What does it take to bring together The Juilliard School and Bais Chana, a high school for Orthodox girls?Answer: a summer conservatory for teenagers, where the art is Juilliard-level professional, and the Judaism is black-hat frum (Orthodox).
Bais Miriam, named for the timbrel-playing Miriam of Red Sea fame, gives the 18 girls who are part of this summer's program - the first of its kind - a mode for an expression not usually channeled in Orthodox circles.
"What we are trying to do is bring expression to kedusha (holiness) and kedusha to expression," says Bais Miriam co-founder Perel Leah Veitzer, an award-winning playwright.
Broadway and television director Robin Saex-Garbose and Veitzer met at Juilliard - before either became observant - when Saex-Garbose was a director and Veitzer a student. They had to convince Juilliard that the program would meet the most demanding artistic requirements and had to convince the Orthodox community that it would adhere to the highest levels of tzniut (personal modesty).
The program, given space at the Westside Jewish Community Center, received support from the Bais Chana Women's Yeshiva; the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity; the Fox Foundation, through a Juilliard alumni grant; and from the Jewish Community Foundation. The Bais Miriam day starts with prayer and Torah study, then moves into movement, voice and acting classes, and then rehearsal.
"We wanted to inspire girls about what an amazing, beautiful thing it is to be a Jewish woman," says Saex-Garbose, who now directs for "America's Most Wanted." "What has been so wonderful is to see these neshamas [souls] open up through the creative process."
As a culminating project, the girls are putting on five one-act pieces next week, entitled "Wonder of Wonders - A Night of Miracles Plays, with Dance and Song."
The performance will include scored and choreographed psalms and dance and drama numbers about, among others, the stories surrounding the grave of a martyred Moroccan woman and women in a concentration camp who found a way to light candles.
"What motivated us was wanting to tell our stories and explore the issues that are relevant to our life experience," says Saex-Garbose. She says the outcome, the performance, is sure to draw both laughter and tears.
"That to me as a director is the most beautiful moment to strive for in theater - when you can make an audience laugh and cry at the same time."
"Wonder of Wonders" is open to women and girls only at the Crossroads School Theater, 1714 21st St., Santa Monica. August 28, 29, 30 and 31. Tickets are $15; $12 each for group sales. Curtain is at 7 p.m. For reservations and information, call (818) 769-9102.