“When the proverbial rug gets pulled from under our feet, and when we are left with nothing but the crisis, stripped of so much of what used to hold us, comfort us, sustain us, we do the only thing we can do: reach into ourselves, our pasts, our traditions—for grounding, for comfort, sanity, identity,” says Adam Kantor, a Broadway performer and founder of StoryCourse.
In the pandemic and the subsequent shutdown, Kantor, who is Jewish and known for roles like Motel in Fiddler on the Roof and Telephone Man in The Band’s Visit, turned and returned to his ancestry and tradition for guidance and translated that to an experience for all viewers—Jewish and not. Now, he (along with producer Eric Kuhn, Gesundheit Media, and OneTable) offers that guidance to viewers through collaborations with Broadway artists.
The idea took root in April. Kantor is one of the brains behind the spring’s Saturday Night Seder, which raised $3 million for the CDC Foundation. The special emerged from the digitization of the in-person event Kantor, Dear Evan Hansen scribe Benj Pasek, and others had hosted in 2017 and 2018. “It felt good to reach down deep into ourselves, into ancient stories and histories that have carried our people for millennia, and to create something ‘theatrical’ in tone, highly collaborative in process, and imminently cathartic for those who experienced it,” says Kantor.
The sheer volume of viewers and funds raised indicated that Kantor and co. had hit on something—not just for the theatre community but also the Jewish one. OneTable, a non-profit dedicated to helping those age 21–39 who do not have a Shabbat (Sabbath) practice to find one that works for them, reached out to Kantor to create art around the idea of “what it means to pause, today, during an epic pause of biblical proportions,” Kantor explains.
What comes is a 12-part series called PAUSE, with vignettes debuting the first Friday of the month for a year. Episode 1 features Jesse Kovarsky (Fiddler on the Roof, The Band’s Visit) in a moving piece of original choreography centered around Shabbat candlesticks as his prop. Episode 2, seen in the exclusive above, features violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins (Fiddler on the Roof) and Tony nominee Daniel J Watts (Tina) who ask through art: How can we mark this time meaningfully, reflect, and find our way, together, to a better tomorrow?
If you’ve never witnessed a spoken-word performance by Watts, prepare yourself. It is always transcendent. In this specific poem, Watts connects theatre and faith as two experiences of sacredness. “There are those of us who make our livelihood when people gather... en masse,” Watts begins.
And no, neither Hall-Tompkins nor Watts is Jewish. PAUSE—and the concept of Shabbat—is not just for Jews. “I don't think the Jewish thing to do is to be insular, or isolationist,” says Kantor. “The Jewish spirit is that of opening doors, welcoming in, embracing, sharing. I think a lot of non-Jews have taught me about what it can mean to be Jewish, as much as Jews themselves. And, Shabbat—maybe the cornerstone ritual of Jewishness—is a ceremony that can and should be experienced by any and all who can use this tool of rest and reflection. In other words: Everyone.
“I mean...Candles, bread, wine, and reflection... I’d be hard pressed to think of more essential things right now...” he adds.
“In these times when our virtual world has blurred the lines even more between work and rest, I think it’s important to recognize a sense of ritual,” says Hall-Tompkins, “to pause, regroup, and re-inspire.”
PAUSE isn’t about conversion, it’s about inspiring curiosity.
“I say this as someone who doesn't practice Shabbat religiously; that is to say, weekly,” says Kantor, “but, since embarking on this series, I'm becoming more and more intentional about it, about doing it more, and always grateful when I do. Just to have 24 hours where I can at least try to put away the phone, stop the emailing, and close Zoom, feels like a major win.”
Watching and meditating on a single PAUSE video once a month is an exercise in healing artistry. Next month, PAUSE takes a comedy spin on Shabbat with Alex Edelman, Jackie Tohn, Ben Gleib, and Rabbi Sharon Brous, and down the line Kantor hopes to tap into the international casts of Fiddler on the Roof “if we can pull if off!” But no matter the content, PAUSE is a theatrical and Jewish expression I can tell you in one word: Tradition.
Watch Episode 1 below: