Working on Pima Community College’s upcoming production of “Fiddler on the Roof” has been “an absolute joy,” says director Todd Poelstra.
“More than anything we’ve done, this event, from the first moment we announced it — it’s just been a positive response. ‘Oh, that’s one of my favorite shows … Oh, I want to go see it … I remember when I did that in high school.’ There is an aura of joy that surrounds the event, and for us, it is a great gift to give to our students — and then they get to share it with the community.”
The beloved musical, based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories of poor but hardworking Tevye the dairyman and his family in Tsarist Russia in 1905, starts Thursday, Feb. 20 and runs through March 2 at the PCC Center for the Arts Proscenium Theatre on the west campus, at 2202 W. Anklam Road.
The cast is the largest he’s had for a PCC musical, with 35 students on stage and another 10 or so backstage, says Poelstra, who’s been directing plays at PCC for more than a dozen years.
“It is the strongest cast I’ve ever worked with here,” he says — and that strength doesn’t come only from the principals and the more experienced actors, as usually happens. Even the student playing the fiddler, who has no lines, is providing “leadership from the bottom up.”
Any Pima student can take part in a show, even if they’re taking a single online course, notes Poelstra. Cast members come from all areas of the college, with majors such as pharmacy and psychology as well as the fine arts. For more than a third, this is their first show at Pima.
To prepare for directing “Fiddler,” Poelstra took several classes at Temple Emanu-El: Taste of Judaism I and II, and more recently, “Fiddler on the Roof and Tevye the Dairyman” with Kelly Feinstein-Johnson, Ph.D. The classes gave him a deeper understanding of the play.
“The whole dynamic of discussing, of questioning, of creating an individual, personal relationship with a God [as Tevye does], is not something I was brought up with,” he says, and it was “absolutely amazing” not only to explore the nuances of this concept, but to find biblical references for that discussion.
“It was so, simply, freeing,” he says.
With a play that’s been staged so many times, finding a fresh approach is a challenge.
“We’re not reinventing it,” he assures, “but nor do we want to do a rendition of it. We don’t want to take it out of the historic box of the 1960s and reproduce it.”
For Poelstra, bringing new life to any production has to do with exploring “what’s not said in the play — what happens between the scenes” and bringing those dynamics to the scripted lines.
Along with a great cast, says Poelstra, “I have the best production team in town,” with Mickey Nugent as choreographer, Nancy Davis Booth as musical director, Mark Nelson conducting student musicians in the pit and Maryann Trombino creating the costumes.
In conjunction with “Fiddler,” PCC launched a Family Heritage Celebration by soliciting family photos, stories and poems from students, staff and the Tucson community for a multimedia presentation.
“That has created a life of its own that will be at Pima far past this production,” says Poelstra, with plans to keep collecting submissions and create a digital archive on the Internet. “I am so ecstatic about that, because Tucson is such an interesting, complex mix of cultures and peoples.”
The Family Heritage Celebration will debut at 6 p.m. on Feb. 20, the opening night of “Fiddler,” with the play beginning at 7:30 p.m.
“I can’t wait for us to get an audience,” says Poelstra.
Tickets are $18 with discounts available. Go to www.pima.edu/cfa, call 206-6986 or visit the box office Tuesday-Friday, noon-5 p.m. and one hour prior to each performance.