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Rochester Rep premiers a different kind of Christmas story

The show's director, Amanda Leyawiin, speaks about the story, the audience experience, and what she thinks people will take away from the performance.

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CJ Williams-Herrera, Karen Masbruch, and Munira Alimire perform in the Rochester Repertory Theatre.
Contributed / Tony Drumm
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ROCHESTER — For anyone looking for a Christmas story they might not be familiar with, The Rochester Repertory Theatre is hosting the "The Last Night of Ballyhoo." It tells the story of a Christmastime dance in the Jewish community of Atlanta, Georgia during the late 1930s.

The show is described as a "charming holiday comedy."

The Rochester Repertory Theatre will be showing the production over three weekends, starting Nov. 25.

The show's director, Amanda Leyawiin, speaks about the story, the audience experience, and what she thinks people will take away from the performance.

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Can you describe a little bit of the play?

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We meet the Freitag and Levy families who are preparing for Ballyhoo, which is this big southern dance that happens every year for the Jewish community in the south. There are two young women in the cast, and these two characters are wondering who's going to take them to Ballyhoo.

There are Jewish people of German descent, and there are Jewish people of Russian descent. And there's kind of an us-versus-them mentality between the two. and there's also an aspect of them coming to terms and realizing 'we're all Jewish.'

So, there are two dynamics going on within the show.

What can audience members expect from the show?

I hope people will leave the show with some education and also some joy as well. There are family dynamics in the show that I think everyone — as they watch it — will see in their own families. I hope it's an opportunity for people to take what they see on stage and reflect on their personal lives. And how maybe they can amend things that might be tight between members in their family.

And they're also going to see a love story, and who doesn't like to see a good love story?

Even though the show is just beginning, have you heard anything from the community about their thoughts or expectations?

What I'm hearing from other people who are active volunteers at the Rep or active patrons of the Rep is that they are excited to see something fresh — something different — at the Repertory Theatre.

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Also, there's normally seating on three sides of the stage. I decided to do theater in the round, so now there's seating on four sides of the stage — there are audience members on all four sides of the actors.

How does having theater in the round change the experience for the performers and audience?

For most of my actors, I had to help them break old habits of turning out for everybody. It's being consciously aware that we have audience members all around us, which means that we can have more lifelike interactions with one another and not be so presentational.

As a director, I'm really enjoying having it in the round because the audience is getting an opportunity to see even more of what the family dynamics are between all these characters. I wanted it in the round because I wanted the audience to feel like they were a part of the family — they were in these discussions, they were in these fights, they were in the joys and the sorrows.

Is there anything else you'd like people to know?

This production is very heartfelt. The emotions you see are pretty raw and real, and they come from a place of love for all the characters.

If You Go:

What: The Last Night of Ballyhoo
When: Nov. 25-26, Dec. 1-4, Dec. 8-11
Where: The Rochester Repertory Theatre, 103 Seventh Street NE
Tickets and more information: www.rochesterrep.org , 507-289-1737.

Asked & Answered is a weekly question-and-answer column featuring people of southeastern Minnesota. Is there somebody you'd like to see featured? Send suggestions to news@postbulletin.com .

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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