Marcia Kash is an award-winning, internationally produced playwright, actor and director based in Hamilton. As a director over the past twenty-five years her credits number over 100 productions. She is the director of GLORIA: A LIFE, running from April 22 – May 7, 2023, with the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company. We asked Marcia about her approach to directing, working with an all female cast, and learned about her love of Ottolenghi’s vegetarian dishes.
Kultura Collective: Hi Marcia. Nice to meet you! Please tell us a bit about your background and your work as an actor, playwright and director?
Marcia Kash: I was born in the UK to Canadian parents who had moved to London to pursue their careers in show business. My mother is performer Libby Morris (sister to the late great Paul Kligman) and my father was actor/promotor/writer Murray Kash. As a kid I spent summers in Toronto and Winnipeg with my wonderful extended family where I developed a great love for this country. Despite their best efforts my parents didn’t manage to dissuade me from following in their footsteps. I trained as an actor at The Drama Centre, London and began my acting career at The Royal Court Theatre, coming to Toronto on a whim in 1982 to stay with family and “check things out”. I very quickly landed my first gig – as Chava in Fiddler on the Roof at the old Limelight Dinner Theatre- and soon after met my future husband, theatre director Ron Ulrich. And that was that.
KC: You will be directing the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company’s next production of Gloria: A Life. What is your approach for the play? What inspirations did you bring into your strategy for direction?
MK: This piece is very different from the way we usually tell stories in the theatre, as it culminates in a conversation with the audience, which comprises the entire second act. In order for this to be successful I felt it was very important to find a way to make the story telling in act one feel intimate and inclusive. Taking inspiration from the First Nations cultures, as evident in the play, creating a talking circle, in the round – with a town-hall type setting felt like the best approach, so that is what we have done. It’s a first for the Harold Green to present a show in this manner and I am excited to see how the audience responds.
KC: The first act of the play tells the story of activist Gloria Steinem. What part of her story resonated most with you?
MK: Oh, there is so much that resonated with me! Looking back at my young adult life I was oblivious to so much. It took me a very long time to wake up – just like it did for Gloria who was 35 before she understood the connection between the women’s movement, racism and the fight for social justice. However, if I had to choose one thing it would be the idea, spoken by Gloria in the play, that “not only do we live in a patriarchy but that the patriarchy lives in us”. When I came to understand what that meant a lightbulb went off in my head and I suddenly recognized so many things that I, along with so many women, have internalized and accepted as “the way it is” and now have to unpick and re-examine. It is a huge learning curve, and now that I have embarked on it there is no going back! In addition, I have developed an increasing admiration for the younger generation of women who, I believe, are pushing back against the established ways of living in the world and opening doors to new ways of expressing how they want to be seen. I have learned so much from researching this show. I now have a better understanding of what it took to get this far and how much more there is to do.
KC: Gloria will feature an all-female cast of seven actors. What excites you most about working with this team?
MK: Well, first of all, to be in a room that is only women is very unusual in our industry. And I’m not just talking about this amazing cast but also the stage management team. 10 women in a room? Come on…. I can’t overstate what a joy it is to be in the company of such a talented, diverse, experienced group of women. Lead by the fabulous Maria Ricossa as Gloria, this cast is open, creative, supportive and above all a lot of fun. We have shared and learned so much from one another as we continue to probe and discuss the multitude of important issues that have emerged from working on this piece. Theatre is always a learning experience – but this piece has truly been exceptional.
KC: In the second act of Gloria, audience members are invited to have a discussion and share their stories. Can you explain how this will work? Since it’s live theatre, anything can happen!
MK: Yes, the second act is the big unknown! Each night there will be a special guest in the audience who, after being introduced, will begin the talking circle. They will talk about how the piece resonates with them and afterwards open it up to the audience. Guided by the cast, members of the audience will, hopefully, share their own experiences and thoughts about what they have seen, how they have been affected by events in their own lives and, as Gloria maintains, find the value in telling and listening to one another’s stories.
KC: What impact do you hope this experience will have on viewers?
MK: We hope this will encourage people to open themselves to others in a meaningful way, help them feel less alone, rethink old ways of doing things and inspire them into advocating for social justice in any way they can.
KC: You trained as an actor, how did you transition to writing, and then directing?
MK: I started writing first – a farce, entitled Who’s Under Where? (written with Douglas E. Hughes) in order to wreak revenge for having been running around in my knickers in so many shows! In our play the men have to wear the underwear! It was a huge hit. 31 years later it is still going strong! A short time after the play’s premiere someone asked me to direct it. I’d never thought of pursuing a directing career, but I figured what the heck, I’ll give it a try. Little did I know it was the beginning of a whole new career. From then on I have pursued directing and continued writing and let the acting go.
KC: Tell us about your work as a writer. Is there a common thread that runs through your stories?
MK: Ha! No, my plays are all over the place. My first play, as I mentioned, is a farce – an oft-maligned art form that is technically very difficult to achieve well. Together with my writing partner we have written four farces and two thrillers. The first show I wrote solo was about Elvis impersonators (Discovering Elvis) closely followed by a drama (For This Moment Alone) that started life as a CBC radio drama before evolving into a stage play. It’s the only piece I’ve written that is personal and has a Jewish theme. It takes place in Toronto in 1948 and is based on a true story that happened in my father’s family. In between I’ve written some jukebox musicals, two screenplays and a few short pieces. Oh, and a play about a group of women in a belly dancing class (A Belly Full) written with Mary Colin Chisholm. Like I said, all over the place.
KC: Your work has taken you all over Canada and around the world. What’s the most memorable experience you have had in the theatre?
MK: Now that is a difficult question to answer. There have been so many wonderful experiences as a performer, director, writer and audience member. I guess watching one of my own plays in a language I don’t understand being enjoyed by an audience that is screaming with laughter is a pretty big rush. This has happened a number of times and it never gets old. It’s great to witness that kind of reaction when the production is in English too, but in translation it’s especially rewarding.
KC: What else are you working on right now?
MK: I have a few new writing projects that I’m mulling over. In November my writing partner and I have been invited to Poland to attend the premiere of a new tour of “Who’s Under Where?” We have had four plays produced in Poland over the years and it is not lost on me that there is some kind of weird irony in being somewhat celebrated in the land where, not that long ago, many of my relatives were murdered.
KC: What other Jewish creatives should we know about?
MK: My old friend Nicholas Rice. He’s an actor/raconteur originally from Winnipeg, based in Toronto. He is currently presenting his one-man show “A Side of Rice” in various fringe festivals around the country and in Florida. He’s a very special guy and a wonderful story-teller. If you get a chance go see him.
Kelly Holiff – a young woman whom you have probably heard sing at any number of Jewish functions, fundraisers, concerts as well as on stage in various shows. She is probably the best singer in Toronto and is currently appearing in Rent at the Stratford Festival. Her show on the songbook of Adele is out there. Watch out for her – she’s a star!
KC: What’s inspiring you Jewish-ly lately?
KC: I’m not sure if this counts but Ottolenghi’s amazing food inspires me. As a vegetarian I am always looking for interesting new recipes. Yotam Ottolenghi has a plethora of them, and while he is not a vegetarian, he focuses mainly on veggies and with his Israeli background, has inspired me to try very different things. I’ve also been to his restaurants in London. Highly recommended.
KC: Who are your creative Jewish role models?
MK: Barbara Streisand, Sarah Silverman.
KC: If you could have Shabbat dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?
MK: At this point, Gloria Steinem. For obvious reasons.
KC: Lightning round question!
MK: Applesauce vs sour cream? APPLESAUCE
Poppy vs sesame seed bagels? SESAME
Latke vs sufganiyot? LATKE
Raisin vs plain challah? PLAIN
Hummus vs baba ghanoush? HUMMUS
Tel Aviv or Jerusalem? TEL AVIV
Rugelach vs bourka? RUGELACH
Menorah vs Hanukkiah? MENORAH
Poppy seed vs prune Hamantaschen? PRUNE
Zaatar vs Harissa? HARISSA
Rosh Hashanah vs Simchat Torah? ROSH HASHANAH
Hanukkah vs Passover? HANUKKAH
Spinning the dreidel vs finding the afikomen? DREIDEL
Pickled herring vs gefilte fish? NEITHER
Shawarma vs falafel? FALAFEL
Fiddler on the Roof vs Joseph? FIDDLER
Tevya vs Fruma Sarah? TEVYE
Sarah Silverman vs Bette Midler? MIDLER
New York vs Montreal bagels? MONTREAL
Trained as an actor at The Drama Centre, London, Marcia began her career at the Royal Court Theatre before appearing on Broadway, the Stratford Festival and in many regional theatres. As a director over the past twenty-five years her credits number over 100 productions. Favourites include the US/Canadian Tour of Saturday Night Fever, Les Miserables, (Rainbow Stage), Annie, White Christmas, The last Five Years (Neptune), See How They Run, Blackbird (Theatre Aquarius), The Diary of Anne Frank, The Syringa Tree, The Price (RMTC) Too Many Cooks, Run For Your Wife, The Ladies Foursome (Drayton Entertainment) She was chosen to direct the “reimagined” Anne of Green Gables at the Charlottetown Festival in 2011 and was the original director/dramaturg for the premiere production of the new Canadian musical Prom Queen (now entitled The Louder We Get) at The Segal Centre, Montreal.
Marcia is also an award-winning, internationally produced playwright with 12 plays to her credit. Her work has been translated into numerous languages with several productions running in currently in Poland, China, Quebec, the US and the UK. Her most recent play, the comedy-thriller Deadline (co-written with Douglas E. Hughes) premiered in the US in October 2022.
Learn more at: www.marciakash.com
GLORIA: A LIFE brings us a richly detailed tapestry about one of the most inspiring and remarkable Jewish women of our time. Five decades after Gloria Steinem began raising her voice for equality and championing those of others, her vision is as urgent as ever. Gloria’s life’s work and philosophy on the necessity of conversation as a catalyst for change offer us all a path forward in a way that only live theater can. The first act tells her story, and the second invites the audience to share their own.
The play runs from April 22 – May 7, 2023 at the Meridian Arts Centre.
The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company is a professional non-profit theatre company that produces a season of plays that reflect the Jewish experience, as well as a series of concerts. Its mission is to produce work that reflects a diverse audience and to:
- Produce plays with a Jewish perspective, that are socially relevant to today’s audiences
- Foster intercultural relations through the arts
- Support the development of a Jewish theatre community in Toronto
- Educate the public towards greater appreciation of our Jewish heritage, through theatre, as a meaningful experience