Creative expression is arguably as important for one’s confidence and happiness as school and social outlets. In the Orthodox Jewish community, opportunities for young women to express themselves in a creative way are few and far between. When a girl graduates from high school and moves on to college and work, there is often little time left to focus on her personal interests and desire for self-expression.
Since leaving high school, I have thirsted for a platform in the "real" world to showcase my creative side. Last July, RINA gave me the opportunity to quench that thirst. After the overwhelming success of Elite’s production of Newsies in 2015, Rivka Rubenstein and Rochel Ziman partnered with Elite, an organization designed to support the physical, spiritual, and social needs of post-seminary girls. Together, Rivka and Rochel formed RINA, an all-women’s theater company, so that Baltimore could continue to offer professionally staged, high-quality productions and to provide single women of the community with a much-needed creative outlet.
News of auditions for RINA’s debut production of “Annie” began circulating at the beginning of the summer. I didn’t know what RINA was about and I mostly went out of curiosity. From the moment I walked in and auditioned in front of a panel of the various production heads, I could tell that RINA was aiming for professionalism — and succeeding. My curiosity turned to excitement and appreciation for what RINA was finally offering the Baltimore community.
Aviva Cohen, RINA’s drama director, believes that at everyone’s core lies a performer. After everyone was cast and practices began, the truth of her belief was apparent. Our cast comprised young women from all different religious and professional training backgrounds. While we had some stars like Ayala Pheterson (Annie), Liora Goliger (Daddy Warbucks), Chana Bernstein (Miss Hannigan), and Nechama Eventsur (Grace), all of whom have years of vocal and performance training under their belts, others (like me) were rank amateurs and had only acted in school and camp plays, or not at all.
The atmosphere during practices was giddy, and there was never a night when we weren’t making each other burst into laughter. Our bond and familiarity grew with each run-through, and with it, our scenes became that much more alive and seamless. When do post-high-school girls and women get to hang out with their friends on a weeknight? Life comes with work, school, and other responsibilities. While we were having fun getting in touch with our creative sides, we were also learning important lessons about responsibility, organization, and teamwork. As Nechama Eventsur noted about her experience in the play, “It taught me how to be responsible and have fun at the same time.”
Two sold-out performances later (Dec. 9-10), the positive feedback and enthusiastic congratulations poured in. Devorah, one enthralled audience member, summed it up perfectly: “Your play was unbelievable. It was so professional and enjoyable to watch. The performers were spectacular and the technical things worked so smoothly. It was gorgeous! More importantly, it was such an inspiration to see these women use their talents in such a meaningful way.”
Baltimore definitely didn’t know what to expect from our play. The community has seen its fair share of school productions, but RINA brought something different to the table. The cast included young women of all different ages. Some are still working through college, while others have careers. The play gave everyone involved a rare opportunity to utilize their incredible talents. RINA doesn’t just benefit the performers. As Sherry, another audience member, mused, “Not only was the production full of incredible, homegrown talent, just look at all the goodwill you generated in our community!”
RINA plans to expand their organization and is considering future performances in Silver Spring and Philadelphia. If you missed the Baltimore production of “Annie,” no worries; DVDs will soon be available for purchase. If you are interested in getting involved in our next musical, visit www.rinabaltimore.org.
By Emma Michelsohn
Emma Michelsohn is a freelance writer, lyricist, and poet. She recently completed the Your Novel Year 2017 Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University and is working on her debut YA novel.