October 4, 2007
Theater: A little ‘Fiddler’ on the Montana prairie
(Page 2 - Previous Page)During that month of rehearsal, the cast and crew formed a little community within the school. Jocks, majorettes, student council members and debaters were nothing to us -- we were the chosen people. We wished each other mazel tov and shalom when passing in the halls. We sat at our own table in the cafeteria, and someone got the bright idea of asking the lunch ladies if the pigs in blankets were kosher. We must have been insufferable.
As is usual with all high school productions, "Fiddler on the Roof," as performed by Billings West High School senior class of 1971, was brilliantly acted, danced and sung. The cast was proud, their parents were proud and the rest of the school basked in the reflected glory. Mr. Creaser wasn't completely satisfied, but he had high hopes for next year's show.
The cast party, catered by mothers, was a lavish spread of Sloppy Joes, ice cream sandwiches, challah, and gefilte fish made by Sally Tollefson's mom, which explained the strong resemblance to lutefisk. Dr. Small brought blintzes, which he introduced as a kind of enchilada.
Very few seniors thought of going out of state to college, and so, hanging around with Al Small was as close to New York City, the East Coast or the larger world as we were ever going to get. Were we transformed into models of tolerance and generosity? Most likely not.
But the West hadn't been hit by skinhead culture; the Aryan Nation was as yet unformed, yet it is a testament to the power of the theater -- and the patience and wisdom of the man who gave us access to that world -- that a couple of dozen teenagers were able to expand their horizons beyond Big Sky Country.
Kate Coe blogs at mediabistro.com's Fishbowl LA, and has written for the London Sunday Times, The Journal of Folklore Research and LA Weekly. She lives in downtown Los Angeles with her husband and two children.
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