Tag Archives: freedom song


By: Matthew Greenwald

The formal unveiling of Beit T’Shuvah’s Theatre Arts Department has finally arrived. Spearheaded by artistic director James Fuchs, the program is a crucial extension of recovery through artistic expression, an innovative and dynamic component of our highly unique treatment model. Residents develop and take a production from the ground-up, becoming involved in all facets of theatre; writing, acting, staging, technical support, promoting the production, and ultimately, the performance. Along the way they not only develop unique skills, but also learn valuble lessons about themselves through self-expression and teamwork.


 The theatre department, in concept, actually started ten years ago, when James went to Harriet’s office, and told her about a play he developed called Figaro’s Divorce. He wanted to use half professionals and half Beit T’Shuvah residents for the production, and Harriet loved the idea. “Over three months we found rehearsal space, held auditions, built sets,” recalls James, “Not only did we get a play done, but we took people who had no experience in theatre through a process. Normally you might achieve this after you had a program, this was really before…we were building the program in its infancy. Once we did the performances, and were successful, Rabbi Mark was hot on the trail of something Beit T’Shuvah could write, produce and perform.”

 Ironically, around this time renown Los Angeles Cantor and songwriter Craig Taubman called before Passover of that year and requested a performance of some kind, not necessarily a musical, but a short play. So, Cantor Rebekah Mirsky and James got together to write a couple of songs that might work. A month later, they brought in playwright/composer Stuart Robinson, and Freedom Song was born…and the rest is history. “Freedom Song can be overwhelming to some people,” comments Tricia Nykon, who has been brought aboard as a department intern to assist James, “but it can also be the thing that holds them to the community. My thing is to get people involved in the groups and programs, because they don’t know what moves them, or what they feel passionate about until they actually do them.”


Aside from existing groups such as Theatre Junkies and the ongoing production of Freedom Song, the theatre department has partnered with the USC Applied Theatre Arts Program for Theatre of the Oppressed, which includes some of their students who are in the Masters’ Theatre program, doing groups at Beit T’Shuvah once a week. “We’re also starting to work with Cornerstone Theatre Company,” adds Tricia  “and we’re putting on a play with them called Bliss Point. We’re talking to other theatre companies about doing similar productions, in order for this department to grow. I’m very, very excited.”

 In terms of recovery, there is a natural consequence to involvement in theatre that is similar to music: you acquire the means to express yourself. “I think for myself in recovery,” observes James “my most cherished thing is self-expression. I wish that for myself and for others; that’s a part of life that people need for themselves. Some people get in careers where that ends; and for 40 years they live in a different ideology.”

 In a way, theatre is more accessible for people than music. Also, people don’t necessarily have to be actors; there’s always need for technical support: lighting, staging, sound, etc. The ultimate goal is to introduce people to theatre, and to the community aspect of theatre. “We’re also introducing method acting,” offers Tricia, “which is drawing upon your own experiences to feel for a character, and this is a central element in recovery. I think this is a great way to show people how to feel about their own experiences.”

 It’s been James’ mission now for the past year and a half to make this happen. It’s been a slow build, but it’s gathering momentum. When people go through the production process, they find out something else about themselves. They learn about the tradition of theatre, but more importantly, teamwork interaction and self-expression. It’s a great way to show people how to feel about their own experiences…and ultimately, recover in a group setting. “We all feel like outsiders so much of the time,” concludes Tricia, “and the relationships here in the Theatre Arts department forge an even greater sense of community.”





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Judaism and The Arts: Freedom Song Update

 By Stephanie Lager

In writing our Judaism and the Arts blog we didn’t need to look far to find the perfect topic for our next post. Beit T’Shuvah’s very own creation, Freedom Song, has been exploring performance art as a way to engage audiences with the relatable feelings of addiction, family dysfunction, and personal slavery in a side-by-side musical presentation of an A.A. meeting and a Passover Seder. The three-act play’s cast is made up of Beit T’Shuvah residents, alumni, and staff members, which culminates in a Q & A session that ties the whole performance together.

freedomsongJessica Fischel, the show’s coordinator and an associate of Beit T’Shuvah’s Prevention department, weighs in on why she is so passionate about promoting Freedom Song. Even though Freedom Song performs for audiences as young as 7th graders Jessica says, “I’ve never spoken to a kid that didn’t relate to someone in the play. Everyone can see a bit of themselves and their family on that stage, regardless of being an addict or not.”

Jessica gets the most pleasure from witnessing firsthand the impact Freedom Song has on everyone that sees it, from people coming up to her after a show, seeing audience members’ eyes well up with tears, and receiving letters that attempt to put into words the profound impact it had on their life as they realize that they aren’t alone.

With a constantly changing cast, Laura Bagish, the show’s director, announces current updates and reflects on what we can expect from this profoundly moving performance.

With almost all new cast members, Freedom Song is preparing for their first new show on November 13th at 5:30 p.m. at the Jewish Federation, which is open to the public.

In response to the new cast, “It’s a process for me, starting over with a new cast each time. For me, to have new people that are enthusiastic, makes me enthusiastic, and helps me keep it fresh,” Laura says.

On being the director, “It’s taught me patience; I hadn’t a lot of acting experience before, and being the director for the last few years has taught me a lot of how to bring the best out of people, and how to be brave and overcome your fears.”

We also had the distinct pleasure of interviewing one of the newest cast members, Shayna Aken, and picked her brain as to why she decided to join the cast.

Eager to express her enthusiasm, Shayna explains, “I joined Freedom Song because I really want to stay sober, and do it by being connected to the community. I used to act in plays and theater when I was younger, and I also wanted to get back to that part of myself—the real me—while I’m at Beit T’Shuvah. It was like I forgot my passion, and what I really like to do, and how I define myself.

On how it helps her: “The play helps me in my recovery by being accountable, and having a commitment. The other people in the play count on me to be there, and that’s really important in terms of my recovery. In a way, it’s like having a smaller community within the Beit T’Shuvah community that I can have a connection and camaraderie with—we’re doing something in the real world together, a true team effort.”

On the character she plays: “It’s funny that I actually play a character that I have the same name as, and it’s a woman who’s really been through it: she’s had abusive relationships, and she’s working in recovery. She doesn’t have a lot of sober time, but she’s already helping the newcomer, and she stands up for herself. And I like that very, very much.  It certainly mirrors my life; I can relate to it a lot.”

We are thrilled to announce the upcoming performance from this new group of cast members on November 13th at 5:30 p.m. at the Jewish Federation. If you haven’t seen Freedom Song yet, you’re not just missing out on a part of our community, but a performance that will make you reflect on what you may be living as a slave to.

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Filed under 12-Steps, addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, art, Beit T'Shuvah, Community, Current Events, Family Wellness, Freedom Song, Judaism, Sobriety, Spirituality

Judaism and The Arts

Jud:arts blog photoBTS Communications is excited to announce our new Judaism and The Arts Blog series. Posts in this series will cover various aspects of visual, musical and written art as it pertains to Judaism, and specifically, Beit T’Shuvah. Through historical and current examples, we hope to give a panoramic view of the arts in the Jewish community

The articles will feature historical and critical points of view from figures in the entertainment world, as well as staff and residents of Beit T’Shuvah who are working closely with the arts. With this series, we hope to encourage dialogue with our readers, provide engaging insight on the subject of Judaism and blues music, and help familiarize the reader with the personalities that are the driving forces in this area of recovery and art.

The series will be spearheaded by two BTS staff copywriters, Stephanie Lager, a graduate of UCLA’s English Department, and Matthew Greenwald, an L.A.-based musician and journalist. This is a multi-part, bi-monthly blog, and we look forward to sharing some unique insights and hearing what you, our readers, have to say.  See you in October…


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Filed under art, Beit T'Shuvah, Community, Education, Freedom Song, Judaism

All In The Family

By Chris Alvarez

The first ever Beit T’Shuvah Out of Town Family Week recently took place, and my family and I were lucky enough to be able to take part in it.  My mother and sister flew over three thousand miles to take part in Beit T’Shuvah’s inaugural family weekend—a weekend that would forever change our lives.  Over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we took part in family process groups, individual therapy and spiritual learning.  Throughout the course of a few days, we were part of a life-changing event that I hope will help many more families in the years to come.

Beit T'Shuvah FamilyFriday was the first day all three of us were together.  The event started out with a group on family dynamics, during which I reaffirmed my notion that my family’s problems aren’t unique.  Afterwards I took my mom and sister up the block to the BTS Communications office, which is where I work.  I was so proud to be able to show them what I was doing there and introduce them to the people who I work with.  Through collaborating, I am finally finding how to use my passion for writing to become self-supporting, something I was proud to show my family who supports me now.  That night, Services were so moving that after the weekend, my 20-year old sister asked if I could get her the music from that night and from Saturday services.

Just as services ended Friday’s program, services started Saturday’s events, which included Family Torah Study. Saturday morning services were an experience that I hope to never forget.  Having my mom and sister there helped me feel even closer to my higher power.  We sang, danced, and prayed together.  On Saturday, my sister wasn’t alone in her love for the music; my mom also suggested that for the next Family Weekend that Shy rap more.  A little while after services, the cast of Freedom Song performed their innovate musical about addiction and family dynamics.  Though I had seen Freedom Song before, it was a different experience seeing it with my family.  During the show, I related the characters to my own family, and it was as emotional for me as it was for my mother.  With the short amount of free time we had after the performance, my family and I even found time to see the new Batman movie.

Sunday began with a brunch and dialogue for feedback on the weekend, and every family was in attendance.  Emotions ran high, my friends’ parents thanked me for being friends with their children, and my mother was able to thank the Rabbi and Harriet for all they’ve done for me.

After this inaugural Family Weekend, my family and I felt like we were pioneers of something bigger, something that will help many others in years to come. Together, my sister, mother, and I were able to form a closer and more meaningful relationship and came to understand how we all play a role in the family.  This weekend was the most meaningful thing I have been part of in a long time.


Filed under addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Community, Current Events, Family Wellness, Freedom Song, Gratitude, Spirituality, T'Shuvah

Freedom Song: Just Me and Drugs, One Happy Family :(

By Jamie Zabludowski

“For as long as I could remember I felt like I didn’t fit in, in school, on the streets, at family dinners, I couldn’t shake this unbearable feeling that I didn’t belong… so I created my own escape.”

For 4 years I was immersed in a very dark heroin addiction. I lost my friends, my family, but most importantly I lost my soul. I was in and out of treatment centers and couldn’t find my inner most self. That is, until I came to Beit T’Shuvah fresh off of being homeless in Florida. I left everything that was familiar to me in Miami without looking back.

I spent two months figuring out how to speak again. Once I found that courage to open up, I joined Freedom Song as an understudy, not really knowing what to expect. Freedom Song is an original musical/play put on by residents and alumni of Beit T’Shuvah. It follows the inspiring real-life stories of 18 addicts sharing a Passover Seder very different than all others. The immensely moving stories and songs form the need for a broader understanding of the disease of addiction. More than a play, Freedom Song is a real life drama that opened my eyes and changed my life.

When I first moved into Beit T’Shuvah I couldn’t form a full sentence. I was completely closed off to everybody–I wasn’t sharing anything about myself, or my past. At first, being a member of the cast was scary. I remember at my first rehearsal, being told, “You need to project! Project Jamie! Project!” And my response was a quiet, “I don’t know how to.” I remember sitting in my room one night with a veteran of the cast and felt as if the words of my character were my own. I realized how similar my story was to my character’s story; in fact they paralleled almost seamlessly.

My first performance was in Irvine about two months ago. I projected and felt every word as I performed. This play has allowed me to find that hidden voice I shut out for so many years. Freedom Song gets every single person in the cast to not hold back and do something different. Who would have thought that I’d go from a homeless heroin addict to performing in front of hundreds of people singing and dancing in a musical?

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Filed under addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Current Events, Family Wellness, Freedom Song, Gratitude