Shabbat keeps Orthodox Director Focused

How does one maintain his orthodoxy in a non-Orthodox world? Not just generally speaking in terms of being an Orthodox Jew in a secular America, but specifically in the world of theater, where Friday night openings are the norm and full-day Saturday rehearsals are a given.

Todd Salovey, associate artistic director at San Diego Repertory Theatre, moved from Conservative to Orthodox Judaism while in graduate school. He has found that not only can he manage the two realms, but that he actually thrives because of the juxtaposition.

“Theater is such a demanding and stressful business,” says Todd. “By celebrating Shabbat with prayer, study, great company and great food, I find myself reinvigorated each week. I feel renewed, refreshed and excited for the work that lies ahead. I often come up with my best ideas and insights at the end of Shabbat.”

Todd is directing “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso” for Arizona Theatre Company, which plays in Tucson April 4-26 and then in Phoenix April 30-May 17. He has been working with the playwright/actor Herbert Siguenza on this production for about five years.

“Herb had been in residency with us at San Diego Rep and came to us with an idea. He had first seen an old book of photos of Picasso when he was 5 years old in a dentist’s waiting room with his mother. He looked through the photos, which depicted Picasso in his 70s engaged in a wide variety of activities, from painting to dancing to playing with children, and Herb declared to his mother at that time that he ‘wanted to be that man.’ He also mentioned that – by the way – he also painted like Picasso! He was back in a week with the first scene, and we’ve been developing it since.”

The show has had six major productions in the last few years, premiering at the prestigious Alley Theatre in Houston, and Herb hopes to continue doing the show until he’s at least as old as Picasso was in the original photos.

“Each time we do the show, we dig a little deeper and come up with wonderful discoveries,” says Todd. “The ultimate goal, of course, is to find the truth.” Todd has worked alongside Herb as editor, dramaturge and director since the show’s inception.

Todd has had to miss many opening nights in his 25-year theatrical career. “I probably couldn’t be in this business as an actor,” he admits. But as the director and often the producer, he can set the rehearsal schedule. He arranges for the Actors’ Equity day off to be Saturday, rather than the more traditional Monday. “And I think everyone’s better off that I’m in shul praying on an opening Friday night rather than being a nervous wreck pacing in the audience,” he adds with a grin.

Todd also credits his Jewish studies with increasing his capacity to understand scripts. “I was always good with visuals and emotions, but I have found that studying complex Talmudic passages every day increases my capacity to delve deeper into the various theater texts. I’m able to hear plays in a different, more meaningful way.”

In addition to his other duties at San Diego Rep and his outside directing, Todd teaches a variety of highly rated theater classes at the University of California at San Diego, ranging from undergraduate acting classes to graduate-level directing seminars. And somehow Todd also manages to find time to helm the Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival each year. The 2015 festival starts May 24 and runs through mid-July with 10 shows scheduled. The program, now in its 22nd year, includes music, art, dance and theater performed throughout the city of San Diego.

“I had started out saying I would do the festival for one year,” Todd recalls. “That was 1994 and I’m still doing it!” Todd says he loves putting the festival together and seeing the sense of pride and excitement it creates toward excellence in Jewish arts within the Jewish community. He’s particularly pleased with the new work development that goes into each festival and enjoys unveiling the premiers to a receptive audience.

“Plus, because I am so involved in the Jewish community, I have great ‘ins’ for group sales,” Todd admits with a laugh.

Todd is currently busily working on details for the upcoming 2015 festival. The full schedule should be available on the San Diego Rep website (sdrep.org) when this April issue appears.

Todd is married to Diane Boomer, who was a theater lighting designer when they met. She is now an administrator at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Their son, Aryeh, attends a yeshiva in Mevaseret, outside of Jerusalem, and their daughter, Leah, is now a sophomore at Yale after two years of study in Jerusalem.

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