Theater Notebook: San Diego Rep’s ‘Before Fiddler’ takes Felder and company on the road to Italian Riviera

A film still from  "Hershey Felder: Before Fiddler — Live from Florence" airing Feb. 7
A film still from San Diego Repertory Theatre’s world premiere of “Hershey Felder: Before Fiddler — Live from Florence,” streaming on Feb. 7. Felder’s wife, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, can be seen at far right as the bride’s mother.
(Courtesy photo)

This week’s San Diego theater column includes news from San Diego Opera and Lonesome Whistle Productions

On Sunday, San Diego Repertory Theatre will host the world premiere of “Before Fiddler — Live from Florence,” Hershey Felder’s sixth music-filled play streamed live from his home in Florence, Italy, since last May.

Fans accustomed to the playwright/actor’s solo shows expect to see him playing piano as he tells the story of a famous composer. But “Before Fiddler” is a first in many ways. Streaming live at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, is about the famous 19th-century Yiddish author and playwright Sholem Aleichem, who was known in his day as the “Jewish Mark Twain.” Several of his semi-autobiographical stories about Tevye the milkman inspired the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Felder will portray Aleichem, but for this production, most of the music will be performed by Klezmerata Fiorentina, a klezmer quartet of symphony musicians who live in Florence. And for the first time the play will not take place in Florence. Felder moved his production crew to Nervi, a small town on the Italian Riviera, to the exact location where Aleichem lived and wrote from 1908 to 1912.

Over the past several shows, Felder has slowly expanded the number of featured performers. For “Before Fiddler,” he has cast his wife, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, and two of his production team staff, Trevor Hay and Erik Carstensen, in filmed scenes. And Klezmerata fiddler Igor Polesitsky has an expanded role as Stempenyu, the original fiddler from the Tevye stories.

Felder co-directs the production, which will mix film with some live elements. In order to bring so many people together for the scenes, Felder said in an email that he worked in a COVID-safe bubble with testing, temperature-taking and masks whenever the camera wasn’t running. Tickets are $55. An expanded ticket package will offer Rep audiences a Zoom meeting with Felder and a film about Felder’s own life for $180. Visit sdrep.org.

San Diego Opera to host 2nd hack event

San Diego Opera has announced plans for a second Opera Hack, following the success of the inaugural event in 2019, which yielded many ideas for using cutting-edge technology to modernize the production and performance of operas in America.

For the first Opera Hack, 40 multidisciplinary experts from around the country submitted 16 proposals to a panel of tech and theater advisers. Three ideas were chosen to share $40,000 in funding from Opera America to develop their ideas over the course of one year. For the upcoming hack, San Diego Opera is doing an industrywide survey to identify the biggest problems the opera world is facing.

Opera Hack 2.0 will be produced virtually this year through online meetings from June 4 through July 2. The winning proposals will divide $15,000 in development funding. Applications to participate are being accepted through April 28.

San Diego Opera is seeking experts in the fields of technical direction, lighting design, composition, costume design, performance, theater project management, stage direction, scenic design, 3D printing, virtual, augmented, and mixed reality, creative coding, A.I. and machine learning, computer vision and haptics, interactive theater and performance art. For details, visit sdopera.org/operahack.

‘Space Force!’ becomes YouTube series

Lonesome Whistle Productions, a san Diego theater company that specializes in solo shows, has revived its San Diego Fringe Festival hit comedy “Space Force!” with a monthly film series that launched Sunday on its social media channels.

Michael Shantz wrote the original “Space Force!” comedy in 2019 about a wacky police crime unit busting baddies on the Moon. Because theaters are not able to produce onstage due to the pandemic, “Space Force” has been reimagined this year as a digital series called “Space Force! Quarantine!” Each month, different artists will write, perform and film themselves in a five-minute monologue. The videos will riff on the theme of quarantining in outer space. New videos will post on the last day of each month in 2021.

The inaugural video stars Lonesome Whistle founder Tom Steward as Honeymustard Sanders, an android sending out a distress call about an outbreak of the “moronavirus” on a planet his spaceship is orbiting. The next video will be available on Feb. 28. To watch, visit Lonesome Whistle at facebook.com/lonesomewhistle, instagram.com/lonesomewhistleproductions or on YouTube by searching “Lonesome Whistle Productions.”

Rep to stream ‘Anna’ reading

San Diego Rep and its Amigos del Rep program will present a livestreamed reading of Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2003 play “Anna in the Tropics” at 5 p.m. Feb. 15. A film of that reading will be available online though Feb. 18. Pay-what-you-can tickets begin at a suggested $10 donation. Visit sdrep.org.

Pam Kragen writes about theater for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com.


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