American actor Rachel Geisler has had to make a decision early in her career about whether she would work on Shabbat.
Rachel Geisler, second from left, is seen with the cast of Spring Awakening.
The New York University student took an eight-month absence from her studies this year to join the young cast of the North American tour of the musical Spring Awakening, which included stops last month in Ottawa, Kingston and Kitchener, Ont. Geisler starred as Anna, one of the lead roles in the musical.
Spring Awakening, which won eight Tony Awards in 2007, is a story of teens coming of age and trying to come to terms with their values in 19th-century Germany.
Brooklyn-born Geisler is coming of age and has also had to think seriously about her values. Raised in an Orthodox family, Geisler had to accept that she would be performing on Shabbat as part of her contract on tour.
“My family and I discussed the issue of performing on Shabbat, and I am fortunate that my family is loving and accepting that to grow as an actress, I had to make some changes. I continue to eat kosher and follow as much as I can while I continue to grow professionally,” Geisler said.
“Being raised and wanting to be shomer Shabbat observant, I still consider myself a religious person. However, [if I want] to have a career in theatre, performing on Shabbat is going to be impossible to avoid, as not all of us have Dudu Fisher’s star power.”
Geisler is referring to Israeli actor Dudu Fisher, who became the first Orthodox Jewish actor to have in his contract a provision that he would not perform on Shabbat. Fisher had the lead role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables and did not perform on Fridays or on Saturday matinees during the Broadway or London runs of the musical from 1993 to ’95.
“I have to thank producer Cameron Mackintosh for agreeing to my terms, but it’s not easy to do this,” Fisher said. “I am not sure whether other Orthodox Jews who work in the performing arts can have these terms.”
In 1966, Fisher performed in his one-man revue Never On Friday, which centred on the theme of not performing on Shabbat.
Friday nights and Saturday matinees are considered prime time for theatre, and for a producer to cancel performances on Shabbat is a loss of revenue. However, if the Orthodox performer is a marquee attraction, exceptions can be made.
Orthodox Jewish hip-hop singer Matisyahu performs internationally while remaining Shabbat observant as does Israeli actor Yisrael Campbell, who will star next year in Circumcise Me at the Harold Green Jewish Theatre.
“Having Yisrael Campbell being able to perform is worth the loss of revenue on Friday night and Saturday afternoons. Sales were robust and audiences respected that he chose not to perform on Shabbat,” Larry Toppall, producer of Circumcise Me, said when the one-man musical was performed in Miami this year. Geisler realizes that not performing on Shabbat is the exception rather than the rule.
“Maybe if I have the star power one day, things may change. But I will go into my career knowing that it is likely that I will have to perform on the Shabbat and accept that.”