Jennifer Wise wins playwriting competition

Congratulations to Department of Theatre associate professor Jennifer Wise for winning The Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition for her 2013 play The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West.

Jennifer Wise

Jennifer Wise

Based on a true story, Wise’s Girl Rabbi explores the experience of Ray Frank, a young woman was hired to serve as the leader of Victoria’s then-orthodox synagogue Congregation Emanu-El throughout the High Holidays in 1895. Not only did Frank, a California native, make women’s history with this event but she also made world religious history as a female salaried rabbi. As the story goes, “three decades after British Columbia’s gold-rush-era pioneers laid the cornerstone of what is today the oldest place of continuous Jewish worship in Canada, a group of exceptional congregants brought an exceptional woman to their community against all odds. None of them would ever be the same.”

The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West was originally performed on April 10 & 11, 2013, as part of Congregation Emanu-El’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Read more about Girl Rabbi in this Ring article.

“I researched the events thoroughly,” Wise told Vancouver’s Jewish Independent newspaper in this article from May 2013. “The story of Ray Frank’s two weeks in Victoria turned out to be even more amazing than I could have guessed. She had a lasting positive impact on the community, and the country . . . . Her achievements, therefore, helped to make the idea of a female rabbi thinkable. She was a major pioneer in advancing women’s rights within Judaism – and it’s just amazing to realize that she did much of her trail-blazing right here in Victoria.”

No strange to award nominations, Wise‘s first book— Dionysus Writes (Cornell 1998)—was nominated for two book awards in the U.S., and her Broadview Anthology of Drama is a widely adopted textbook. Her translation of Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Methuen 2013)—staged here at Phoenix, at York University and at the Great Hall Black Box in Toronto in 2013—was selected by Brecht’s heirs as the first new English version of this play in almost 40 years. Wise’s translation of Aristophanes’ Frogs, created for the Phoenix in 2000, was also produced at the University of Denver in 2004; The Moons of Jupiter, her play about Galileo’s children written for the International Year of Astronomy (2009), was a finalist in the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition in 2011; and her articles have appeared in such venues as Theatre Research International, Theatre Survey, Reader’s Digest, and Arethusa.

The cast of the local staging of The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West

The cast of the local staging of The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West

Wise picks up a cash prize of $1,000, plus a professional Between Stages one-day workshop at Toronto’s Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre—directed by original Girl Rabbi director Liza Balkan—in the fall of 2014, followed by an informal public reading with feed-back from the audience. Past CJPC winners have gone on to appear at Vancouver’s Chutzpah! Festival and have full productions at The Winnipeg Jewish Theatre Company.

Awarded annually by the Toronto Jewish Theatre Committee, the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition was founded in 1989. The present jury consists of eight members of the MNjcc community who are also theatre professionals in some capacity in Toronto. Up to 20 plays are submitted for the CJPC from six Canadian provinces, the United States and Israel each year. This is the first time the prize has been won by a Victoria playwright.

Jumping Jupiter!

Collaborators in The Moons of Jupiter: (L-R) Actor Azalea Micketti, Blackstone, Hesser, Ellison and Wise (UVic Photo Services)

Word just came down that the original UVic play The Moons of Jupiter was a finalist in this year’s Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition.

Written for 2009’s International Year of Astronomy by theatre historian and Department of Theatre professor Jennifer Wise, and workshopped by Theatre students and faculty, The Moons of Jupiter looks at the the family dynamics between famed astronomer Galileo and his children.

This biennial nation-wide open competition—named for Herman Voaden (1903-1991), a Canadian playwright, director, theatrical innovator and lifelong champion of Canadian culture—is judged “blind” by a distinguished panel of playwrights and directors and is one of the country’s most important awards for playwriting. This year’s preliminary judges included Brenda Bazinet, Douglas Bowie, Daryl Cloran, Paula Danckert, Katrina Dunn, Kevin Kerr, Robert Metcalfe, Yvette Nolan and Elyne Quan, with director and playwright Alisa Palmer and Arts Club Artistic Managing Director Bill Millerd acting as judges for the final round.

Millerd and Palmer commended the play for its “very strong voice,” its “fascinating idea,” and its “very discerning” and “demystifying” treatment of history and father-daughter relationships.

After being approached by Physics and Astronomy professor Sara Ellison about making a contribution to the International Year of Astronomy—a global celebration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first telescopic observations—Wise realized that there was a scarcity of great plays on astronomical themes; and the best-known (Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo) was historically inaccurate in its representation of Galileo’s family members, particularly in its depiction of his daughters. As a result, The Moons of Jupiter focuses on the lives of his two daughters in seclusion in the San Matteo Convent in Florence. Beginning with a comet that traverses the night sky in 1618, the play spans the years of Galileo’s altercations with Rome and his supposed imprisonment there.

“The members of his family revolve around Galileo like planets in a solar system, and it is through their stories that we can begin to understand this philosopher and astronomer’s entire life, not just his science,” Wise explained in a December 2009 Ring article. “I discovered, through the process of allowing these marginalized historical figures to speak, that Galileo’s family drama provides a surprisingly powerful tool for understanding his public life.”

Dr. Sarah Blackstone, Dean of Fine Arts, directed a three-week workshop process of this new play, with its first staged reading in November 2009. “As a collaborative project involving the playwright, director and students, we all learned a great deal in the process of making the script come alive,” noted Blackstone at the time. “The challenge has been to preserve Dr. Wise’s fascinating story while helping the author make necessary changes so that the play will work on the stage. For me, it was very nice to be able to set aside my administrative tasks for a time and engage in the creative process again.”

Jim Hesser, director of the National Research Council’s Astrophysical Dominion Observatory and the Canadian chair for the International Year of Astronomy, noted that The Moons of Jupiter was the only new full-length play created in Canada in honour of the event.