Redefining Theater

2018-2019 Rising Voices Fellow Shira Minsk (front row center in purple dress) doing a post-performance discussion after a reading of the play, The Diary of Anne Frank.

When I was eleven, I was cast in the musical Ragtime. I’d been doing theater for a few years by then, and had already become a bit disillusioned with the arts; even though I loved rehearsing and performing with my friends, I wanted to focus on making an impact on the world, not spend my time participating in seemingly frivolous theater performances. But just a few hours into the first rehearsal for Ragtime, something in my head clicked. This show, about the intersecting worlds of Jewish immigrants, African Americans, and upper-class white people, showed me that theater itself could be a vehicle for social change. Theater could bring communities together, and start important dialogues.           

This realization reenergized my love for theater, and carried me through many more seasons of shows. But by my sophomore year of high school, I started to feel restless again. Sparking conversations about important social issues was important, but it didn’t feel like quite enough. At the time, my theater company was putting on a production of Spring Awakening, a show that deals with issues of mental health, suicide, abortion, sexuality, and finding your own identity as a teenager.

The show resonated very strongly with the entire cast because it deals with struggles that we as teenagers experience on a day-to-day basis. After a few rehearsals, my friend Josie had the idea to use the show as a platform to raise money for a local nonprofit organization, so that we could translate the show’s message into action. Josie initiated a partnership with a local suicide-prevention organization, and after every performance we collected donations that went directly to them.            

After taking that meaningful first step with Spring Awakening, I worked with a few of my peers to found the Actors’ Helping Alliance through our theater company. Every season we pick a charity to partner with whose mission is connected to central themes in the show we’re performing. In this way, we spark important conversations in our community, and pair it with giving people the opportunity to do good in very real ways. We put on cabarets to fundraise for our company’s financial aid fund, and we even staged a reading of The Diary of Anne Frank in response to the outbreak of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville last year.

While each of these actions might seem small on their own, to me they represent a cultural shift in my community. Our work is changing the perspectives of actors and audience members alike about the purpose of theater and art, and proving that theater doesn’t just have to be about entertainment— it can generate real social impact as well. Starting the Actors’ Helping Alliance has been my way of pursuing social justice in my community and beyond, and of acting on that feeling I had all those years ago while doing Ragtime.

We take one final bow, and the lights go down. We’re exhilarated and exhausted at the same time, but we have one more job to do. I grab my friend’s hand, step forward, and wait for the lights to pick up again. “Hi, I’m Shira, and this is Molly, and we’re members of the Actors’ Helping Alliance.”

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

"OMG" Shira Minsk...where were you in 1972 when I needed you. What a well written piece and a FABULOUS IDEA. Your theater creativity/ community/ performance connection is truly an answer to having the theater arts continue to touch the body mind soul of our brothers and sisters across any and all lines.
Please don't forget to add Improv at any Shakespearean mode! Its an awesome experience.

Shira! This is so amazing and speaks to my own high school experience so deeply. Mazel!

Read the latest from JWA from your inbox.

sign up now


Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Get JWA in your inbox

Read the latest from JWA from your inbox.

sign up now

How to cite this page

Minsk, Shira. "Redefining Theater." 20 May 2019. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 29, 2024) <>.