YidLife Crisis to Lighten That Other Crisis

Oct. 20, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Jewish community institutions are hoping a little comedy will lift pandemic-weary spirits and bring the socially distanced together, at least virtually.

The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is presenting A Call to Montreal, an original video show created by and starring the irreverent YidLife Crisis duo of Jamie Elman and Eli Batalion this Thursday (Oct. 22) at 7:30 p.m.

Jamie Elman, left, and Eli Batalion make A Call to Montreal outside the Segal Centre for Performing Arts. (Thomas Leblanc-Murray photo)

They promise to “lightly roast and toast” the city and its Jewish community with their trademark smart and sassy humour.

The 45-minute “one-time only” presentation was largely shot this summer on the Jewish Community Campus, with the enthusiastic participation of its key institutions: the Segal, the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA, the Jewish Public Library, and the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors, which all ceased normal operations in March.

Elman and Batalion have been together since they launched YidLife Crisis as a web series in 2014 casting themselves as the youngish Yiddish-speaking odd couple, Chaimie (Elman) and Leizer (Batalion), who literally chew over the big questions of modern Jewish identity in the mama loshen they learned at Bialik High School.

A Call to Montreal follows on their first film love letter to their hometown, the 2018 documentary Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal, which was nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards and played Jewish film festivals throughout the United States and elsewhere.

A Call to Montreal is in English with only a smattering of Yiddish, and eating is not on the menu, say the two boychiks, who have already packed on the “quarantine 15” over the past months.

The show is a mix of skits, musical performances, and surprise guests, shot respecting all health protocols on site, as well as remotely.

The Segal and its partner institutions see the event as a way of reaching out to the community and reminding it of “its vitality in the face of adversity.”

The show, which will be live-streamed, will be followed by a real live question-and-answer session between the audience, Batalion and Elman, who lives in Los Angeles but thinks of himself as an honorary Montrealer. He hopes the great Montreal diaspora – Jewish and not – will also be watching.

Tickets are $18 per person or $36 per household, with part of the proceeds going to the institutions involved.

A recording of the show will be available on-demand for up to 48 hours afterward for ticket holders.

The duo will be up against another comedy act scheduled for that night – the second U.S. presidential debate – but that starts at 9 p.m. and will have less Yiddish, they point out.

The idea is to make A Call to Montreal as inclusive as possible, so anyone who cannot afford a ticket should enter their plea at info@yidlifecrisis.com.

For those who want an authentic experience, YidLife Crisis has arranged with the Snowdon Deli a special menu of traditional fare that can be picked up before the show.

“After ‘exporting’ Jewish Montreal to the U.S. and beyond, it gives us great pleasure to ‘return’ to our resilient community and remind them of what they already know: that while we may be down, we’re still alive and – gently – kicking,” says the duo.

As Batalion exhorts in the promotional trailer: “Don’t be a shmendrick, buy your ticket now.” To which Elman adds tongue in cheek: “May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for 5781 – in a Sharpie.”

Segal Centre to Resume Live Performances After ‘Intermission’

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Dark since March, the Segal Centre for Performing Arts stage will light up again before the end of the year.

Segal Centre

The Segal will present American playwright Glen Berger’s one-man drama Underneath the Lintel in December in its main theatre, marking the opening of a season that is expected to be a mix of live and online programming.

This is a co-production with Theatre du Nouveau Monde (TNM), the Segal’s first collaboration with the venerable Montreal theatre, and the French section of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

The downtown TNM presents the play in French translation as Zebrina: Une piece a conviction in September. The same actor, Emmanuel Schwartz, and director, Francois Girard, headline both productions. Girard is a distinguished Quebec cultural figure, best known as the director of such films as The Red Violin, an Academy Award winner, and last year’s Holocaust-themed The Song of Names.

Segal artistic director Lisa Rubin said between about 65 and 95 people can be accommodated in the 300-seat main theatre to comply with Quebec’s physical distancing directives. The exact number at each performance will be based on how many patrons come from the same household and can sit together, she explained.

An online option will also be offered. The dates of the run are still to be determined, but Rubin expects tickets to go on sale in October.

The Segal had to abruptly cut short the last season midway through the musical The Times They are A Changin’ on March 12 when the government banned indoor gatherings of over 250 people. That directive presaged the province’s full-scale lockdown announced two days later.

There were two plays remaining in the 2019-2020 subscription series, including the acclaimed Oslo in its Montreal English-language premiere.

On top of that, Rubin was just about to announce the six-play lineup for the coming season that would have started this fall, which was abandoned due to the uncertainty of the times.

On Aug. 3, the government gave the green light to performance venues to host audiences of up to 250 people, seated at least 1.5 metres apart.

French theatres in Montreal, unlike most English ones in Canada, are mounting new seasons, and that proved fortuitous for the Segal, Rubin said.

There is Jewish content in Underneath the Lintel and TNM’s artistic director Lorraine Pintal contacted the Segal for guidance on handling it.

Since its premiere in 2001 in Los Angeles, Underneath the Lintel has been produced widely, sometimes stirring controversy. The sole character, a Dutch librarian, goes on an international quest to solve the mystery of a travel guide, returned anonymously – 113 years overdue. The legend of the Wandering Jew, commonly viewed as a figment of Christian anti-Semitism, is woven into the unfolding story.

From there quickly grew the idea of staging the play in its original English at the Segal.

The shutdown has been devastating for the Segal and the many people who rely on it for their livelihood, but Rubin assured that its survival is not in jeopardy.

She said over 100 contracts with actors, crew and others involved with the cancelled season had to be broken, and the Segal’s own staff has been reduced to a “small team.”

Federation CJA, of which the Segal is an agency, withdrew its funding, a decision Rubin accepts was necessary in order to reallocate resources to the community’s most pressing needs during the pandemic crisis.

The Segal continues to receive money from the three levels of government, but that amounts to less than $200,000. It has an endowment that will help see it through to better times, said Rubin, but support from donors and patrons is still crucial.

She made clear that the Segal family is not going to bail out the centre.

“Their job is done; they are not going to rescue us. It’s up to the community and our audience now.”

For now, Rubin is focused on getting the Segal physically ready to welcome back its audience after a long “intermission.” Although all safety precautions will be in place, she promises that theatre-going in the age of COVID can be fun.

“This has been devastating for the cultural sector. There is no precedent for what we are going through,” she said. “We are writing our own script for this.”