‘The capacity to endure’

‘The capacity to endure’

Choosing to be strong

Angela Himsel
Angela Himsel

Author/actress/singer Alexandra Silber always has been a strong person.

“It may be innate,” she said, defining strength as “resilience, and the capacity to bounce back — to come back from the lowest of lows. And to come back with efficacy and dignity; to restore oneself to their path of dreams and ambitious possibilities. It’s the capacity to bear pain and grief, loss and all of life’s adversities without suffering them.”

Courage and fearlessness are not the same thing, she added. “With courage, you are afraid of something, but you do it anyway.”

The themes of loss and the ability to bounce back after the death of a loved one are explored in the author’s memoir, “White Hot Grief Parade.”

“My father passed away when I was 18, after a long battle with cancer,” she said. “I wanted to chronicle the following few months, after this paralyzing parental loss.” Ultimately, she said, where both she and her mother got the most help was “the extreme gift of my closest friends. Three 18-year-olds saved my mother and me.”

Besides the ordinary challenges of regrouping after such a loss, she and her mother also had to face the hostility of her father’s family. Indeed, it was hard for Ms. Silber to embrace her own Jewishness as long as she identified it with that of her grandparents, “associating [Jewish] culture with their behavior.”

Now, however, despite a secular upbringing, she enjoys “a strong identity as a Jewish woman that I’ve very much cobbled it together as an adult.” And, she said, it’s not only very important to her, “but it brings great joy and great meaning.”

Ms. Silber, who was born in Los Angeles, raised outside Detroit, and now lives in New York City, attended Interlochen Center for the Arts and continued her training at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, graduating with a degree in acting. Just days after she got her diploma, she made her professional and West End debut as Laura Fairlie in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Woman in White.” She was 21 years old.

Since that time, she has played many roles in many venues, from London to California, and from New York to Washington, D.C. She also has appeared on television.

Making her mark in yet another field, in 2014 she was nominated for a Grammy Award for her portrayal of Maria with the San Francisco Symphony in a concert presentation of “West Side Story,” conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. She also has sung in one-woman cabaret performances in cities across the globe and was especially honored to be a part of Barbara Cook’s Spotlight Series at the Kennedy Center.

Each of the fields she pursues “has a distinct outlook and advantages, and they complement one another,” she said. “Acting is an interpretive art form,” where the performer takes already existing language “and breathes life into it in a creative lifelike way. Writing creates language from something that didn’t exist before.” In addition, “acting is a social art form that can’t be created or shared alone. Writing is both created and consumed in solitude.”

Ms. Silber’s first book, “After Anatevka,” was inspired by her three-year stint in London’s West End as the daughter Hodel in “Fiddler on the Roof.” It chronicles her imagining what happened to Hodel and Perchik after the musical ended.

“Five years after I lost my father, I came truly to appreciate the scene in which Hodel says goodbye to her father as she boards a train to Siberia to reunite with Perchik,” she said. Indeed, she was so touched by the scene, “and the gift this role gave me, that I became obsessed with what happened to her when she boarded the train to face her destiny.”

Taking on the role of another family member, Ms. Silber later appeared as Tzeitel in the Tony-nominated Broadway revival of “Fiddler of the Roof.”

She also has tried her hand as a playwright, writing modern language adaptations of three classic Greek tragedies through a commission from the Dutch Kills Theater. Her first, “Antigone,” premiered at the National Opera Center in New York City.

On the topic of strength — the subject of the March 24 morning at the JCC — she hopes listeners will come away with the notion that “our strength as human beings lies in embracing what we preconceive to be our weakness.” She knew, she said, that somehow she would get through her own loss.

“A lot of it was circumstantial, but I was a strong, resilient child,” she said. “It occurred at the crossroads of childhood and adulthood. We can choose different paths.

“I happened to be fortunate enough to have both support and the drive [needed] not to collapse.” She believes that anyone can choose to do the same thing. “We all have a choice. We’re all stronger than we think.”

Note to readers: We wrote about Angela Himsel on October 12, 2018; the story’s called “No longer waiting for the rapture,” by Curt Schleier. It’s online.

Who: Kaplen JCC on the Palisades presents

What: A Sunday of Strong Women, featuring writers Angela Himsel, Susie Orman Schnall, and Alexandra Silber

When: March 24, 10:30 a.m. — 1:30 p.m.

Where: JCC on the Palisades, 411 East Clinton Avenue, Tenafly

Cost: $38 JCC members; $46 non-members. Register at jccotp.org/ssw or call Kathy Graff at (201) 408.1454

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