All their worlds, on stage

Chicago theater performers find performative inspiration in their Jewish lives

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Andy White performed in the Goodman Theatre's 2021 production of A Christmas Carol. (Credit: Liz Lauren)

Zoe Nemetz: Actor  

No matter what role Zoe Nemetz performs on Chicago-area stages, she brings her Jewish self to the experience. 

"It was really instilled in me from a young age to be proud to be a Jewish woman. I think I get that from my mom," she said.  "I find that the traditions in Judaism that I've learned or the history or the tenacity of Jews always helps me to get that character's point of view across in table work. When we talk about our characters with the ensemble, I find I'm always raising my hand and connecting things to Judaism." 

Consistently immersed in the Jewish community, Nemetz attended Solomon Schechter Day School and JCC Camp Chi, studied Hebrew for four years at Highland Park High School, and got involved in Chabad while earning a degree in theater at the University of Illinois. 

While her resume lists mostly non-Jewish roles, Nemetz has played several Jewish characters, including Celia Bader (Ruther Bader Ginsburg's mother) in When There are Nine, Libby Tucker in Neil Simon's I Ought to be in Pictures , and Daphna in Bad Jews.  

"I find that I relate to all of the Jewish characters. Either it's me, Zoe, or I feel like I'm playing my mother.  And I just want to show what I've learned from her in the roles that I play. So, it's really just an honor when I get to play a Jewish character," she said. "And when I play a non-Jewish person, I still bring my Jewishness." 

Juliana Liscio: Actor 

Juliana Liscio thought she'd pursue a career in modeling, but when her agent began sending her on acting auditions when she was 16, she realized her bat mitzvah prepared her for the stage. 

"There's a huge element of this performance aspect of getting up in front of your community, sharing what you've learned, and providing your own insight into this text," she said.

Liscio recalls lessons from the late Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer at Congregation Bene Shalom in Skokie. 

"I was a really, really shy kid, but he trained me for a year about how to get up there, how to present this material, and how to get a laugh in front of the audience.  I learned a lot from him and would call him for advice over the years," said Liscio. 

After graduating from Niles West High School, Liscio went to Loyola University, where she studied theater and performed in Chicago's storefront theaters. 

She took on her first Jewish role in Brighton Beach Memoirs playing Nora, the 16-year-old daughter of a Jewish family during the Great Depression. 

"Acting is about imagining yourself in a situation that you don't know or that is new to you. But there is something kind of refreshing to occasionally have an experience where there isn't as much between you and the character. It was a really meaningful experience for me for that reason." 

Later this year, you may catch Liscio in Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins from the Strawdog Theatre Company.  Liscio is the understudy for the lead in this free children's theater production opening Dec. 11 at The Edge off Broadway in Edgewater.  

 

 

Andy White: Founding Ensemble Member, Lookingglass Theatre Company 

After college graduation, Andy White considered three career paths: theater, activism, or rabbinical school.  

Growing up in Los Angeles, he participated in school theater productions and later earned a degree in theater at Northwestern University. His socialist grandmother, Florence, inspired the activist in him, and a high school trip to Israel helped White discover an attachment to Judaism and the joy of kinship. 

So he found a way to combine two of three--as a founding ensemble member of Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre Company.  He currently serves as the Director of Community Engagement and is focused on using theater as a tool for change in communities.  

Reflecting on his decades as both a performer and administrator, White recognizes that his role in theater is fulfilling for him on all levels. 

"That sense of collaboration and that pleasure of working with like-minded humans with the ensemble is parallel to the religious practice and that feeling of community, which is just so powerful," he said. 

At the forefront of everything is his desire to make the world a better place. "The principle of tikun olam, repairing the world, has definitely figured prominently in my thinking and feeling about my responsibility," he said.  

"Most people don't think of acting as necessarily a means of changing the world, but I feel like at its best, it can be. Sometimes that's adding beauty; sometimes it's asking provocative but necessary questions; sometimes it's shining light on issues or people otherwise hidden; sometimes it's giving tools to others to express themselves." 

  Julie Mangurten Weinberg is a Northbrook-based journalist with more than 20 years of experience in broadcast, print, and digital media.    


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