“It was ‘Dance or die,’” said a member of the cast as Emily Ditkovski, the musical’s director, introduced the cast to the political and social turmoil of turn of the century Tsarist Russia.
Certainly true in the realm of musicals, this phrase became the mantra for the cast and crew of this year’s musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Whenever someone is having trouble they say, “dance or die” to each other and the situation, whatever it may be, is ameliorated.
“Every cast is special, every cast is unique, but this one has so much energy,” says Ditkovski of the 39 students involved in the play this spring. “There are so many beginners this year, but they’re all able to channel the characters perfectly.”
The cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” has immersed itself in the culture of the play a la Stanislavski. In February the entire troupe travelled to the National Yiddish Book Center, on the Hampshire College campus, to research Yiddish literary culture and history. “It’s a history not everyone is learning anymore,” said Ditkovski.
Set in Tsarist Russia in 1905, in a little village called Anatevka, “Fiddler on the Roof” is the story of Tevye. The father of five daughters, Tevye struggles to keep the actions of his family in line with the traditions of his youth and the laws of Judaism on the eve of the Russian Revolution.
“We began with cultural research, diving into documents and photographs,” Ditkovski said. “I’m trying to be as authentic [to Yiddish culture] as possible.”
In the design, Ditkovski focused on the transcendental nature of the characters’ plights. “This musical is about the essence of survival and all of its beauty,” she said.
“It is a piece for anyone who has ever been oppressed in any way. It sends a message of light through darkness, of triumph over oppression. It is a celebration of the human spirit and our ability to move through change and challenge.”
With three weeks to go before opening night the preparation and instruction has paid off. “When I asked the actors how they thought the characters would react in a certain situation they can do it perfectly,” said Ditkovski.
“I think going to the National Yiddish Book Center was really great because it gave us all a chance to get in touch with the central narratives of the play and a unique perspective of how our characters would have lived, would have thought, and would have acted,” said Brendan Hellweg ’14 who plays Mendel, the Rabbi’s son.
“Fiddler on the Roof” will run April 26th through April 28th and May 3rd through May 5th. All showings are at 7:30 p.m. in the Williston Theatre. Admission is $5. On the evening of Friday, April 27th, in conjunction with Family Weekend, admission for Williston families will be free.