By Lara Nicolson
PJ Library in Baltimore
Macks Center for Jewish Education
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend the first reading of the "Quest of the Ziz Bird,” a collaboration between the Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE), PJ Library and Pumpkin Theatre. It was a cold January night and everyone (actors, director, puppeteers, designers and musicians) rushed in from work and school to sit on the stage and read the play together for the first time.
For me, theatre has always been a magical experience, beginning when the lights go down and I am transported into an imaginary world. Even that night, despite the fact that everyone was in plain clothes, reading the play seated in chairs with the Ziz puppet still in pieces (gauze, piping and feathers), I could feel the characters from the book come to life through snappy dialogue and music!
The PJ library book, “The Hardest Word” by Jacqueline Jules is a story about the Ziz, a creature from Jewish mythology who goes on a quest to find the hardest word (spoiler alert- it’s ‘sorry’) after it destroyed the children’s community garden. The universal appeal of the book’s message was the reason that the CJE and Pumpkin Theatre (who partnered for the first time in 2012 on the play “Clever Rachel”) chose to turn it into a musical and puppet spectacular. Both organizations wanted to reach beyond their current audiences (PJ library sends 2500 Jewish books to children in Baltimore every month) and make new connections.
At the Sunday productions on January 27th and February 3rd, the CJE and The Pearlstone Center will offer an opportunity for hands-on learning as children will create their own planters and take home seeds to plant in their own gardens. CJE also hopes to inspire families to discover more about gardening, Jewish mythological creatures and teshuvah (saying sorry) by sharing educational material which can be used to extend their learning after the play.
The audience at that first reading consisted of Pumpkin Theatre board members and CJE staff who chuckled at the gravelly voice of the Ziz bird and precocious antics of the children in the story. But I also imagined the theatre on performance day, filled with parents and children, who would laugh loudly, shout out when questions were asked and leave with colorfully decorated planters.
After my first experience of the Ziz reading, I wanted to rush home and tell my 5- and 7-year-old all about it, but they were already asleep. Luckily, I knew this production was going to be a great success when I woke up the next morning and the catchy lyrics were still playing in my head. I excitedly share tidbits of the story with my children and colleagues. I hope that you and your families join us for the “Quest of the Ziz Bird.”