From Rehearsals to Opening Night: A Backstage Look into SCDS’s The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women

By: Emily Goldberg  |  November 20, 2023

By Emily Goldberg, Publication Manager and Layout Editor 

With a production on the horizon, the cast and crew of the Stern College Dramatics Society (SCDS) are hard at work preparing to bring their show and its vision to life. Each and every member of the SCDS team plays an integral part in this effort.  

This year SCDS will be performing The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women by Carolyn Gage. This show’s structure is unique because it is a play within a play. The show “is a story of an all women’s theater company putting on a play that is kind of falling apart at the seams,” explains Gillian Herszage (SSSB ’24) President of SCDS. The show within the show is “about Anastasia Rominov and the women that betrayed her,” relays Gillian. Anastasia Rominov was the Grand Duchess of Russia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, and was rumored to have escaped the massacre of the Imperial Family by the Bolsheviks. After she supposedly escaped, various women along the way allegedly betrayed her, and in the show within the show these women are being put “on trial for their betrayal.” Gillian continues, “Things go off script, but ultimately the verdict is decided by the audience, and that’s what makes it interesting.” 

This aspect of the show creates an interactive atmosphere between the audience and the cast onstage. “The thing that is interesting about it on an entertainment level is that it’s gonna be a different show every night,” says Gillian. “What’s interesting [about this structure] on an acting level is that…depending on how the audience votes, that’s where the conversation goes next.” 

Gillian highlights the extra challenge that the actors have in memorizing their lines because of this element. As an actor, Gillian laughs because “I know what is supposed to come next,” and when the audience votes against a ruling in the show she thinks to herself “Oh, you voted against that, that was a great line that you missed.” 

Students have increasingly chosen to participate in SCDS, with specific interest in acting in the show. “Nothing is better than getting that email saying that you got the role,” describes Shalva Englander (SCW ’25) who plays Betty, “the awkward stagehand” in the show. “There is an ownership that comes to you when you get that character, and you are like, she’s mine…you become her in a way.” 

Rehearsals are both fun and “a tedious process,” says Shalva. Shalva describes “how much planning” goes into every single aspect of the show, including “where people are just standing on stage,” as the cast practices their scenes with the guidance of Director Leah Gottfried, who herself attended Stern College for Women. Shalva continues, “That’s a little thing that I think people think is just a given,” but is just one example of the attention to detail that goes into staging shows such as this. 

Actors go through repetitions and rehearse late into the night in order to get everything just right. “There is nothing like being in a room with theater kids and singing a song from a broadway” show which turns into “a chorus of five other people joining in,” recounts Shalva.  

Along with the cast, the crew has also begun their creative processes in preparation for opening night. Sophie Chervitz (SCW ’24) serves as the Creative Head for SCDS, and oversees set design, costumes, and props for the show. “I help brainstorm with each team and make sure that they have whatever they need for their ideas to make it happen,” explains Sophie. 

Sophie stresses the importance of acknowledging the dedication that the crew puts into producing the show behind the scenes. “I love trying to find those little details to bring out a bit of the personality of the character,” says Sophie. Sophie loves her job because she gets to work with many different teams, utilize her creativity in multiple ways, and “see the ideas come to life.” 

The set team has been to Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus, where the theater is located, and begun their process of designing the stage. When asked what her favorite part of the set is, Rivka Shapiro (SCW ’24) Set Designer, answers, “If I had to pick a specific element, [I would say] I’m really excited about the stage within a stage concept that we are going to be doing.” This aspect of the set will be the most fun yet the most challenging for the set team, as they will have to ensure that their design is constructed in a way that is clear to the audience. Sophie especially loves working on set because she enjoys seeing the progression of the stage “from start to finish.” 

Costume designers have also begun brainstorming and collecting inventory for the show. Sophie notes that the costumes for this show are particularly challenging “because the characters have to wear black because they are ‘actors’,” and therefore, “you need to have these smaller details…to help portray the personality” of the character. 

The props team has also started collecting the items they will need for the show and utilizing their creativity to add their own personal touches to the props. For example, Dori Berman (SCW ’26) who is a props designer for SCDS, says that in addition to the props that are essential to the show, “there is a lot of time in the show where people are kind of just sitting idly, so me and the other person on the props team [thought] okay, lets get people some things to fidget with.” Dori decided to join the props team specifically because she “likes the fact that [she] has so much creative liberty” and wants to be able to “help the [actors] get their moment to shine.” 

The crew honors the minimal notes within the script regarding set, props, and costumes, and also utilizes their creativity to make this show their own. Gillian accentuates how “everybody is doing different things to make this [show] happen, but every single person is important and we can’t do it without each of them.” 

All of the students involved in SCDS are grateful to have this outlet that embraces their artistry. Sophie is thankful that SCDS “gives a student that doesn’t want to do something creative full time a little bit of a chance to do something that they are passionate about.” Gillian also appreciates SCDS, stating, “The thing that really appealed to me about coming to [Yeshiva University] was the fact that I could [participate in theater] and it would be totally within my halachic needs.” She continues, “I think I share that with a lot of members in SCDS.” 

The members of SCDS also hope to extend their passion for the arts to all members of Yeshiva University. “You want to share this passion with the people around you,” says Shalva. “You want them to be able to partake in it even if they’re not the one creating it.” 

The cast and crew all hope that the audience will walk away from this performance contemplating the many topics that the show brings awareness to. Gillian explains, “I think the message of [this show] is to have the audience kind of be entertained and laugh and think, ‘oh it’s funny that she comes to rehearsal late,’…but it’s also” important to think about “how do I relate to my friends and my sisters and my classmates and” most importantly, “would I be the one to stand up for them” if given the opportunity? 

Gillian hopes that the show and its message leave an impact on the audience as they watch the curtains close at the end of the night. “It’s gonna be funny, it’s gonna be thought provoking, it’s gonna be interesting. You are gonna leave thinking, ‘Okay, now what?’ Because, it’s not just a show for the actors, it’s a show for the audience,” explains Gillian. “Again, [the show is going to be] different every night, so maybe come twice.” 

Be sure to go see the Stern College Dramatics Society’s production of The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women on December 3rd, 5th, and 6th!