Swimming lessons. Zumba. Interfaith family programming. Preschool. Summer camp. Senior programs. Events for singles. Hebrew lessons. Challah baking workshops. Jewish community centers are seven-day-a-week, 18-hour-a-day operations offering a myriad of programs for a diverse population of members and community residents. At the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, executive director Jeff Dannick has a vision of expanding programs to bring the community together in new ways.
Cultural arts director Dan Kirsch explains: “We have a lot of great programs here, but we didn’t offer a real [Jewish] cultural experience very often.”
Kirsch, who joined the JCCNV in January 2012 after a six-year stint as executive and artistic director of Diversionary Theatre, San Diego’s LGBT Theatre, intends to change that. He said last week that he has been given a proverbial blank slate to develop an enhanced performing arts series at the Fairfax-based JCC, which has a membership of about 1,600 units (families, couples, individuals), comprising about 3,500 people.
“Let’s open the door and explore what the community will enjoy and what it will learn from,” he said last week in advance of the kickoff of a new performing arts season that features music, live theater, cabaret, ballet and children’s theater. “Basically it meant finding a mix of options because we’re finding a different audience for every program we do.”
Music programs were among the JCC’s most popular performing arts programs this past season. For 2013-14, Kirsch has invited an array of artists ranging from the intimate cabaret performers Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, who open the season this Saturday and Sunday with their Marcy and Zina Show. The pair, who have performed at Shirlington’s Signature Theater cabaret series, brings a zany sensibility to their musical treatments. These days they’re also working on a musical version of the Drew Barrymore Cinderella story, Ever After for a Broadway run.
November brings a Chanukah holiday concert with Boston’s renowned Shirim Klezmer Orchestra performing a Klezmer Nutcracker based on the Tchaikovsky Christmastime classic. The ever-popular nice Orthodox Jewish boy band, The Maccabeats, perform their eclectic brand of a cappella arrangements of popular and newly composed Jewish songs.
Kirsch is excited to bring live theater back into the building. For years the JCCNV had its own modest in-house theater company; the Center Company was then directed by singer/actress Marilyn Hausfeld. “A lot of people remember the theater productions,” Kirsch said. He added that producing live theater in a community center environment is challenging because so many programs use the space it’s difficult to arrange adequate rehearsal time, find a place to store and build sets and costumes. Instead, for the next few seasons the JCCNV will rely on touring productions, like Jackie Hoffmann’s solo spoof A Chanukah Carol, which runs in early December, and the January production of Mister Benny, another one-man show, which delves into the life of radio and early television comedian Jack Benny.
To kick off an early Chanukah this year, families with young children will enjoy acclaimed children’s book author Maurice Sendak’s Pincus and the Pig, a Jewish version of Prokofiev’s beloved Peter and the Wolf told in music and narration, again featuring the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra.
Kirsch has also programmed the eighth annual Northern Virginia Jewish Book Festival, Nov. 2-13. With more than a dozen events ranging from readings and author talks to film screenings, a play reading and a local authors’ meet-and-greet on Nov. 12, the festival should have something for everyone. He’s particularly excited about the closing night appearance of Israeli journalist Lehi Lapid, wife of recently elected Knesset member Yair Lapid. Lehi Lapid’s recently translated Woman of Valor chronicles the lives of two women: one trying to live happily ever after, the other the author herself, who struggles with her experiences as a wife, mother, professional and parent of a special needs child.
While it’s too early to gauge ticket sales, Kirsch is hopeful that this program will both bring new visitors into the doors of the JCCNV and provide thoughtful and stimulating ideas to discuss and share for longtime members.
“I want,” he said, “to have a dialogue with our audience.” Bringing Jewish cultural and performing arts into the building is, he added, another window into our lives as American Jews.
For further information on the JCCNV’s 2013-14 Performing Arts series, contact the box office at 703-537-3000 or email [email protected]