Meet actor, musician and producer Shaina Silver-Baird

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November 2, 2022

Photo by Sam Gaetz.

Shaina Silver-Baird is a Dora award winning actor, musician, writer and songwriter based in Toronto. She stars as Chaya in Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, running from November 12-24 with the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company and 2b Theatre. We asked Shaina about her personal connections to Chaya, her upcoming web series Less Than Kosher, her band Ghost Caravan, and who’s inspiring her in Toronto right now.


Kultura Collective: Hi Shaina. Can you tell us a bit about you, and your work as an actor, musician, and producer?

Shaina Silver-Baird: At the end of the day whether it’s through words, music or character I’m a storyteller. My work has primarily been in theatre and music and more recently I’m expanding into film and TV as well.

KC: We are looking forward to Old Stock! What can audiences expect with this production?

SSB: Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story is a Klezmer-folk music-theatre hybrid inspired by the true stories of two Jewish Romanian refugees coming to Canada in 1908. It’s a humorously dark folktale woven together with a high-energy concert about how to love after being broken by the horrors of war. It was created by Hannah Moscovitch, Ben Caplan and Christian Barry.

Old Stock has toured to 29 cities around the globe, receiving many awards and accolades along the way including 6 Drama Desk nominations, a Herald Angel Award, Edinburgh Fringe First, 7 Theatre Nova Scotia Merritt Awards, including Outstanding Musical, Best Musical at the Calgary Critics Awards and a New York Times Critics pick.

Audiences can expect spirited music, an exceptional script (it’s Hannah Moscovitch after all) and powerful performances. Laughter and tears are very probable side effects. It’s an intense, hilarious, and emotional journey we take together.

Old Stock. Photo by Jamie Kronick

KC: This play was previously staged in the UK and New York. What will be new in the Toronto production?

SSB: Other than Ben Caplan as The Wanderer, the cast and musicians have changed since those initial runs, so each individual artist brings something different and beautiful to the production. Besides Ben and myself, the Toronto cast also includes Eric Da Costa (Chaim/ Woodwinds), Graham Scott (Keyboard/Accordion) and Andy Wiseman (Drums/Percussion).

Because it’s a touring show we get to check in with the director at every new stop during tech. And we give and receive notes from our stage manager and musical director every night. That means that no matter how many times we’ve done the show (I’ve done over 100 and Ben has done over 350!), we are always working on making it clearer, deeper, and more vibrant. It’s not a show you can sleepwalk your way through, even after doing it hundreds of times. It forces you to stay engaged and present.

KC: In Old Stock you play Chaya. How do you relate to her story? 

SSB: There are cold, hard facts which connect us of course: Chaya is a Romanian, Jewish woman. I am a Jewish woman with Romanian ancestors. Chaya immigrates to Canada to escape antisemitism and pogroms in her home country in 1908. My Jewish great-grandparents also immigrated to Canada at the same time to build a better life in a place they hoped to be more accepted. I am very thankful that, like Chaya, they decided to do so early in the 20th century before WWI & WWII.

But beyond those facts, I feel very connected to Chaya on a deep emotional level. She is a strong, highly intelligent, flawed, beautiful person trying to learn how to love again after losing the man she thought was the love of her life. I experienced several deaths in my family when I was quite young, including losing my father, and I relate deeply to her struggle – the struggle to reopen your heart and risk losing everything once again. It takes a lot of courage.

Old Stock. Photo by Jamie Kronick

KC: Old Stock will mark the return of the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company’s official season. What does the return to the theatre mean to you?

SSB: Live theatre and live music were two of the things I missed most during lockdown, so it’s so amazing to be doing both again. Live performance is magical… what else can I say? To be back in a room, breathing with other people, sharing an experience – there’s an exhilarating energy to it. Theatre is not only one of my artistic passions, it’s also an important source of community and I feel so lucky to be working and touring with an amazing group of artists that have become dear friends. The connections with audience members are really special as well, particularly when they are moved by the experience. I’ve been contacted by several strangers who’ve seen the play and reached out just to say thank you. That makes it all worth it. 

KC: We are also excited about your upcoming web series Less Than Kosher, which you produced and starred in. Can you tell us what to expect?

SSB: Absolutely! I’m so excited to share this project which I’ve been working tirelessly on for the past several years. Keep an eye on HighballTV and your local digital and film festivals in 2023! Less Than Kosher is a very Jewish, musical comedy written by myself and Michael Goldlist.

It follows self-proclaimed “bad Jew” and failing popstar Viv. When she lands ass-backwards into a job as a Cantor at her family’s synagogue, she’s thrown into a wild ride of illicit affairs, drug trips, tense family drama, self-discovery and some serious Jewish bops. It’s Shiva Baby meets A Star is Born. Modern Jewish wit and Hebrew Electro-pop.

KC: In Less Than Kosher, you play Viv, a pop musician who lands a job as a cantor. What was your inspiration for this character?

SSB: The initial germ of the idea came from my real life actually. When I had recently graduated theatre school, my Rabbi (the one and only Eli Rubenstein) recruited me as a substitute cantor for weddings and children’s services at Habonim Congregation. I had barely seen him since my Bat Mitzvah, couldn’t read Hebrew and had no idea what I was doing, but he assured me that my singing and performance skills were enough. My Bat Mitzvah had turned into somewhat of a one woman concert back in the day so I think he’d been keeping tabs on me ever since. Over several years I ended up singing at a string of Jewish weddings and events, some deeply moving, some hilarious, others absolutely absurd (the father of the bride once told me sharply to “wrap it up!” halfway through his daughter’s wedding. She looked like she wanted to sink through the floor). It felt like fodder for a story and I pitched it to Michael.

Despite her real life inspiration, Viv is NOT me. Everything that happens in Less Than Kosher is fictionalized, but the idea of a pop singer stepping into a cantor job completely ill prepared… well that came from my life.

KC: You’re also the lead singer of the Toronto band Ghost Caravan. Can you tell us about the band and the sound?

SSB: Ghost Caravan is my pop music project. The music itself is anthemic pop with a hint of electronica. The live show mixes electronic elements with live instruments creating a sound that is cinematic, contemporary, and invigorating. On my debut album T.O. Confidential and the singles that I’ve released since then, I collaborated with members of Grand Analog, Martha and the Muffins, JUNO nominated Hill Kourkoutis, the Four On The Floor String Quartet, UK producer Joe Thompson and many others. Ghost Caravan’s music has been featured on many playlists and radio shows, most notably, single “Damn You” was named Song of the Week by CBC Radio 1 and three songs off the debut album were featured in “Kim’s Convenience” (CBC, Netflix). Ghost Caravan was a finalist for international music competition/festival IndieWeek and I’ve played multiple venues and festivals including: NXNE, CMW, TIFF, Taste of the Danforth, Drake Underground, Rivoli, The Mod Club and others.

The name Ghost Caravan comes from the concept that I often feel like I’m informed and held up by a caravan of ghosts. I mentioned that several people I loved died when I was a child and so my connection to my ancestors has always been a strong source of inspiration. Ghosts are a friendly idea to me – more Harry Potter-resurrection-stone-mirages than spooky, Halloween monsters.

KC: The track “Girls Talk” is celebratory and fun, with powerful lyrics. What do you hope listeners will get from hearing your album?

SSB: “Girls Talk” is my most recent single – a vibrant, 80s infused, electro-pop reimagining of Elvis Costello’s classic song. It was released in the spring as one of the tracks on the new album “Coverama.” The whole album is comprised of exciting, genre bending covers of classic songs by artists on The Confidence Emperors label. You can find the album on all streaming platforms!

When people listen to my music I want them to feel uplifted and joyful. I want them to dance. After all the challenges and heaviness of the past couple years, I’ve been drawn to music that is danceable, exciting, and downright fun. So a lot of the music I’ve been creating recently has been pop-y and energetic. That’s what I want in my life right now – music that’s a little cheeky but still has a powerful lyrical core.

KC: What else are you working on right now?

SSB: Do I need more?! Haha. I’m working on the launch of Less Than Kosher and putting together a pitch for a new TV show. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

KC: Who is inspiring you in Toronto right now?

SSB: Hannah Rittner – She’s a fantastic, young Jewish playwright. Her play Elijah won the 2019 Jewish Playwright Competition.

Michael Goldlist – Michael is my writing partner on Less Than Kosher. He’s a wickedly funny, soulful writer. Previous work includes writing on digital series The Ninth (CBC Gem) and digital series Cam Girlfriend.

Aviva Armour-Ostroff – A fantastic actor and director. I know you interviewed her for Kultura collective in the past. Aviva’s film Lune blew me away (which she wrote, directed and produced). Her performance as Miriam was particularly amazing.

Old Stock. Photo by Jamie Kronick

KC: What’s inspiring you Jewish-ly lately?

SSB: Jewish folk music!! I grew up listening to my parents’ klezmer and balkan records and in the past few years I’ve realized how freaking cool it is that I spent my Friday nights folk dancing and my weekends at world music festivals as a child. Klezmer and Roma music is virtuosic and I’m having so much fun rediscovering this style of music that feels like home to me.

That style informs a lot of the music in Old Stock. You can find the album on all streaming platforms.

KC: Who are your creative Jewish role models?

SSB: Let’s be honest I don’t have to look further than my Old Stock team for amazing Jewish role models:

Hannah Moscovitch – I can’t not mention Hannah – the playwright behind Old Stock. I was a fan of her plays long before I got this gig and I’m so inspired by her complex, layered, hilarious, rich character dialogue – especially the way she writes her female characters.

Ben Caplan – Ben is a powerful live performer and musician with a crazy range! He’s also exceptionally knowledgable on Jewish music, history, tradition and Talmud. I’ve learned so much about Judaism, Jewish identity and Jewish music from him.

KC: Lightning round question!

  • Applesauce vs sour cream? if you mean on latkes, both. Mixed together.
  • Poppy vs sesame seed bagels? sesame seed.
  • Latke vs sufganiyot? latke.
  • Raisin vs plain challah?  raisin.
  • Hummus vs baba ghanoush?  hummus.
  • Hummus vs Tahina?   hummus.
  • Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?  Tel Aviv.
  • Rugelach vs bourka?  Rugelach
  • Menorah vs Hanukkiah?   Menorah
  • Poppy seed vs prune Hamantaschen? Poppy seed.
  • Zaatar vs Harissa?  Zaatar.
  • Purim vs Passover?  Passover (literally my favourite holiday of all time).
  • Rosh Hashanah vs Simchat Torah? Rosh Hashanah.
  • Hanukkah vs Passover? Passover. Again… the best holiday. I will stand by this to the end of time.
  • Spinning the Dreidel vs finding the afikomen?  Afikomen
  • Pickled herring vs gefilte fish?  neither.
  • Shawarma vs falafel? Shawarma.
  • Fiddler on the Roof vs Joseph?  Fiddler. My mother loves Joseph so much she played it in the car growing up literally 10 thousand times and I had to ban the soundtrack. Plus I’d love to play Tevya in a gender swap version one day.
  • Tevya vs Fruma Sarah? Tzitel vs Hodel? (or any combo of Fiddler characters)   Fruma Sarah would win any face off, hands down. In terms of the sisters – Hodel. Hodel all the way.
  • Larry David vs Jerry Seinfeld? (or any other Jewish celebs)  Larry David.
  • Tiffany Haddish vs Fran Drescher?  Fran.
  • “Puppy for Hanukkah” vs “The Hanukkah Song”? The Hanukkah Song. But that clarinet solo in “Puppy for Hanukkah” makes the choice really hard.
  • New York vs Montreal bagels? New York.
  • Pomegranate vs apple?   apple.
  • Lulav vs etrog?  Lulav. So much more dramatic.
Old Stock. Photo by Jamie Kronick

Shaina Silver-Baird is a Dora award winning actor, musician, writer and songwriter based in Toronto. She has appeared in productions and workshops across Canada at theatres including Soulpepper, Citadel Theatre, Tarragon Theatre, Alberta Theatre Projects, PuSH Festival, Stratford Shakespeare Festival and more. She is also the lead singer/songwriter for electro-pop band Ghost Caravan. Upcoming she will be starring in new digital series Less Than Kosher (Filmcoop/ HighballTV) for which she also served as creator, showrunner and executive producer and she is touring internationally as Chaya/ violinist in Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story with 2b Theatre.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story is a Klezmer-folk music-theatre hybrid is inspired by the true stories of two Jewish Romanian refugees coming to Canada in 1908. It’s a humorously dark folktale woven together with a high-energy concert about how to love after being broken by the horrors of war. It was created by Hannah Moscovitch, Ben Caplan and Christian Barry.

Old Stock has toured to 29 cities around the globe, receiving many awards and accolades along the way including 6 Drama Desk nominations, a Herald Angel Award, Edinburgh Fringe First, 7 Theatre Nova Scotia Merritt Awards, including Outstanding Musical, Best Musical at the Calgary Critics Awards and a New York Times Critics pick.

LESS THAN KOSHER: A New Digital Series by Shaina Silver-Baird & Michael Goldlist. When self proclaimed bad Jew Viv lands ass-backwards into a job as a Cantor at her family’s synagogue, she’s thrown into a wild ride of illicit affairs, drug trips, tense family drama, self discovery and some serious Jewish bops. It’s “Shiva Baby” meets “A Star is Born.” Modern Jewish wit and Hebrew Electro-pop. Look out for this new musical comedy on HighballTV in 2023.

Less Than Kosher image by Shawn Goldberg

Ghost Caravan

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