March 8, 2007
Former emcee sheds light on beaucoup-buck parties
Glow Ropes trailer.
Click the BIG ARROW to play Perhaps the most notorious custom of the b'nai mitzvah experience is the frequently expensive, over-the-top party. This leap from childhood to adulthood is no longer just a religious experience, it's also a celebration where disco lives and respect dies.
Although fond memories from parties past include dances like the "Macarena," the "YMCA" or the "Electric Slide" (a dance forbidden on the Sabbath because, well, it's electric), the proliferation of custom T-shirts, themed centerpieces, DJs, dancers and caricaturists begs the question: "Isn't it just a 13-year-old's birthday party?"
George Valencia thinks so, and he should know. The writer-director of the film "Glow Ropes: The Rise and Fall of a Bar Mitzvah Emcee" spent 12 years on the b'nai mitzvah circuit as an emcee and dancer, a job he landed while dancing at a club near Rutgers University in New Jersey.
"The event has evolved to more of a show ... it's now such pop culture to have huge parties that it devalues the meaning of what it is," Valencia said.
"Glow Ropes" serves as a behind-the-scenes satire as well as a commentary about the superfluous nature of the grandiose parties themselves. The Latino director taps his in-depth knowledge of the b'nai mitzvah party, from the candle-lighting ceremony to the sexually suggestive dance moves, for the film.
However, "Glow Ropes" is not meant to exploit or lampoon Jewish culture. Instead, Valencia, who is not Jewish, said it pokes fun at a lifestyle he once led and is primarily intended to "put a big light on making fun of myself."
In the film, New Jersey bar mitzvah emcee Taylor James (Tim Pepper) is lured away from his small-time party planner Harry Kauffman (Bob Greenberg) and goes to work for Vanessa Dupree ("Scrubs'" Judy Reyes), a French-accented New York planner who puts up with the adoration of soccer mom clients.
In addition to writing and directing, Valencia also stars as Dupree's top bar mitzvah emcee Sebastian, who mentors Taylor by showing him the sexy moves critical to make it in the business. "Gimme some teeth in the Spider-Man," Sebastian says, referring to a dance move that involved an up-and-down motion with both arms while holding the palms out.
To document Taylor's rise to b'nai mitzvah stardom, Valencia even turns to the cliché tradition of the slideshow, with the presentation labeled "Taylor's Good Times..."
But when Vanessa is hired to plan New York's biggest, most sickeningly expensive bar mitzvah party, a clash between Sebastian and Taylor erupts over -- you guessed it -- glow ropes, the neon necklace party favor that provides hours of chemically luminescent fun.
Valencia said the inspiration for the film came from his worst memory as a bar mitzvah emcee -- he had run out of glow ropes during a party for a particularly affluent family only to discover that the bar mitzvah boy had never received one.
While doomed to listen to the same music over and over, Valencia said that a really talented emcee can make about $2,000 during an entire weekend. A nice chunk of change, but he said the gig has little room for advancement and even less room for pride.
Valencia's main reason for eventually leaving the b'nai mitzvah world behind was an inevitable feeling of suffocation.
"You feel like you're stuck in an off-off-off-Broadway show that's just repetition and you want to kill yourself," he said.
But on a positive note, Valencia said that he learned a lot about Judaism from colleagues and friends while he worked on the b'nai mitzvah circuit.
In addition to its Jewish themes, the film also serves as a means to present Latinos in a different light. As an actor, Valencia said he was frequently cast in gangster roles.
Co-directed by Edwin Figueroa, Reyes' husband, "Glow Ropes" was the winner for best picture at the New York International Latino Film Festival in 2005 and was an official selection at the Los Angeles International Latino Film Festival and the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival that same year. Showtime recently acquired rights to the film with plans to air it in the near future.
Valencia admits that he knew the only way he could truly leave the party business and purge himself of his party-dancing ways was to make a film about it.
"Once I made a film about what I did, I knew I would never have to do bar mitzvahs again," he said.
For more information, visit www.glowropesmovie.com.