New Experimental Play Based On Russian-Jewish Immigrant Experience

Jane Tuv
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ДOROGA, or Doroga is, according to its creators, “an experimental, interactive play that explores the Russian-Jewish immigrant experience through a series of dramatic snapshots and a dialogue between the past and the present.”

It was put together by a group known collectively as the Lost and Found Project.

One of the show’s stars also happens to hang her hat in Bensonhurst.

Jane Tuv immigrated to New York from Odessa, Ukraine. She’s a freelance writer and editor who instructs children in fine and performing arts. She co-founded the Arlekino Theater Troupe to instill an appreciation for the arts and Jewish heritage in young children through art, dance, music, and drama workshops.

She currently teaches pre-school age children about Jewish traditions and practices at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. She also serves as Communications Manager for the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene.

Since this will be Jane’s first stage experience, we caught up with her to find out more.

Well, the first question would have to be for all the non-Russian speakers such as myself out there- What does ДOROGA or “doroga” mean?

Doroga, or дорога (in Cyrillic) literally means “road,” but used figuratively as “journey” – the general theme of our play and this entire experience. In the play, you will see people setting out on journeys – both physical and internal – hoping to arrive at a destination. And that is exactly what the actors themselves did throughout this project: we set out on a journey to unravel our past and our destination became this play… and eventually, the stage.

What is Lost & Found?

The Lost & Found Project is a collective of young Russian-Jewish actors who immigrated to the United States with their families. The troupe’s work focuses on narrative research and formation of new, relevant themes.

Please briefly explain for our readers the story behind this production. How did this particular project get started?

Well, every project begins with a great idea. My good friend, actor and producer, Anna Zicer, came to New York to work with the Russian-Jewish community and realized that there was barely any Jewish theater that focused on young audiences. Specifically, New York City lacked opportunities for young Russian-Jewish actors to do work that connected to their lives and experiences.

Anna had an idea for a project, which would allow the actors to explore their stories and investigate their identities, while using tools of theater to help them realize their stories on stage. She received a grant from COJECO (Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations) to put together a company of Russian-Jewish actors, who would produce original materials for the stage, based on their discoveries.

How difficult was it to write and act out a scene based on your own immigration experience?

Extraordinarily difficult. The scene that is based on my story focuses on our departure from the Kiev Borispol Airport to New York, and saying that it was a tough experience would be an understatement.

I repressed bits of that memory for 18 years because I was an 8-year-old child leaving my home, my father, and my friends, and I didn’t know how to deal with that. The customs official was ruthless and barbaric, indifferent to my mother’s and my situation, and I wanted to forget that.

But this project inspired me to talk with my parents and my relatives to understand the back story of our decision to move and, particularly, of that day. Putting it down on paper wasn’t as hard as acting it out because even though the scene was an adaptation of my story. I still connected to the main character and to the supporting characters, and I got very emotional during rehearsals. There were times when I stopped reciting lines because I began to cry. I certainly hope that won’t be the case on stage!

If you can, please describe some of the other stories included in the play.

The play consists of multiple vignettes, and although I don’t want to give away too much of the play, I will say that audiences will be presented with a story involving escape from German occupation of Ukraine during the Second World War; a story of love and poor decisions; another of a bond between three generations of women; and one of gambling, pride, and friendship. ДOROGA is a dialogue between the past and present.

The playbill calls the show a “theatrical experiment.” What’s the goal or purpose of this theatrical experiment?

Although we use components of it, we do not want to see ourselves as classical theater. Our goal is to produce innovative shows. As I mentioned before, one of the focuses of the project was to create a lab where we researched our stories, and through this process, we came up with new material that is relevant to everyone and interesting ways of presenting it to our audiences.

We went through a deep process of improvisation to find meanings in our stories and to connect them to our lives today. We are certainly taking a risk not to perform already written plays by Chekhov or Shalom Aleichem, but we wanted to experiment with putting our collective experiences on stage.

What’s your personal goal? What do you hope to take away from this experience?

From childhood, I always wanted to act on a professional stage, though I never talked about it with my family or friends – so now, the secret’s out! I am a huge theaterphile; I just never thought I had any acting skills. I risked embarrassment and locked away my fears because I yearned to be part of Lost & Found. Anna encouraged me to audition and I am glad I did because the director’s reaction and this entire experience gave me confidence to feel that I am worth it and that I may want to do this professionally.

I co-founded Arlekino Theater Troupe, a theater, art, music, and dance program for young children and I needed to be part of Lost & Found to better understand experimental theater techniques. One of my goals is to produce a similar project with children: creating through experience. When you create through experience, you connect to your identity and the process comes easier.

Would you say this show appeals to everyone? Do you think it would appeal to audience members who aren’t Russian speakers or immigrants? What about people from other immigrant backgrounds?

Absolutely. This play is based on human experiences. Granted, the central theme of ДOROGA is immigration during the former Soviet Union rule and post its collapse, but this is a play that consists of stories of life, of struggles, of joys and discoveries, and because the Lost & Found Project was formed as a research lab to give actors a chance to dig into their families’ past, it allowed us to uncover these stories and realize them on stage.

Every person–no matter what ethnic or religious background – sets on a journey, whether it be physical or internal. And we never know if it is the right path, but we explore it. New York City is a diverse place, and we, at Lost & Found, hope that our play inspires our audiences to become interested in their own stories… and maybe even to find the time to call their grandparents and have a deep and personal conversation.

If this show was made into a Hollywood film and you couldn’t be a part of it, who would you want to play you?

Well, I play various roles within the play, but I would have to say I’d probably want Natalie Portman to play Zhenya, the character in the scene that is based on my story. She is a very expressive actress and can mold into practically any role.

What do you see in the future for Lost & Found?

A fruitful future! We want to bloom and connect with our community and we hope to produce plays that resonate with young audiences. We would like to have a physical space where we can create interactive, original plays that involve the audience in the theatrical experience.

Doroga premieres at 8:00 p.m. on March 8, at the JCC in Manhattan. For tickets, please visit their website.

It’s also being shown from March 14 to 18, at 8:00 p.m. with Saturday & Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m., at the Gene Frankel Theatre. For tickets, visit eventbrite.com.

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