Fire at CT’s Shakespeare Theater

My heart weeps for a Connecticut theater destroyed by fire recently.

I grew up attending performances at the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford, CT. My mother took my sister and me to its shows, mostly Shakespeare plays; it’s where my love for the bard was born.

At the time, I didn’t appreciate the names of the actors I saw: Katherine Hepburn, James Earl Jones, and Morris Carnovsky. We’d picnic on the lawn overlooking the shoreline and loved the building itself, modeled after the Globe in England.

I played the Wall in the Pyramus & Thisbe scene in Act V of Midsummer’s Night Dream at a local summer camp. Decades later, as a middle school teacher, I taught the same play and directed student productions.

When my then boyfriend first met my family, my mother took us to a performance of Othello. Maybe not the best play for romance, but it began our Shakespeare journey together. Living in London from 1982-1987, we attended as many Royal Shakespeare Company shows as we could. Returning to the US, we were (and continue to be) delighted to find the Shakespeare Theater of NJ 20 minutes from our house.

As yet, no cause of the fire has emerged. Arson? I hope not.

Let’s treasure our art spaces; it’s what makes us human.

The Globe in London




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Grandma Diary: Scrabble!

I try to visit my three grands once a week after school. This week I picked them up. As we walked to the car, I asked the eldest, 9, how his day was. “Great,” he replied.

“What made it great?” I asked.

“Well, for one, you.”


In the car, all three buckled and happy snacking on the mini-banana-oatmeal muffins I made, I asked what else made the day great. By then, the focus had moved onto other things – the three arguing about whether or not to play a CD or just talk, so whatever else occurred during the day was lost for the moment.

At home, we played some Monkey in the Middle (inside), and even though it was freezing, I suggested we go outside. My granddaughter, 7, wanted to play soccer.

It took a little convincing to get them to wear at least a fleece jacket and hats. We kicked the ball a bit in the yard.

Hand-knitted hats

Returning inside, I asked if they wanted to play some games. Often the 9-year-old ensconces himself in Legos; the 7 plays with me a little, and the 5, hovers around, observing. I can still read aloud to him and his sister, especially while they’re eating dinner.

Lately, their games have become very complicated. Too hard to teach me. Too many pieces, requiring lots of time. Gone are the days of a few rounds of Connect Four or Uno. Now it’s intensive board games. Dominion, for one.

At an impasse, I suggested a lifelong favorite of mine, Scrabble.

We agreed to play an open board and not keep score. Even the eldest joined in. I explained the rules and taught a few strategies. We consulted a dictionary a couple times. We traded letters and helped each other. By the time the letter bag was nearly empty, they’d grown tired of the game and we put it away.

But the seed’s been planted. I have another game that I can play with them and in time, they’ll certainly overtake my abilities.

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Why Voting Matters: Connecting Democracy with Literacy

What I’ve been doing lately.

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English

By Lisa K. Winkler

Looking to bring democracy into the classroom? As a member of the League of Women Voters, I created an interactive, 40-minute lesson that engages students in the voting process. Adaptable for all ages, “Why Voting Matters” includes a script and power point.

Joined by the League’s president, also a NJ certified teacher, we introduce the League’s history—nearly 100 years old, and founded by a teacher, Carrie Chapman Catt shortly after women received the right to vote in 1920. Catt wanted to educate newly enfranchised women about the issues and candidates so they could make decisions independent of their husbands or fathers.

Our lesson includes vocabulary: What does it mean to be informed? What is non-partisan? What is apathy? What is enfranchisement?

We use hypothetical issues and two candidates, Apollo and Zeus, who have opposing views, to involve students in discussion and voting.

For elementary students, Apollo…

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Books, Movies, Television, & A Play: Women

A theme seems to have emerged from my reading and watching these days:


As leaders, as in the films Mary, Queen of Scots and On the Basis of Sex; and television series, Madame Secretary.

Repressed women, as in the film Roma, and women finding their voices, as in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. In books, I listened to Eleanor Oliphant is Fine, about a woman who manages to survive child abuse; and the women protagonists of Thrity Umrigar’s novels, The Space Between Us and The Secrets Between Us, who navigate the extreme poverty of New Delphi’s slums to fortify family and forge friendships.

I also read about an early “MeToo” case in Patricia Miller’s non-fiction account, Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the “Powerless” Woman Who Took On Washington and saw the dramatic portrayal of Gloria Steinem, in Gloria, told in many voices with historical video footage. 

Whew! This wasn’t an intentional focus, though it seems more and more stories are being written and filmed that feature women’s roles in personal and professional life.

I’d seen the documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, RBG, and was a bit dubious about the feature movie. Go see it. Bring your daughters, granddaughters, nieces, sisters, mothers, and aunts. They should see RBG too. Young people will be incredulous at the attitudes toward women in the late 1950’s, and what still resonates today. Fascinating history of how she became RBG. May she live a long, long life, please?

As for Mary, and also Elizabeth I, I wasn’t so current on the actual history and do think the producers took liberties portraying the monarchs with more feminist outlooks than they may have had. See it for the history and scenery.

Roma didn’t work for me and I know I’m in a minority. Shot in black and white, it’s the story of a maid who works for a wealthy family in Mexico, based on the director’s own life. The actors are all unknowns.

We love Madame Secretary. Though each episode deals with myriads of crises, there’s humor found through the day to day predicaments of the Secretary of State’s family and her staff. We loved the first season of Mrs. Maisel, started the second, dropped it, and then I returned to it when my husband was out of town. It’s a bit hokey but endearing.

See Gloria. The second half is opened to the audience for people to share their stories. A different and effective sort of theater experience.

We also saw and liked Green Book and Operation Finale.



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Downhill Skiing: Time’s Up!

This year I decided would be my year to either become a better skier or let it go. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the sport for many years (as I’ve written here: , and here:

and with creaky bones and achy muscles have felt I’m aging out. Yet plenty of older people ski forever; we’ve met people who enjoy it well into their 80s.

My husband loves the sport and our daughter has joined us in recent years. So when we booked our ski trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I arranged for three half -day lessons. I asked for an instructor experienced with older people, and someone good at instilling confidence to mitigate my fear.

To clarify: fear of heights, fear of snowboarders and fast skiers plowing into me, fear of falling and subsequent injury.

And I’m less enamored of crowds, long lift lines, and getting on and off lifts in general. Add wearing cement block type boots that cut into my shins, goggles that have to be worn over my glasses, and feeling cold, and I’m hardly a downhill cheerleader.

Robin, my instructor was very good. She demonstrated what I was doing wrong—lots of bad habits to break, and had me practice repeatedly new techniques. I weighed the pluses and minuses in my mind, and asked myself, what do I love about skiing? I came up with one answer: being outside. With that, and my knees talking to me a little each night, I made my decision.

Goodbye downhill. What does this mean for the annual ski vacation? Will I continue to go or not? Does stopping skiing test a 37-year-old marriage? I tend to think not. We have plenty of other common interests—like cycling—and other things to do on vacation. My husband can go without me once a year.

I’ve been cross -country skiing for years and rented a pair, planning to hit the trails that are part of the Grand Teton National Park. Cross country is everything downhill isn’t: no crowds, no lines, no noise. Just nature, fresh air, and great exercise.

I drove into the charming town of Jackson Hole and found my happy places: a bookstore, a yoga studio, and a yarn store. A young woman working at the yarn store shared that she’d recently stopped downhill skiing and now only does cross-country. She and her husband moved to Jackson because they worked for the National Park Service. While she no longer does, her husband is currently furloughed due to the government shut down.

As for skiing? Our grandchildren are ready and want us to take them. We’re waiting for snow in the Northeast US. Alas, climate change has kept temperatures mild with unrelenting rain. I’ll happily help them put on boots, make sandwiches and hot chocolate. Who knows, maybe I’ll even do a run or two on the bunny slope with them.

An article in the local paper here cited how people are breaking all the rules enforced by the park service in the parks. Piles of trash, overflowing outhouses, and illegal parking are threatening the local ecosystem and wildlife.

Here’s hoping the new Congress will don its skis and tackle the hardest, most challenging slopes: restoring government and addressing climate change among them.






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Fiddler in Yiddish


A fidler afn dakh, arop fun zinen, ha?

That’s Yiddish for “A fiddler on the roof—sounds crazy, no?”

It’s the opening line of the 1964 musical, Fiddler on the Roof, based on stories by Sholem Aleichem  about Tevye the Dairyman and his five daughters. Set in the Pale of Settlement during Tsarist Russia, it represents the effects of change—from traditions to modernity on the family and community. Tevye’s beliefs are challenged when his daughters choose to marry for love, defying the tradition that matchmakers arrange marriages. Ultimately, Tevye and his neighbors, facing eviction due to religious persecution, must leave their beloved village of Anatevka, seeking refuge far from the home they love.

When it opened in 1964, Fiddler became the first musical in history to surpass 3,000 performances and held the record for longest-running Broadway musical for nearly 10 years until Grease usurped the title. In 1971, it became an award-winning movie.

It’s been performed around the world from professional theaters to community groups to high schools. The song “Sunrise, Sunset” is a standard at Jewish weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs.

It’s been translated into many languages, among them Yiddish, where it was first performed in Israel in 1965.  A revival by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, in New York City has been extended twice and is heading off-Broadway in February.

At first, I wasn’t interested. Why see a musical, one that I’ve seen countless times and can sing every lyric and recite every line? Would seeing it in Yiddish make much difference?

Then the show received rave reviews, and I asked my friend Yvonne, another musical theater lover, to join me.

Yiddish was the language spoken by Jews in central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust. It’s what my grandparents spoke to their three children, first-generation Americans, one who is my father. My parents would speak Yiddish when they didn’t want my three siblings and me to understand what they were saying. Now my father, at 90 ½, worries he’s losing his fluency, having no one to speak it with.   I know several words and phrases, and many sayings have become part of the American English lexicon. (Think schlep, or maven, or oi vey.)

From the first downbeat, I was enthralled in ways I never imagined. Staged in an intimate theater, directed by Joel Grey, and featuring the original Jerome Robbins choreography, the show—albeit familiar- seemed fresh and evermore poignant in Yiddish. At first, I thought I wouldn’t need the subtitles, in both English and Russian, but found myself sneaking glances at the screens. Some of the words are different: If I Were a Rich Man becomes If I Were a Rothschild, among many others.

At one point, Yvonne turned to me and said: “This makes all other performances a caricature.”

Unfolding before us is a story of immigrants fleeing persecution, of families being separated by beliefs, long distances, totalitarian regimes, and intolerance.

And that’s a story in any language, in any place.










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Building Bridges: Better Angels

Engagement is more productive than hate. Knowledge is more powerful than ignorance. With this in mind, I’ve been looking for ways to interact with people whose political views are opposed to mine. I worry about the world I’m leaving my grandchildren – a feeling shared, I hope, by other grandparents and parents- no matter their political views.

Attending a “Talking Across the Political Divide” workshop sponsored by Better Angels, I practiced a few basic communication techniques. Founded in 2016, this non-partisan organization strives to bring politically disparate Americans together in an effort to unify the nation. In a crowd however of majority liberal-leaning individuals, the conversations were more role-playing than actual scenarios, so using “I” messages, like “I hear that you believe…” or “I understand…” seemed a bit contrived. Yet I could see how these methods may open paths to a civil discussion.

However, there are some issues and beliefs I can’t and won’t tolerate and am prepared to argue, loudly. For instance, Mississippi Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith’s comment about a supporter: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” I find heinous and deplorable. This is racism that shouldn’t be condoned. If this is what the other side believes, I can’t accept it. More people need to hear and heed the famous lyrics from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, South Pacific, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

But then President Trump announced his support of revising the country’s prison and sentencing laws—a bipartisan initiative called the First Step Act already passed by the House that would change federal policies that incarcerated African-American offenders at much higher rates than white offenders. The bill includes funding for anti-recidivism programs and other measures that would affect tens of thousands of current inmates and future offenders.

Bi-partisanship can work, obviously. Let’s hope the new Congress, with all the fresh, diverse faces, will work together to build the bridges needed to preserve our democracy and make the world a better place—for my grandkids and yours.







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