By Leah Gottfried
One of the highlights during my time at Stern was participating in the Stern College Dramatics Society (SCDS) productions. Returning a decade later as the director for the Fall play has not only been an exhilarating honor but also a vivid reconnection with the sheer joy I experienced as a student. While much has evolved in SCDS since my student days, some aspects surprisingly remain unchanged.
I played Doris McAfee in Bye Bye Birdie, (even though I can’t sing, my apologies to that audience), one of the final productions in the beloved Schottenstein Midtown theater. After so many late-night rehearsals and amazing moments shared, a theater begins to feel like home. I remember how outraged we all were at the selling of the theater building, so I vowed to one day donate a new theater to Stern (still working on it, stay tuned). The unique camaraderie forged during a performance endures for a long time – bumping into any of my old castmates over the years instantly transports me back to that shared space and the profound connections we formed.
In The Government Inspector, a Russian farce, I portrayed Anna, a dramatic and over-the-top character – my favorite kind. This show marked the first production post-theater sale, and though the makeshift stage in Koch Auditorium wasn’t ideal, I still remember the overwhelming support from the audience. So many students and faculty showed up to express their support for SCDS. During that production, I learned a lot from Reuven Russell, a professor at Stern who directed the show, and I still remember some of my funniest lines. There were rumors at the time that women weren’t allowed to perform on the Uptown stage, thankfully that lore has since been debunked.
Since my time at Stern, I’ve directed numerous productions for both stage and screen. With non-actors and experienced veterans. Productions I’ve written (shoutout to Soon By You) and other writer’s scripts. But guiding young Jewish women in a space that empowers their performances stands out as a powerful and epic experience. As an Orthodox girl who yearned to perform, I often found myself fighting for spaces to express myself. Directing The Mousetrap last year felt like a full-circle moment, embracing the safety and freedom of an all-female creative environment. That creative liberty was something I didn’t realize I was missing in my life.
Rehearsing in room 1015, the same space utilized by SCDS women for years, invokes a sense of the energy we generated back then. I can’t believe I’m still having the most fun in that room. Although there’s now a Fall play and no Spring musical, watching the musical theater showcase last year reaffirmed the incredible talent within the SCDS community. I was also very happy to learn that the cast and crew can now receive credit for their work in the Fall production. This underscores the seriousness of their dedication to the craft, reinforcing that this is more than a hobby – it’s a lifelong pursuit. I’m so excited to watch the next generation of performers,directors and crew members who come out of SCDS.
I’m continually blown away by the talent and intelligence of my cast members, both last year and currently, with our production of The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women. My directing style is to allow the actors ample space to build their characters and to leave a lot of room for discovery throughout the rehearsal process. The cast has embraced this challenge as they continue to impress me with their interesting character choices and emotional depth. I often find myself laughing uncontrollably or getting chills during our rehearsals. The show this year is a challenging one – both the subject matter and technically. The show changes every night based on the audience’s participation and there are a number of long monologues in the play. The actors are working very hard and, quite frankly, nailing it. A lot has changed since my time in SCDS but the overwhelming talent of female Jewish performers has remained. I can’t wait for audiences to watch the beautiful performances.
Leah Gottfried is a graduate of Stern College for Women where she majored in film studies. She is a filmmaker, and the director of this year’s SCDS play: The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women.