OWTK PHILLY LOCAL: Hershel & The Hanukkah Goblins

[press release]

Gas & Electric Arts in association with the Painted Bride Art Center

Presents the World Premiere of


December 20 – 31, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — What are the villagers to do? A posse of holiday-hating goblins under the command of their ferocious King are determined to ruin Hanukkah. Can the wandering Hershel break their spell with nothing but his wits, a few pickles, an old dreidel and the help of a young orphan girl? Inspired by the award-winning children’s book by Eric Kimmel, this stage adaptation will be told through innovative physical theater, live original klezmer music and puppetry.  Rooted in Jewish storytelling, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins illustrates the power of community and teamwork, creativity and problem solving, courage and leadership, and the sweetness of freedom. Best for audiences seven to adult.

Warmth and humor prevail in this spine-tingling tale for the holiday!

Kids will be amazed.  Adults will be captivated. Hershel is a hero for all!

Performances will take place December 20 – 31, 2011 at the Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine Street, Philadelphia. Opening Night is December 21. There will be two shows on December 25 with a Chinese Dinner/Show package available for the 4pm show. See attached schedule for all dates and times. Tickets: $16 – $25. For tickets: 215.925-9914 or www.GasAndElectricArts.org.

Conceived and directed by Lisa Jo Epstein; adapted by Jacqueline Goldfinger from the book by Eric Kimmel; original music by Gregg Mervine; and puppetry by Martina Plag. The ensemble features David Blatt, Mary Kay Tuomanen, Lorna Howley, Leila Ghaznavi and John Greenbaum. The music will be performed by Gregg Mervine, Larry Goldfinger, Rosie Langabeer and Chris Coyle.

Gas & Electric Arts decided to turn this Caldecott-winning children’s book into a stage production precisely because Kimmel’s fun and scary tale of hobgoblins who prevent a town of Jewish villagers from openly expressing their beliefs provides the perfect opportunity to use theatre to point to universal issues about how we respond to cultural and spiritual differences while using humor and playfulness. The company is adapting the book to make the production exciting and relevant to tweens, teens and adults. Epstein’s dramaturgical choices for the adaptation wherein Kimmel’s story becomes the play-within-the play were inspired by a few key sources: the relationship of the teen girl Maddie and Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit;” a picture in Kimmel’s book that features lots of kids looking directly at the reader, and the beauty and theatricality of the storytelling structures in Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. Epstein hatched the idea of a 13 year old girl, Rachel, and her family during Hanukkah in the present, who is then magically transported back to the village of her Eastern European ancestors where she soon figures out that she can’t return home until she helps Hershel banish the goblins, using only their imagination, ingenuity and few choice objects.

Gas & Electric Arts’ production will tell the story of a Jewish town forbidden from celebrating Hanukkah by hobgoblins, and a wandering hungry pauper named Hershel who expects merriment upon arrival but discovers a silent village. He soon learns about the goblins and all the extraordinary ways the townspeople have tried to resist but to no avail.  Legendary for his cunning, wit, and pranks, Hershel becomes the town’s last hope. He’s sent to the haunted synagogue, only to be followed by an orphan girl who teaches him about trust, teamwork, courage and responsibility. Armed with eggs, a pickle jar, and their love of Hanukkah, together they trick the bullying goblins into lighting the menorah candles to break the spell and save the holiday forever!

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins will utilize Gas & Electric Arts’ signature style to provide a stirring theatrical experience that can be a springboard for young people and adults to dialogue about how to address the ongoing, shape-shifting manifestations of oppression in our lives. Our production will leaven suspense with humor, and be the result of a highly physical and visual approach to theatre, integrating actors with small and large scale puppetry and live musicians playing all original klezmer music. While the production will have a quality of simplicity making it equally accessible and exciting for youth and adults, it will be underpinned by highly developed skill and a sophisticated understanding of how theatre form works with its audience.

Since 2005, Gas & Electric Arts has staged wildly imaginative new plays, which have earned the company four Barrymore award nominations for “Best New Play,” “Best Original Music” and two for “Excellence in Acting.” Gas & Electric Arts mission is to courageously explore multi-disciplinary theatrical forms on stage and in communities as our means of being active citizens searching to respond to an ever-changing world.


The Creation of the Play

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins will be an ensemble creation in which all members—from director to actors to puppet designer, composer, playwright and dramaturg—are creative contributors to the shape of this multi-disciplinary stage production. Artistic Director Epstein is at the helm of an ensemble of actors whom she cast because of their diverse range of skills that match Gas & Electric Arts’ aesthetic, from a shared understanding of physical and visual composition, to being seasoned puppeteers and singers, to training in clown and other forms of physical theatre. Starting with one week of initial script development followed by a break and then a 6 week period of further development and rehearsal, Epstein is guiding the ensemble through a collaborative creation process to devise not only the text of the play but the movement and puppetry score of the production. Devising is a mode of making performance in which no script exists prior to the work’s creation by the company.

All members of the team have read information about the themes and ideas in Kimmel’s book as well as those Epstein felt were related to them, from historical information about shtetls to Yiddish humor, various interpretations of Hanukkah and acts of resistance, using material primarily that dramaturg Sally Ollove and Epstein have provided. Local playwright Jaqueline Goldfinger is in rehearsals and is using the devised material as the basis of the actual script, writing scenes and songs, words and ideas that arise from the improvisations and physical tasks that Epstein initiates, and providing key insight into structure that will help make the journey for the audience. Puppet and set designer Martina Plag has been collaborating with Epstein for over a year to hone in on the goblins and scenic environment so that the collective could have puppets and a fully functioning set in rehearsals. Epstein regularly integrates the puppetry and animation of objects to produce emotionally-charged stage imagery in her stage production; thus, the current ensemble will approach the Hershel set in a similar way.

The set itself is comprised of three multi-functioning moveable, transformative pieces. It will not simply represent ‘a’ location or locale. The movement, placement, and usage of these pieces will be devised and designed by the ensemble in the rehearsal studio so these architectural pieces can be suggestive of numerous things: from a town’s exterior, a market place or the inside of a synagogue, from the encroachment of fear to the expansiveness of joy. And Gregg Mervine, founder of the West Philadelphia Orchestra and member of the Klez Dispensers, composed the music over the last year and is now writing music for songs that respond to rehearsal discoveries and the actors’ voices. In all, Gas & Electric Arts is forging a story that embraces the past while transmuting it into a breathing relationship with the present.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is supported in part by The Wyncote Foundation, Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation, Dramatists Guild Fund, Virginia Brown Martin Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation, Clayman Family Foundation, The Ross Family Fund, David Bruce Duncan & Deana Pitcairn Duncan Fund, The Virginia and Harvey Kimmel Arts Education Fund, The Philadelphia Cultural and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.


Performance Schedule:

Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St. Philadelphia

Tuesday, December 20                               10am (preview)

Wednesday, December 21                          10am (preview)

Wednesday, December 21                          7pm (opening night)

Thursday, December 22                              7pm

Friday, December 23                                    7pm

Saturday, December 24                               11am

Saturday, December 24                               4pm

Sunday, December 25                                   11am

Sunday, December 25                                   4pm (Chinese dinner buffet available)

Tuesday, December 27                                  4pm

Wednesday, December 28                          12noon

Thursday, December 29                              12noon

Thursday, December 29                              7pm (JKIDS Philly Night)

Friday, December 30                                    2pm

Friday, December 30                                    7pm

Saturday, December 31                               4pm

Order Your Tickets Now:

Previews: $16

Dec 21 – 31: $25 adults/$16 youth

Best for audiences seven to adult.

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