By Avigail Winokur
Defying Gravity: A free-structured look at the 1986 Challenger disaster places the teacher who died with six others as they hurtled into space at the center of an exploration of our need to reach beyond ourselves and dare the universe. – Stern College Dramatics Society
Chana Weiss, Class of 2021 is from Denver, Colorado. She went to the Denver Academy for Torah, and following that, Machon Maayan. She is an education major who hopes to one day teach musical theater in schools and open her own studio. Chana has been involved with theater her entire life. Back home, her mother started a local unofficial Jewish women’s theater company. Chana and her mother produce and perform shows with Jewish women and girls from all different backgrounds. Chana has been involved with SCDS since she first arrived on campus, and is now the vice president of the board. Chana, who is the Teacher in the upcoming play, says, “This play is about so much more than defying gravity and going into space. This play is about overcoming our hardships and pushing through difficult times to ultimately reach greater heights. And I think everyone can relate to that.”
Tamar Guterson, Class of 2021 is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and attended the Chabad school in Pittsburgh. She then spent a year studying at a Chabad arts seminary in Pittsburgh, which was started by her mother. Following that, she spent a year studying at Midreshet Torah V’ Chesed in Israel. She is studying music, psychology, and theater and hopes to one day be a music therapist. Tamar is the daughter of the first theater major at Stern. She has been performing since she was four years old through her family, her community, and her school. Tamar got involved in SCDS during her first semester on campus, performing in last year’s play and attending many events. She has always felt at home on the stage, and loves that “your character is someone other than yourself, but when you’re being that character, you’re portraying something real that you can relate to in your own personal life.” She especially loves the community of the YC/Stern Dramatics Societies, and finds it to be full of warm, caring, fun, and passionate people. She feels that through playing Donna in Defying Gravity, she has the chance to portray a deep and strong woman, who is the grounding force and contrast to the space-centric characters of the play. She loves that through playing this character, she can tell a story in which people can see themselves.
Mikki Treitel, Class of 2022 is from Monsey, New York. She started at Stern right after graduating from Manhattan High School for Girls, and she is an advertising major through the English department. She first got involved in theater in high school, when she choreographed and performed in a musical theater ensemble and acted in small plays as a member of her school’s drama club. When Mikki arrived at Stern, she started participating in SCDS events, and this year, she was thrilled to be cast as Ed in Defying Gravity. For Mikki, theater is about “working towards something greater than just myself, and getting to do incredible work with incredible people.” Mikki finds the challenge of balancing the long rehearsal hours and her schoolwork incredibly rewarding, and she is grateful for the way SCDS has allowed her to join a community of passionate and like-minded people.
Leah Schewitz, Class of 2022 is from East London, South Africa. She attended Merrifield College, and this is her first semester on campus. She’s loved theater since she was young, and she has always loved the idea of theater as creative and emotional expression. Leah loves being able to “put your heart into something and being able to show that to others.” Defying Gravity marks Leah’s return to the stage after a two-year break following her final year of high school and her gap year in Israel. Leah says, “ [Monet] is one of the most challenging characters I’ve ever had to become,” and playing him has helped her grow tremendously as an actress.
Shayna Hain, Class of 2021 is from Baltimore, Maryland. She went to Bais Yaakov of Baltimore, and is currently a nursing major. Unlike many other SCDS members, Shayna was not as involved in theater growing up, and this is her first time being involved in a performance of this scale. Shayna had always admired theater from afar, and this year she auditioned for the play to step out of her comfort zone and try something new. As Betty in Defying Gravity, she’s since fallen in love with acting, as she finds it to be a unique opportunity to “express that creative side of yourself in a way you can’t through any other extracurricular or activity. There’s just nothing quite like the feeling of acting.”
Eli Azizollahoff, Class of 2020 is from Teaneck, New Jersey. She went to Bruriah High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Eli is currently studying journalism through the English major, and is planning on going into entertainment feature writing. She began acting in fifth grade, and her passion grew in high school. Eli became involved in SCDS as soon as she got to Stern, being cast as Dr. Gibbs in Our Town in 2017. She directed and produced The Princess Bride, and has been an active member of the SCDS board for all of her time at Stern, now serving as the board’s president. Eli plays CB in Defying Gravity, and she loves the play because it “is all about the universal human experience and connecting with that which is bigger than oneself.”
Sarit Perl, Class of 2021 is originally from Dallas, Texas, but she moved to Atlantic Beach, New York for her first year of high school. She attended Shalhevet High School in North Woodmere. Following that, she studied at MMY for a year in Israel. She is currently studying theater through a shaped major (the only one at YU). Since she was a child, Sarit performed in plays at school, attended theater camps, and performed at her local community theaters. She finds that being the only theater major is pretty challenging. “I’m the only one, and the class offerings and resources are pretty limited. But in a lot of ways, it’s much better for me to be at YU and be able to explore my passion without having to worry about the kinds of conflict that would be inevitable at secular college. Knowing that has made me really appreciate the community and the support I have here,” said Sarit. Sarit debuted on the SCDS stage as Aggie Wheeler in last year’s performance of The Game’s Afoot, and this year she returns to the stage as Elizabeth in Defying Gravity.
Temmi Lattin, Class of 2021 is from Silver Spring, Maryland. She attended the Yeshiva of Greater Washington in Maryland and spent a year at MMY. She’s currently double-majoring in biology, with a shaped major in gender studies. She began her involvement in theater as a child through local summer camps, and continued performing throughout middle school and high school. During her first semester on campus, she served as the assistant head of backstage production. Currently, she is the stage manager for Defying Gravity, and is on the board of SCDS. She loves that theater is a chance to “do something creative, and watch the process of a show going from a script to a finished product.” She feels especially proud that Defying Gravity was written by a woman and features many strong female characters. Most significantly, Temmi feels that the play holds a universal message, conveying the importance of “looking back at your history and reflecting, but then looking forwards towards the future.”
Upcoming performances of Defying Gravity will take place on Dec. 18 and 19 at 7:45pm. To purchase tickets for the show, visit https://scds.ticketleap.com/defyinggravity/.
Photo: Defying Gravity cast, profiled left to right
Photo Credit: Stern College Dramatics Society