BWW Interview: Abby Koenig of THE JEW WHO LOVES CHRISTMAS at Rec Room
THE JEW WHO LOVES CHRISTMAS is an autobiographical, one-woman, 30-minute performance piece by Abby Koenig. Through self-deprecating humor and a multimedia experience, Koenig describes her ghosts of Christmases past, concluding with the hopes to keep Christmas awesome forever.
I got the opportunity to ask Koenig some questions about the upcoming performance at the Rec Room. Here she discusses how the show came to be, how it's evolved, and what audiences can expect of the performance in the new space at the Rec Room.
How did the concept for the show come about?
Koenig: Despite being born and raised Jewish, my family always celebrated Christmas. It is and will always be my favorite holiday. But at the same time, it always seemed odd to me that we did celebrate this. As much as I love Christmas, my sister Sarah loved it even more. In December 2009, my sister Sarah died very suddenly. It was horrific. For the next few years, I tried to grapple with the experience. And with much thought, it occurred to me that so many of my most poignant life moments happened around Christmas, certainly including my sister's death. In an attempt to get it all out, I wrote this show. I wanted to include photos and family stories, but it got kinda depressing, which is really not my bag. I am a humor writer at heart. And my sister wouldn't have wanted some depressing story about her life. So, THE JEW WHO LOVES CHRISTMAS is a funny performance piece about my crazy family and the years leading up to my sister's tragic death. I use a PowerPoint presentation with lots of visual gags and family photos and video, etc. It's funny and sad and heartwarming and super holiday-esque.
Has the show changed since its premiere?
Koenig: The first year I did it, I was eight months pregnant! I performed it at the Fresh Arts ARC, and it was a full-on installation piece. I had the whole gallery decked out Christmas-style. Being pregnant, discussing death, felt very purposeful. I had a circle of life thing going on. I think it worked well.
I was invited to perform it again the following year at Horse Head's holiday party, and last year as well, and each year I have tried to change little things here and there, still incorporating my kids as a way to come to terms with loss - new life resulting from death. This year, I have again, added and taken things away. The ending is quite different. Previous years it was all about my own children, as I mentioned, and how I impart my love of Christmas with them. But this year, it's more family-oriented on a grand scale. Overall, it's gotten tighter, funnier, and the ending, I think, more universal to all.
What is it about THE JEW WHO LOVES CHRISTMAS that appeals to audiences of any faith?
The story is about Christmas, but I am Jewish, but also I am not a religious person - which comes up in the show; that's not what the show is about. It's about family. You can be Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Jehovah's Witness - whatever. You still have a family and I would bet every dollar I have that your family has issues. We all do! Maybe they are not all exactly like mine, but the crazy family is universal. Every family has some aspect of effed up-ness to them, right? Two, in this holiday season, as cheesy as this may sound, thinking about finding happiness through sadness is something I think we can all relate too. Lots of people get depressed this time of year - myself included for many reasons. I hope audiences walk away with a warm feeling in their hearts. So cheesy!
How has moving into a new space at the Rec Room affected the show?
Koenig: Stephanie and Matt of Rec Room are doing something really awesome and needed here in Houston: opening the doors for unique performances that you'd be hard-pressed to find regularly anywhere else. Rec Room is really appealing to a younger, more diverse crowd. Shows there are accessible and fun. It's a welcoming space for things that are off the beaten path, edgy and unconventional. Anything goes there. And it's an intimate space which works well for this sort of piece, where the relationship to performer and audience is so critical.
Being a part of the "Rec the Halls" this week is going to be so much fun too! I am thrilled there is a dedicated Hanukkah night. Whether you're Jewish or not, this is a very rare thing in Houston. Probably because there are like seven Jews in the whole city. And by the way, Eatsie Boys' Matt Marcus is making homemade latkes! So, yeah, that's actually more worth coming to the show than anything I could do.
What can audiences expect at THE JEW WHO LOVES CHRISTMAS?
Koenig: I know this sounds crazy - that a show about the depression that comes with the holidays - but I promise you a good laugh. It's fun to laugh through tragedy. You gotta laugh or else you will jump off the roof along with some Santa who accidentally fell and landed in Tim Allen's yard and left you with literally the worst Christmas gift you can get ever. You will also get some amazing latkes that you cannot get anywhere else for public consumption; you'll get many cups of cheer, i.e. drinks; and good peeps to ring in the season with. Basically: So. Much. Fun.
THE JEW WHO LOVES CHRISTMAS will be performed Thursday, December 8, at the Rec Room, 100 Jackson. For more information, visit recroomhtx.com.