Michal (Micki) Kleinman, Rachel Landesman, Noa Isaacson, seventh graders from SAR, are rising stars at the Riverdale Children’s Theater. Luckily, though RCT is a community theater, they never had to miss rehearsal for a Jewish holiday or Shabbat. Founded by Becky Lillie-Woods and Derick Woods, the theater group is composed of 50 percent Jews, 30 percent of whom are Shabbat observant. When Lillie-Wood founded the company, she sought to keep true to her mission to remain accommodating to the Orthodox community. “We see kids on sports teams in the park on Saturday afternoons and we wanted to create something that observant families could be a part of,” said Woods. “People that don’t have experiences with the Shomer Shabbat community don’t realize how important it is to them,” said Lillie-Woods, who herself is Catholic. “We’ve learned about it and we were determined to make it work.”
Riverdale Children’s Theater also encompasses a mix of Catholic, Christian and Muslim students. Kleinman, Landesman and Isaacson are inspired by their peers who express interest in learning about their Jewish tradition. “Our directors are accommodating because they want us to succeed,” explained Isaacson. “They go out of their way to make sure we don’t miss rehearsals on Jewish holidays.” The girls emphasize that their friends at RCT are diverse, open-minded and non-judgemental. “In school, we sometimes have to try to be someone else in order to fit in, but at RCT, we can be our crazy and funny selves,” said Kleinman. “Ignorance and not understanding one another’s differences are hindrances in life,” said Woods. “At Riverdale Children’s Theater, we create an environment of tolerance and mutual sharing. We think it is great when kids are exposed to other kids who are different than them because it inspires conversation and growth.”
Sara Friedman, an RCT member since the age of nine, is an Orthodox high school student at SAR high school. She plans to go to Israel and then major or minor in theater at Barnard. “I will always make sure theater is in my life. Being part of RCT showed me a side of myself that I never knew existed.” Though much of the professional theater world would not accommodate a Shabbat observant lifestyle, Friedman hopes that one day she “will be so successful” that people will have to be accommodating. Lillie-Woods encourages her to “create her own thing” if what is out there doesn’t meet her Shabbat observant needs.
In May, RCT is scheduled to perform The Little Mermaid at Mount Saint Vincent College, a new venue. They will follow up with a performance of In the Heights over the Memorial Day weekend with another incredibly diverse cast.
By Adena Blickstein