BWW Interview: Nick Cassenbaum of BUBBLE SCHMEISIS at The Schvitz - "fun, relaxed storytelling journey to find Jewish identity centered around schmeising & schvitizing."

BWW Interview: Nick Cassenbaum of BUBBLE SCHMEISIS at The Schvitz - “fun, relaxed storytelling journey to find Jewish identity centered around schmeising & schvitizing.The University Musical Society of the University of Michigan presents writer and street performer Nick Cassenbaum in Bubble Schmeisis at The Schvitz in Detroit, one of the country's few remaining traditional bath houses, which has been in operation for over 85 years. "This is fun, relaxed storytelling journey to find Jewish identity in modern London centered around schmeising and schvitizing," said Cassenbaum. It is the U.S. premiere and exclusive U.S. performance of this show about self-discovery and Jewish identity through storytelling, music, and audience interaction. BroadwayWorld Detroit had a chance to speak with Cassenbaum about his experience writing and performing in the show.

Some important distinctions for those not familiar with Jewish culture: Schmeiss is a cleaning ritual of Jewish baths. Shtetl is a small Jewish town or village. Schvitz is a Jewish steam bath, the act of going to a Jewish steam, or, literally, "to sweat."

"Bubbemeises" is Yiddish, it translates as a grandmother's story, a tall story, an old wives' tale. These are the stories men trade in the schvitz - the places where old Jewish men come to wash, relax, complain and rejuvenate, to exchange jokes and gossip. Like all bubbemeisis, Bubble Schmeisis, has at its core, an eternal truth. Set in the steamy warmth of the Canning Town Schvitz, East London's last authentic steam bath, Bubble Schmeisis sees Cassenbaum schlepping through memories of summer camps and barber shops, of Spurs games and synagogues, beigels and cigars, as he makes sense of his Jewish identity. By taking part in this ritual, Cassenbaum hopes to keep the spirit of the steam baths alive. Bubble Schmeisis gives an up-close insight into a community that is fading, a folk history of a once vibrant culture.

This is the first time the show is being performed in an actual bathhouse instead of just on a regular theatre stage. "Presenting work in a historic bath house in downtown Detroit, 45 miles from our home base in Ann Arbor, connects with our audience and community in a very new and unexpected way," explained Matthew VanBesien, president of UMS. "Some audience members will go to The Schvitz because this is part of their season package and will discover a unique part of Detroit they had no idea even existed. Others already engaged in the zeitgeist of Detroit will discover UMS for the first time, getting a taste of the vast array of work we present - and how we often stretch and get out of our comfort zone to present it. Finding an amazing intersection of artistic work and performance venue is one of the real joys of presenting pieces like Bubble Schmeisis. We'll also be livestreaming the opening night performance on the 22nd (and begging the internet gods to bestow strong wi-fi that night.) Lather up!"

BWW Detroit: How did you decide to pursue the idea of The Schvitz?

Nick Cassenbaum: The schvitz in London is a really special place. I used to hear older relatives talking about going and having the best time. As I got older, I assumed it was all over and there were none left. Then my granddad called me up and said he was going, and I could not believe it. I went with him and after meeting all the old guys down there I knew this had to be turned into a show!



BWW Detroit: How long did it take you to write the show?

Cassenbaum: I was making Bubble Schmeisis on and off for a couple of years, although the show is full of true stories from my life so far, so you could say 29 years!



BWW Detroit: What was the writing process like for you?

Cassenbaum: This was a really fun process; a lot of the stories used in the show I mastered by telling them in pubs and around dinner tables to friends and family. Then I worked with the director to structure them and get them in the right order. The way I work is really audience focused and relies on how the audience respond to things, so I would say I am constantly writing this show by changing it for the audience who are in the room with me.



BWW Detroit: What is like starring in a one-man show that you wrote?

Cassenbaum: It's great! I can change stuff as I am doing it and not worry about upsetting a writer. Also, as it is all true stories, I am constantly learning about myself as I do it and how my feelings have changed about life events.



BWW Detroit: What inspired you to actually try to put up the show in an actual Jewish bathhouse?

Cassenbaum: It has always been a dream to put it in a bathhouse, however in the UK we have been touring the shows to theatres. UMS found The Schvitz here and made it happen. We feel so lucky and privileged to have been able to bring the show to this amazing place. The Schvitz here is really something special.



BWW Detroit: Why you do think it is important to keep this part of history/culture alive?

Cassenbaum: This is a very specific London culture and it is mine. I love it and I want to share it. Schmeissing is something that comes directly from the shtetl, a practical ritual from our past we still do. To me there is something very exciting about that.

BWW Detroit: Why should someone come see Bubble Schmeisis?

Cassenbaum: This is the only time you'll see a Jewish Londoner doing a show about schmeisising in a Detroit schvitz with a live Klezmer band... maybe ever ...in your life... what more do you want?

Bubble Schmeisis runs March 22nd - 25th at The Schvitz in Detroit. The opening night performance will be March 22nd at 7:30pm with details available at ums.org/live. For more information or tickets, visit ums.org.



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