Director Coral Cohen Discusses ‘Between the Threads (Jewish Women Project)’

There are so many intersections in life–so much for creative artists to put before audiences as a way to initiate larger conversations about issues that can divide or bring together.

'Between the Threads (Jewish Women Project)' performs June 16 at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. Photo by Emily Hewitt.
‘Between the Threads (Jewish Women Project)’ performs June 16 at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. Photo by Emily Hewitt.

In a devised piece, Between the Threads (Jewish Women Project) explores issues confronting Jewish women in America. The performance will deeply explore provocative questions such as “How does identity as Jews intersect with identities as women?” and “What is our responsibility as a historically oppressed people in the face of blatant injustice in our own country?”

Directed by Coral Cohen, a New York City-based theatre director and producer, Between the Threads (Jewish Women Project) is an interdisciplinary piece based upon true stories, devised with original music in collaboration with klezmer artist and Brooklyn-based violinist Zoë Aqua.

The performance will feature a group of five female-identified artists exploring “their personal history to present a collage of perspectives on what it means to be perennially in-between: in the intersection of tradition and modernity, power and oppression.”

In a recent interview, Cohen noted that the piece “comes from an all-female team. Everyone who worked on the show, every designer, stage manager, even the people who helped us load in and out of our first theatre space are women…we created the piece organically and collaboratively together.”

For Aqua, the original music for Beyond the Threads “provides moods and textures on a journey with what is familiar and perhaps unfamiliar stories about identity.”

My interview with Cohen continues below.

David Siegel: What was the impetus for you to devise and develop Between the Threads (Jewish Women Project)?

Coral Cohen: This project was born over two years ago, on January 27th, 2017, when thousands of Americans flocked to airports in protest because Trump instituted a Muslim Ban and began a process that threw our already strained immigration system into complete chaos. On that day I began thinking about our country’s history and how it had intersected with my own, the cycles of discrimination, persecution, and eventual acceptance that have plagued immigrants and refugees from various racial groups.

Coral Cohen. Photo by Cody Oyama.
Coral Cohen. Photo by Cody Oyama.

I thought about my family’s history and the history of my people, Jews, for whom wandering and persecution has become baked into our culture. We had found relative safety here, relative power, and now I was watching another people suffer the way mine had not so long ago. Not only that, but the persecution was being handed down by a “leader” who had found support in my community. It was heartbreaking as a human being, as an artist, and as a Jewish woman. I knew I had to find a way to explore that pain.

Since that day two years ago, we have seen more tragic abuses of power that will continue to have horrific consequences. The way that we have reduced the humanity of non-white immigrants is a stain on our history and present. We’ve also seen a resurgence of anti-Semitism that revealed the relative comfort I’ve enjoyed in my lifetime to be an illusion.

This was the context for this piece. The content, however, is more personal. As I developed the concept and found collaborators, the ideas began to get more specific. I knew that I wanted a diverse group of millennial Jewish women, and as I found the artists we worked in an organic, intuitive process to bring forth the stories from our own lives and from the lives of our foremothers.

How would you describe Between the Threads?

The piece is an interdisciplinary collage that uses performance as a way to interrogate Jewish identity. We weave “between the threads” of our experiences, personal history, family lore, and internal struggles to weave a tapestry of unique perspectives on being a Jewish woman today. Through storytelling, music, movement, and humor, we investigate our Judaism and confront our past to better understand our present.

Please tell me a bit about the performers in the production?

Zoe Aqua. Photo by Harald Medboe.
Zoë Aqua. Photo by Harald Medboe.

There will be four performers and one musician who accompanies them, Zoë Aqua, who wrote original violin music for the piece. The four performers play versions of themselves: Tatiana, a Jewish American woman from Florida that loves her conservative Jewish upbringing despite not agreeing with everything it taught her; Hannah, a half-Ashkenazi half-Mizrahi woman who is in between two cultures, attempting to honor both and confront the injustice done to her family in the past and fight injustice by Jews and between Jews in the present; Laura, a Moroccan-French woman who is deeply connected to her Mizrahi culture and religion while confronting the sexism and misogyny still evident in the institutions that uphold it; and Daniella, a Latinx Jew who moved from Venezuela to Miami to Israel and back to America before the age of 18, trying to figure out who she is between all of her cultures, identities, and languages.

If you could invite audiences to the event, what would you say to them?

It’s not just for Jews or women! We are using our personal stories, but anyone can relate to our questions. A non-Jewish audience member during our New York run said something along the lines of, “Even though I wasn’t familiar with everything you talked about, I learned things and felt things and related to the stories. I felt like I was a welcome guest at your temple.”

What would you like audiences to come away with after taking in the performance?

I would like audiences to connect to the piece and relate it to their own experiences. I hope that they come away entertained and challenged, and that maybe they learn something new! For any non-Jewish audience members, I hope they feel welcomed and see how diverse Jews are. We are not a monolith! It was really important to me to show different faces of Jewish people who do not conform (culturally, intellectually, and physically) to the mainstream representations of Jews.

Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.

Between the Threads (Jewish Women Project) plays on Sunday, June 16 at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia – 8900 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax, VA. Purchase tickets online.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Metro Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.