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News Release

These Are The Days
November 2006

By Ben Gonshor

Part One: Yiddish Theatre On Tour

“Anytime you go on tour to play music is great. A real treat. But being a part of this group, on this tour has been something really special.”

That’s what Liam O’Neill, the drummer in our band, told me when we sat down for a coffee together on our last night in Vienna.

When I wrote you from Europe last week, the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre was in the middle of its European Tour — en route from Dresden to Prague and to the final destination, Vienna.

Our first leg in Dresden was quite something. By the time you read this, however, we all will have returned to Montreal and are back to our regular lives as doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, etc.

But last week, following our thrilling, first-ever experience in Dresden, we hopped on the bus and headed south for another “first-ever experience,” in one of the greatest cities in the world, Prague. Our performance of Those Were The Days took place in the heart of the old Jewish quarter, in a building that houses one of the historic synagogues in the city.

This was not a theatre, not a concert hall, not a space that is accustomed to bringing in full blown productions like ours.

That hardly mattered as we were told that the room we performed in — one could describe it as a beautiful, old lecture hall — once played host to the great native son of Prague, Franz Kafka.

With that as inspiration, the company performed an intimate, stripped-down version of the play, which established an incredibly warm atmosphere in the room.

This wasn’t lost on the audience, as their ovations were thunderous following the performance.

Furthermore, the appreciation they expressed afterwards for our having come to perform was just another reminder to us all of what our company represents, both in the power of its performances, but perhaps even more so, in the power of its mission.

“This group has a strong sense of identity and purpose, like it knows full well why it’s here,” O’Neill continued.

“And it’s not just to perform a play. There’s a self-assuredness and confidence in a greater mission. Maybe it’s in promoting dialogue and understanding through its art, that I find most welcoming,”

In Vienna, the cast of Those Were The Days was joined by that of God of Vengeance, the drama that played a number of well received performances here as well.

Indeed, like us, they performed one of their shows for a group of non-Jewish students whose sincere questions following the play (about our theatre, Jewish identity in the present day, how this identity is balanced with our Canadian identity). This suggested that the positive impact of dialogue through arts and culture is something that is and should continue to be given more and more credence.

During our stay in Vienna, the company was privileged to attend a private cocktail reception hosted by Canada’s ambassador to Austria, Marie Gervais-Vidricaire, at her official residence. We shared with her our experiences on the trip and the successes we’ve had. We also made it a point to say publicly that when our company tours, we take great pride in being “ambassadors” not only of Jewish culture, but also as Canadian citizens, the great value our country places in supporting ethnic and cultural identity. This sentiment was echoed by the ambassador herself, who thanked us for the positive role we’ve played on tour as representatives of our country abroad.

As Liam and I left the café, we took the time to walk along some of the streets of this majestic capital. One can live a lifetime and never have the privilege of seeing Prague and Vienna, arguably two of the most striking, awe-inspiring cities in the world. Here we were, together with the rest of the company, visiting both in one week. We had the privilege to perform theatre in cities once called home by the likes of Kafka, Freud, Schnitzler, Mozart, Beethoven, Klimt, and the names go on and on. On our free time, we attended music concerts and opera performances given by the some of the greatest artists in the world today and walked through museums containing some of the finest art known to humankind.

And yet, “Europe’s been really cool,” Liam said, “but I’ll say it again, being on tour here with this group has been something really special, probably what I’ll remember most.”

This article originally appeared in The Suburban newspaper.