Arts & Culture

Performing Jesus Christ Superstar at My Very Jewish Camp

Cast as Priest Three in a camp rendition of the 1973 musical, a Jewish girl inadvertently learns about Jesus Read More

By / June 13, 2012
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My rudimentary understanding of Jesus can be traced back to a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar that we put on one summer at sleepaway camp. The plays were selected by the eccentric couple who ran the theater program, which is exactly what you might expect from a camp that made it onto Town and Country’s 2012 camp superlative list.

It was my final summer (a little late in the game, frankly, to start thinking about Jesus—a delay likely rooted in my Semitically-oriented Long Island upbringing or general ninth grade disregard for things not directly impacting me or my BFFs), which meant our play was performed during visiting day, to the presumed delight of parents who had shlepped up to the Adirondacks to endure a day—or two, depending on how prolific you were—of poorly navigated sailing jaunts, tennis drills, and an inevitable ceramics class. An odd choice of musical, perhaps, for a camp (mostly) full of Jewish girls, but in those days there was no High School Musical to fall back on.

I auditioned because I thought it would be fun for my parents to watch me on stage. They had never made any indication to suggest that was the case, but theatrically ahead I forged.

I should make it very clear that I have a less-than-stellar singing voice, a generally uncomfortable stage presence, and very little idea of what to do with extremities like arms and hands in public spaces.

Regardless, I was cast as Priest Three, a partially-named character with many more lines than Priests One and Two. I know this because the piano player noted the discrepancy during one of our priest-only rehearsals.

At our all-girls camp, a single french braid, tucked into a pageboy cap or maybe a cowboy hat, signified that a character was male. I had the (debatably) good fortune of being able to tuck my french braid into the conical black construction paper hat my character wore, which while not as stately as Caiphus’ certainly did the trick.

As my family likes to retell it, my lines mainly consisted of “Yes he did I saw him too,” sung varyingly in an awkwardly deep voice or an unsustainably high pitched lilt. I’m pretty sure I had other lines, though I am finally able to admit that most of them probably sounded a lot like that one. If I’ve learned anything from The Voice—other than that I would do terribly on The Voice—it’s that sometimes you just need to be true to yourself as an artist. Or be less pitchy.

I hadn’t considered the impact my theatrical debut (and the wretched VHS tape documenting it) had on my intellectual development until I enrolled in a Classical Judaism course in college. When we got to the part about the rabble rousing and the carpenter king, I realized somewhat sheepishly that the bulk of my understanding of Jesus could be hummed, sung, or recited—either way it all definitely rhymed.