INTERVIEW WITH YEHUDA HYMAN - Conducted By Elizabeth Edwards

Yehuda Hyman


What has the developmental process of this piece been like since you first became inspired to explore Jewish cultures and spiritual awakening through “The Seven Beggars” story?

Well, I feel like this is a fresh start, this piece.  [I have explored the story in several different forms and from several different angles, but] I don’t feel like, “Oh God, I’m hauling this thing out again.”  Because it actually is really new for me. 

[When I first started working with this material,] I was living in San Francisco.  I had given up my career as a choreographer and become a temp, and was writing, and creating performance pieces in little clubs around San Francisco. 

At first I was just working ten-minute increments on nights where you could go up and try stuff out.  I did that for about a year, and eventually it became a forty-five minute piece—just the first story [out of the seven].  And it seemed clear that there was something of interest to an audience.  So that was the beginning.

Then at a certain point I didn’t want to be in it, because it was too big, and I felt that I needed to be outside of it, so that I could look.  And that impulse eventually culminated in a play for seven actors [called The Mad Dancers].  And that is that play, and that’s a different entity.  And I feel good about it.

And then what made you decide to create a new piece, a one-person performance piece, that also explored “The Seven Beggars” story?

Well, Mara [Isaacs, director of The Mad 7,] had this opportunity in Bulgaria.  She had been involved fairly early in the process, when she was working at the Taper, and I was still doing a section of it as a solo performance.  And you can talk to her about it, but I think she felt that in some ways it was the best marriage of the material, that it’s told through a solo performer.  She wanted to explore that again, but explore me doing the entire piece, because I’d never done that.  I’d only ever done the first story, that’s all—the set-up of Elliott and then the first story and that was it.

And I was a little scared, but Mara said, “We’re going to be in Bulgaria, no one will see us.  We can just play and experiment.  And I’m really excited about it.”  I mean, I’ll just quote her, she said, “When I think of all the plays I’ve worked on, the one I’m most excited about is this.”  So I couldn’t say no. 

The process of making it a one-man show, what does that do to the story, or to your experience, or to the audience’s experience of it?  How does that change things?

Well, it’s very different.  Because the play The Mad Dancers was actually the story of two people—it was Elliott and the Rabbi character in the play.  And there was a whole drama about Rabbi Nachman, nineteenth century, and Elliott, who is this contemporary man.  That doesn’t exist in this piece at all, now—this is really Elliott’s story.  Elliott is telling the story, and it’s all through his eyes, and through his body.  So, that’s one thing. 

I think, also, it’s just better, because it is storytelling, that it’s one person telling the story.  And the audience watching that person go through transformations, rather than having different actors play different parts.  It’s certainly more in the spirit of Hasidic storytelling—or any kind of storytelling, really.

And also, I come in a certain body, in a certain package, and I’m just using everything I’ve got.  I’m using everything I have as a dancer, and an actor, and a singer, and everything.  I bring all my history, and all my anxiety and fears and emotions and feelings and love.  I’m bringing all my questions about Judaism, about religion, about belief in God, about culture, about everything.  I bring the whole package to the stage. 

I bring myself as a performer, as someone who wants to entertain people, someone who wants to take them through an experience.  I’m a great believer in theater as an interactive process, so I’m bringing all of that.  I bring my life to it.  I’m really putting, in a way, my life on the stage—that’s what’s also very scary about it.