fourth and fifth graders opted to audition as well to express their own abilities and talents.
Asked how she was able to work with such a diverse cast, Freedman answers that the girls learned from one another and supported one another. “The younger actors learned nuance by watching the older actors,” Freedman notes, “and the older actors learned from the younger ones to leave their inhibitions at the door. It’s a beautiful process!”
Sollish adds, “The play was incredibly successful, infusing the school with great energy and joy. The sounds of song echoed throughout the hallways, and the collaborative support, kindness, and encouragement between the girls were amazing to see.”
She anticipates that a full-length play will become an annual school event, and she mentions that “every little CMCH girl (Chaya Mushka Children’s House pre-fourth grade elementary school) is now eagerly counting the years until it’s her turn!”
To support the Chaya Mushka show, Atlanta Jewish Academy’s technical director, Breit Katz, designed and ran the play’s sound and lighting. Freedman, who also directs performances at AJA, says, “We are thankful to the AJA administration for making the timing work for us and lending us mic stands.”
Chaya Mushka staff members Sara Silverman and Leah Lipsiker gathered props and managed them during the play and created the playbill. Shterny Adelman, a Chaya Mushka teacher, ran the spotlight for the show, and teacher Mushka Kesselman painted the sets. Costumes were handmade or borrowed from Temima High School, another school at which Freedman directs productions.
Parents were understandably surprised and delighted at the performance, because the school had never before presented a full-length play, notably a musical with a large cast, an endeavor typically involving high school students, not younger girls.
One parent exclaimed, “The show was unbelievable! The play showcased every girl’s talent!” Another parent added, “Perfectly cast, perfectly executed. Our girls feel so proud!” One mother enthusiastically said she was “so grateful to Leah Sollish and Rachelle Freedman for giving our girls a chance to shine!”
Sollish reflects on the impact of producing the school’s first play, “’A Light for Greytowers’ serves as a beautiful example of our students embracing and expressing their unique gifts. It was a spectacular showcase of their talents. I hope everyone who saw it in person, reads about it in the paper, or watches the video will be inspired to reflect on their own gifts and how they can contribute to making our world a lighter and brighter place.”
Sollish opened the evening by welcoming everyone, followed by Yaffa Antopolsky, an alumna of Chaya Mushka, who read a chapter from Psalms, praying for peace in the land of Israel and the safety of our brothers and sisters there.