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Actor revels in Jewish spring

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'Bad Jews' poster
'Bad Jews' poster

MONTREAL – Sarah Segal-Lazar is enjoying what she calls “a very Jewish spring.”

It began on March 17 and 18, the dates she performed in When Memories Have Us, a documentary theatre piece mounted specially for the teens participating in this year’s March of the Living.

Presented by the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre, which aims to develop Jewish identity and continuity, it cycled a theatre full of young audience members, divided into small groups, through a sequence of spaces in the Segal Centre – namely the CinemaSpace, the lab, the kitchen and the dressing room.

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All of these areas had been transformed into intimate venues where Segal-Lazar and three others played audio recordings of Holocaust survivors’ stories and delivered related monologues, repeating them eight times over the course of each night.

“Mine was the music space where they heard a recording about the survivor who was forced to play guitar and sing for the SS officers and guards,” says the actor and singer-songwriter.

“My monologue was about all the Yiddish songs that were written in the ghettos during the Holocaust, and then I sang one of those songs.”

She remembers how she broke down after hearing the premise of the piece. In the storyline, a teenager shrugs off a school assignment to interview a relative who lived through the Holocaust. When the grandfather suffers a sudden stroke and can no longer speak, the teen approaches the elderly man’s friends who share their own stories of survival.

“I was bawling, because it really hit me hard. My mother was born in Poland. She came from a very large Orthodox family, and all of them perished. When you’re my age, you realize it’s more a part of you than you first thought,” says the 27-year-old who graduated from the Dawson College professional theatre program and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Memories, about how important it is not to forget, was an amazing precursor to my next play, Bad Jews, which is about what you do hold onto,” she adds.

Segal-Lazar will play the role of Daphna in Bad Jews (which also stars YidLife Crisis star Jamie Elman) May 1 to 22 at the Segal Centre’s Studio.

“She’s a young, modern Zionist who really wants people to understand her point of view. Her cousin Liam knows he’s technically Jewish, but it’s not a big part of his life,” says the actor. “Every culture is going through this shift with millennials in terms of secularism versus traditionalism and how much heritage we’re hanging onto.”

Most of her other roles involve Segal-Lazar making music, often original songs in scripts like Talk, Mackerel. Last fall she was hired to create a solo performance piece, a combination of song and comic storytelling, for a Vanier College symposium.

For next fall, Persephone Productions commissioned a full complement of songs for their major production of Jerome of Sandy Cove. Penned by artistic director Christopher Moore, it’s based on the mysterious life of a legless man who washed up on a Nova Scotia beach in 1863 and was adopted by the community.

The Maritimes have been part of Segal-Lazar’s life since she was five and her family first summered in Prince Edward Island, where they have a cottage.

Her debut CD released last January is called Two if by Sea. In late July, she’ll be music director for the River Clyde pageant in New Glasgow, P.E.I., on the theme of maintaining the health of rivers. And five years ago, she founded the Island Fringe Festival, Charlottetown’s counterpart to fringe fests that have sprung up across Canada.

She’s also hoping to participate in the Art in the Open festival with an art installation called Baggage, about the memories of failed relationships that she’s developing into a play. Her relationship with audiences is one sailing on the seas of success.