Fiddling around with an old classic

Fiddling around with an old classic

Locals use musical to teach new lessons

Adler center “actors” took the stage in a production of “Guys and Dolls.”

Clearly, “Fiddler on the Roof” still has plenty of fans. It also has new interpreters.

This summer, two local groups will tackle the show in entirely different ways, tailoring the productions for their own members.

On Aug. 8, members of Maywood’s Adler Aphasia Center will perform the show, directed by staff speech pathologists Karen Castka and Ginette Abbanat. Rehearsals began in March.

“We do a production every year,” said Castka. “It’s part of our drama club.” Over the past seven years, center members have put on such shows as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Sound of Music,” West Side Story,” and “South Pacific.”

Twenty-four people with aphasia will take part in the show, while another half dozen will assist with costumes and scenery. The actors – a microcosm of the center in general – come from all over Bergen County.

Castka said the play will be tailored specifically for center members.

“Ginette has rewritten it to make it aphasia-friendly,” she said, explaining that the condition is an acquired language disorder resulting from brain damage. “There will be shorter songs and aphasia-friendly lines.”

“Some people can speak in full sentences; others can say words here and there,” she said. “Members cast themselves in the roles. Once we know what role they’ve taken, we can tailor it. If they have less language ability, we’ll scale back some of the lines. If they have more, we may give them more lines to compensate.”

Members also can choose to sing.

“Some used to be singers,” said Castka. “This is one of the ways they can get back into it.”

The Adler Aphasia Center, founded by Mike and Elaine Adler in 2003, is working to make aphasia universally understood. It provides a therapeutic environment with innovative programs for people with aphasia, conducts research on the issue, and trains health care professionals to improve service delivery.

According to Castka, though members suffer from communication disorders due to stroke, head trauma, accident, brain cancer, or surgery, the disorder does not affect their intellect. Activities such as the upcoming production of “Fiddler” enable them to improve their communication skills while having fun at the same time.

“Members love the show,” she said, noting that productions usually draw some 200 audience members, many of them the performers’ friends and relatives.

“They have a great time. It’s a huge accomplishment,” she said, pointing out that the actors ordinarily aren’t able to talk to many people.

“Drama is important,” she added. “Participants get a whole bunch of benefits, such as being on a team, with a group of people in a combined effort.”

They also get to work on speech, getting extra help learning their lines if they need it. Members are given their lines to take home, along with CD clips that will be useful to them.

“It builds their confidence,” the speech pathologist said. “Some people who have taken small roles in the past now have the confidence to do more.”

“Basically, it’s a creative outlet like no other,” Elissa Goldstein, the center’s director of development and communications, said. “It’s a big and important way for [members] to communicate. There’s a lot of language used, but also a lot of ad-libbing. It makes it more fun. It fulfills our mission by getting them to reconnect with the community, boosting their confidence and self-esteem.”

“We all look forward to this time at the center,” Karen Tucker, the center’s executive director, added. “The annual production showcases what our members are all about – they are brave, motivated, and joyful.”

The show will be performed twice on Aug. 8, at 12:30 and 7 p.m. Admission is free. To place an ad in the production’s playbill or to make a donation to support the program, call Castka at (201) 368-8585 or e-mail

For more information about the Adler Aphasia Center in Maywood or its newest satellite aphasia treatment center in West Orange at JCC MetroWest, go to its website, or call (201) 368-8585.

Giving the show
a teen twist

“Fiddler” is also the play of choice for the Teaneck-based Black Box Studios Musical Theater Camp 2012.

Here, its founder and artistic director Matt Okin said, the production will be “more along the lines of punk rock,” featuring 27 performers ages 10 to 19, most from Teaneck and other parts of Bergen County.

While “Tradition” may be a highlight of the original show, Okin said the Black Box production “promises to break tradition and electrify audiences with a new countercultural conceptual twist on the classic musical. This is not your grandparents’ ‘Fiddler.'”

“I think what makes this production unique is that we are looking at the play through the lens of culture and counterculture,” Okin said. “Most people would say that ‘Fiddler’ is about tradition and change. We agree, but we are really looking at the change part. We think they are revolutionaries. We are interested in the revolution in the town, how the town is a counterculture in an empire, and the countercultures emerging within that counterculture.”

The director said the play works because it is driven by the tension between tradition and change, “and our lens turns the volume up on the tension.”

Still, he pointed out, the Black Box version “doesn’t change a word or note. What we have done is brought the play into the newest and freshest conventions of musical theater, taking some cues from recent shows like ‘American Idiot’ and ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.'”

Okin said the changes help the teens relate to the material better.

“The kids relate to these conventions of musical theater more than they do to the musical theater of their grandparents.” They also appreciate the amped-up speed, volume, and intensity of the piece, he said.

Black Box Studios provides collaborative theater workshops for students of all ages, backgrounds, and experience levels, Okin said. At the camp, students spend a month working on a Broadway-style musical, culminating in fully staged productions. “Fiddler” is directed by Okin, with musical/vocal direction by Bronwen Mullin and choreography by Giselle D’Souza. Teaching artist Jesse Freedman serves as set designer/dramaturge.

The show will be performed July 17, 18, and 19 at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Center of Teaneck. Tickets are available at Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students/seniors, with a discount for JCT members.

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