For all the work it takes to host a complicated dinner for 25 people, Passover is one of my favorite holidays. A seder is inherently theatrical! It’s the one time of year when my family and friends get to do what I love: tell a compelling story together, complete with singing, and even dancing if the youngest children are cooperative by the time we reach Pharaoh’s frog jumping song.
As we take turns reading from our wine-stained haggadot, we become an ensemble. At its core, theater simply brings stories to life. If we can connect to the characters, understand the central conflict, and ultimately learn from the resolution, we can build empathy and challenge our own assumptions. Hearing the story read aloud in different voices each year, I always find myself wondering how each player in this particular story felt. What is the “backstory” behind the characters? How would it have felt to have to quickly pack up my belongings and head out to an unknown place? What was going through Moses’ mind when he went to bargain with Pharaoh? How would I have reacted to any of the plagues if I had been an Egyptian citizen?
This year as you sit at your seder and perform the prayers and songs, I encourage you try to connect with the story in a new way, through a character that may not have caught your attention in the past. Find their humanity and examine what makes them behave the way they do. As you enjoy the festive meal, fill in the details of this character’s backstory and share the new stories that you, your children, and other loved ones, have written. In addition to adding entertainment value to your seder, it may help you connect in a more personal way to the plight of the characters. After all, their struggles are all too familiar to many people in our world today. If we can see the world, however briefly, from their point of view, we can begin to build tolerance and compassion.
Write your own Passover Backstory: Pick a character from your haggadah and answer the following questions about them!
Who am I? Age, height, likes, dislikes, family situation, etc.
When is it? Time, day, year, hour
Where am I? Place, country, location, weather
Why am I doing what I’m doing? Behavior
What do I want? What is my end goal? What motivates me?
How will I get what I want? Actions I am taking that move me forward to getting what I want.
In addition to sharing these creative backstories, here are some additional ideas to bring performance into your family’s seder:
1) Make a tent and conduct the first part of your seder on the floor. Hang sheets from the ceiling and use pillows, tapestries, and other accessories to pretend you are in the desert.
2) Grab bag game: Collect random household objects and place them in an opaque bag. At a certain point in the seder, have each guest choose one item randomly from the bag. Through storytelling and improvisation, each guest has to relate his/her item to the Passover story.
3) Passover song competition: Each team has to sing a part of a song that contains the following Passover words. They will have 30 seconds to think of a song and will go back and forth without repeating songs (with a bonus if it is a Passover seder song!). When a team gets stuck, the other team gets the point. Some possible words include – river, king, work, go, blood, run, sea, break, etc.
4) Bringing the four children to life: Assign four members of your seder to dress up as the four children (without telling the other guests who is who). Once they return to the table in character, have the rest of your guests ask them questions to guess their identities.
5) Embodied seder: Without speaking and in groups of three to four people, create a scene of one the following moments from the Passover story (building pyramids, crossing the sea, Miriam dancing with her timbrels, making matzah in the desert, or create your own). Have the rest of your guests guess what part of the story your scene depicts.
As we enter the eight days of Passover together, I wish you all a holiday filled with creativity, connection, insight, and, of course, performance!