INTERVIEW WITH YEHUDA HYMAN - Conducted By Elizabeth Edwards

Yehuda Hyman

Yehuda Hyman is the writer and performer of The Mad 7, Spotlight Production of McCarter Theatre’s 2008 IN-Festival.  The play is based on “The Seven Beggars,” a story by Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and follows a character named Elliott as he encounters seven storytellers from various regions of the world.  Each one shares a mystical story through music and dance, propelling Elliott on a spiritual journey of self-discovery. 

PART I

I’m going to start with a very broad question, which is, what is the story about for you? 

[laughs]

You can answer whatever aspect of that…

Ahhhhhh…  What is the story of the play about?

Mm-hm.

Mm-hmm.  I’m trying to figure that out…

Well, let me start with me.  For me, it’s a quest to understand why I’m drawn to these stories.  And they seem to hold some answers to questions I have about my life—how to live my life in this realm.  So, on a very ground level, I’m looking for guidance through these stories.

And so is the character of Elliott, although he doesn’t know it.  He’s lost, but he doesn’t really know—he’s so lost that he doesn’t know how lost he is.  And so, this is a story about guides or mentors who come and lead this person to an understanding of himself, and his place in the universe, and who he is in this world and the other world.  So that’s the base, I think, for what it is.  It’s somebody who’s lost, who gets found.

What are those questions for which the stories seem to hold answers?

Are we alone in the universe?  Do we matter?  Does our life have any impact in time?  Does it impact other people?  Can we make a difference?  What can we do to make the world a better place?  I’m just going through, filtering through the story…

How do we deal with and accept the duality of our natures?  We’re made up of two sides, and how do we integrate that and accept that into our lives—not just be one thing or the other thing, but our full selves? 

And then on an even, just, surface level, it’s the power of storytelling.  How a story that you hear can transform you.  So Elliott is hearing stories, and the audience is hearing stories, and they’re transforming at the same time.  They’re going through a series of circles, like hoops, one to get to the next, and the audience is experiencing it at the same time.  So, we’re growing together and going through an experience together.  It’s not the kind of theater where you want to just sit back; it’s the kind of theater that’s experiential.  Because I think that’s what storytelling is, too.

And this comes out of the specific storytelling tradition of Rabbi Nachman, right?  And a broader tradition of storytelling in general…?

Well, there’s a specific tradition of Hasidic storytelling.  And that is that they’re very, very simple stories—almost childlike, fairy-tale stories—but they contain secrets.  They contain transformative secrets.  And that is the reason for them.  Something needs to move between the beginning of the story and the end of the story. 

And that, I think, is what I can bring to these.  That’s why I think I’ve been summoned [chuckle] to do this piece.  Because of my being a dancer.  And because Rabbi Nachman was a dancer.

Oh?

Yeah, he really, really believed in the power of music and dance.  And Breslov Hasidim, which is a sect of Hasidim, always end every prayer session with a dance.  It’s a very simple dance, it’s just a little dance in a circle, but that is one way, and I think Rabbi Nachman felt it was even the strongest way, to achieve union with the unknowable.

So, in addition to the tradition of storytelling, this piece falls within various traditions of dance, right?  Because many different kinds of dance are incorporated into your version of this story.

Right, right, right.  I mean, I myself have a very, very eclectic dance background.  Beginning with being trained as a classical ballet dancer, and then jazz, and then ethnic dance: Israeli folk dance, flamenco dance, Bharata Natyam—you know, Indian sacred dance.  Tap dance…  So, I come from a lot of different traditions.

And what I’m attempting to do in this piece is bring different dance traditions for each of the storytellers in the story.  I’m attempting to find a way to release these stories through the dance, so they really come to life on the stage.  I think they just come to life more easily, that they’re more accessible through movement.  It’s not a dance piece, at all, I mean I don’t want to make it seem like that.  But I am moving and I’m speaking, and dance is a very important element of it.

CONTINUE TO PART II