New Jersey Jewish News
Moxie and miracles
Puppetry is a vehicle to reach an emotional and a spiritual place for both kids and adults; there is an emotional depth that a puppet can go to that a human actor cant. So said local puppeteer Jennifer Levine in a recent discussion of her work. Levine will present two original puppet shows in the MetroWest area next week: Princess Moxie Rules! at the JCC in West Orange and Miracle on Monroe Street at the Penny Pretzel Playhouse at The Baird in South Orange.
She will present Princess Moxie Rules! featuring colorful, hand-sewn puppets and original music and designed to encourage audience singing, dancing, and applauding on March 14, which is not coincidence. A tale of a feisty feminist heroine, its performance is timed to coincide with Purim and the holidays story of Queen Esther and her courageous efforts to save her people from annihilation.
Miracle on Monroe Street set in 1909, it is the story of a young Jewish girl, a stolen piece of cake, a tenement roof, and a bakers flour bin will have its public premiere four days later.
Miracle on Monroe Street is based on a true story that my grandmother told me, said Levine. Her family lived on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century. One day her sister stole some cake from the neighborhood bakery and climbed up the roof to escape from the angry baker. She fell off the roof and somehow survived.
My grandmother has been a big influence on my life; she is almost 100 and has been a major collaborator on this piece.
In addition to using her grandmothers reminiscences as a resource and inspiration, Levine researched the piece at the Tenement Museum on New Yorks Lower East Side. She noted, Miracle has really been a labor of love its only 20 minutes long but its been in process for two years.
It was her background as a Jewish educator that led to Levines interest in puppetry: I had been working as a teacher in Hebrew schools in California and was feeling frustrated with the lack of creativity in the curriculum. So I started bringing in dolls to tell stories . Puppetry sort of evolved from there.
The art form may be playful, but it is also hard work. Levine studied with noted puppeteer Eric Bass at the Sandglass Puppetry Institute in Vermont, where she learned to manipulate the puppet with my breath and evoke emotion through the puppet.
She has also trained at New York Universitys Performing Objects Practicum, an intensive summer program, and at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts Clown Conservatory. I studied with Jeff Raz, the conservatory director, for two years. He worked intensively with me to create both of my pieces.
Levine has performed widely for both children and adults at The Jewish Museum and The Childrens Museum of SoHo in New York City and to audiences throughout California and in Spain and the Czech Republic.
The response to the family theme of Miracle on Monroe Street, she said, has led her to hope to broaden the audience for the show: One of the nice surprises Ive had has been the audience reaction: Wow; that really got me thinking about my own family background. Id love to bring the show into synagogues, day schools, and even public schools in a family education context. It could serve as a vehicle for kids creative expression in exploring their own backgrounds.
As pleased as she is with audience reaction to Miracle on Monroe Street, Levine said she envisions the piece as merely the first in a trilogy: Id like to explore later events in my grandmothers life as well.
In addition to puppeteering, Levine teaches in the religious school at Bnai Keshet in Montclair, where she lives with her husband and four-year-old daughter. She has big puppet plans for her town: One of my goals in the next few years is to establish a puppet theater in Montclair a space to reflect the diversity and cultural richness of this town. It would be a theater for the whole family, both children and adults.
Reflecting on her love of the puppeteers art, Levine concluded, There is something wonderful about taking raw material literally and turning it into a theatrical experience.
See Princess Moxie
Jennifer Levine will present her original puppet shows throughout the area in the coming weeks.
Tuesday, March 14, 5:30-7:30 p.m.: Princess Moxie Rules!
Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC, Ross Family Campus, West Orange, $10/family, $8/member family (part of the JCCs Purim Puppet Party, including pizza dinner, costume parade, gym games, and hamantaschen; the puppet show is at 7:00), (973) 736-3200, x253
Saturday, March 18, 8 p.m.: Miracle on Monroe Street (premiere)
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