Fiddler: The Untold Tradition

A conversation overheard in the Jewish Museum Archives between Hazzan Jeremy Stein and Artist Marc Tasman. They have been working in the archives to find pictures that will form the backdrop of their upcoming concert Fiddler: The Untold Tradition, which will take place at Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid on Sunday, September 11 at 7:30 PM.

Marc Tasman (MT): What are we doing here today here in the archives at Jewish Museum Milwaukee?
Jeremy Stein (JS): We are looking through the digital archives, searching for images to be used as part of the scenic design, the backdrop for the “Fiddler: The Untold Tradition” performance.
MT: My goal, my desire in this research is to find really compelling images, not necessarily to literally illustrate the song, but to find funny, poignant or striking images that will help to add some visual interest and and new layer of meaning and connection for the audience.
JS: Where are we putting Houdini?
MT: I dunno, with the song, Letters from America? I mean, you’re already reimagining Fiddler by adding the unheard songs, songs that were written for Fiddler on The Roof, but were cut because they were thought to be too character driven. And of course, Fiddler isn’t set in Milwaukee, so we’re adding this other new lens, one that imagines both non-linear time and—
JS: Miracle of Miracles!
MT: What?
JS: Houdini!
MT: Yes of course! That’s where Houdini goes. Yes, I suppose in theatre and music and art, time and place are both very slippery and flexible.
JS: I like to think that what we’re doing is making those universal themes visible in our time and place. Making that connection to Milwaukee, the Jewish community, wherever Jews are, really, Israel, too. We have some images from Israel and other places, but really these are images that come from the Milwaukee Jewish community. Real people, real families. And we are here.
MT: Yes, we’ve been looking at lots of images of Jewish Milwaukee businesses, families, weddings, meals, birthday parties, people at work, unusual occurrences and everyday life.
JS: Yes, but who knew it would be so hard to find an image of a sewing machine. Yes, but, aha! Here it is! We found one. Finally! I know where that one should go in the program.
MT: We’re just like Mottel the tailor—we finally got our sewing machine!
JS: Ha!
MT: Yes, but some of these photos are so mysterious, so hard to figure out what is going on. It’s really fun to imagine for what occasion these photos were made. Speaking of characters, these are some really impressive Jewish Milwaukee characters. But, what are we going to do with the image of the six young women dressed like cowgirls. They are dressed like cowgirls, right?
JS: Yes, the image file name is called Cowgirl Troupe. Yes, some are really out of context or even defy context. But they are still so beautiful and strange. Baby doll parties? Who knew that was a thing?
MT: It’s going to be so great to show these images. When was the last time people had a chance to see these?
JS: Well, it’s a great use, a great reason to bring these photos out into the public, giving them a new life, and a new context inside this concert and performance.
MT: Untold Traditions
JS: Untold Traditions.

Hazzan Jeremy Stein is the Cantor at Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale, WI. Marc Tasman is a Senior Lecturer in Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies and coordinator of the Digital Arts and Culture Program at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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