The play is set in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, but the stage where Stern College actors will perform “Our Town” this week represents a very real victory for women at the school.
After years of performing without a theater of its own, the Stern College Dramatics Society (SCDS) are performing this week — for the first time — at the uptown Yeshiva University Schottenstein Theater, a space previously set aside only for male actors. (Financial hardships led the university to sell its Midtown theater in 2011.)
Over the past several years, SCDS actors adopted a “show-must-go-on” mentality, performing in less-than-ideal spaces — including a makeshift stage in the college auditorium — while continuing the fight for equal access to the uptown theater.
In March, then-YU President Richard Joel announced that the women’s group would be allowed to use the theater, a triumph for Stern students who have frequently expressed feeling like second-class citizens at the Modern Orthodox flagship university.
“Ever since then we’ve kind of been nomads,” said Shoshy Ciment, a junior at Stern College and a board member of the Dramatics Society. “We have great actresses, we always have, we have the talent and we have the drive. All we needed was that pinch of professionalism that I think the theater will give us.”
The move to the uptown theater — with performances of Thornton Wilder’s classic running through Dec. 10 — is cause for celebration for one recent Stern graduate. As president of the SCDS, Jordyn Kaufman spent much of her senior year at the all-women’s college fighting for access to the uptown theater, lobbying Dean of Undergraduate Faculty Karen Bacon and University Dean of Students Chaim Nissel to change the status quo.
“Last year didn’t really have as much time to focus on the play because we were freaking out about our stage,” said Kaufman. “One of the things that was very hard for the women was the feeling, honestly, of just being a second-class student.”
For years, a rumor had persisted at the university that the donor who paid for the uptown campus theater had stipulated that women not be allowed to perform on the stage as a condition of his donation. The rumor was debunked by the recent permission granted to the female troupe.
“I think the fact that Yeshiva University has made this statement [saying that] we want to give these women a better opportunity to put on a play, to follow their dreams, to do what they’re passionate about, will go a really long way in the Modern Orthodox community,” said Kaufman, who hopes to see this year’s show more than once.
“You’ll definitely see me in the front row cheering.”
The Stern College Dramatics Society will perform Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” on Dec. 7 and Dec. 10 at the Schottenstein Theater. Tickets can be purchased on Ticket Leap.
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