Chutzpah! Festival: Jessica Mann Gutteridge deftly lures artists from three continents in the midst of a pandemic

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      The show will go on.

      Despite a border closed to all but essential travel, Jessica Mann Gutteridge has still succeeded in programming an eight-day cultural smorgasbord from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel.

      And the former lawyer has pulled this off even though she became artistic managing director of the Chutzpah! Festival: The Lisa Nemetz Festival of International Jewish Performing Arts less than a month before a pandemic was declared.

      “It’s been challenging but exhilarating,” Gutteridge tells the Straight by phone. “I have had to learn new skills. I have had to meet new people and develop new working relationships.

      “I have been extremely lucky to have built a phenomenal team that’s supporting this work, including our livestream director, who is filling a new role that we never had to address before—but is going to make everything happen smoothly and beautifully.”

      Gutteridge has even achieved symmetry by presenting two comedy, two dance, two theatrical, and two musical events. This reflects the festival’s 20-year history of interdisciplinary programming.

      To her, the greatest pleasure comes from knowing that the Chutzpah! Festival will offer emotional—and joyful—experiences in this difficult time.

      Most will take place via livestream, but a small audience will be present for two shows: the world premiere of choreographer Idan Cohen’s Hourglass dance piece and the closing night comedy show, both from the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre.

      “We’ve set up a new way of entering and exiting the space so that we have a physically distanced flow and people won’t be crossing paths,” Gutteridge says.

      Comedian, actor, podcaster, and producer Iris Bahr will moderate a question-and-answer session after each event at the festival.

      Each live and simulcast event will be hosted by comedian, actor, producer, and podcaster Iris Bahr from Los Angeles, appearing in her many guises.

      “She will be interviewing the artists and moderating our post-show discussions with the audience, as well as performing her own show,” Gutteridge notes. “It will be, as she puts it, an interactive comedy-therapy session.

      The festival will open on November 21 with singer-songwriter Ben Caplan.

      The following day and evening, audiences will be exposed to two theatre works-in progress.

      Old Friends, a solo piece by Vancouver native Tamara Micner, revolves around a famous Simon & Garfunkel concert. Shtumer Shabes (Silent Sabbath), by Rokhl Karfrissen, focuses on a lost script of a play performed in Warsaw in 1938.

      On November 23, Ella Rotschild’s dance work, Pigulim, will be presented from the Tel Aviv Dance Festival.

      The following evening, Israeli jazz pianist Guy Mintus will perform songs from his new album, A Gershwin Playground, via livestream.

      Singe3r-songwriter Ben Caplan opens the Chutzpah! Festival on November 21.

      “I’m actually so excited about all of our artists,” Gutteridge says, “because they’re all such engaged, thoughtful, warm, and accessible kind of people. It makes it so much nicer when you’re working with folks like that.”

      Prior to being hired as the artistic managing director of the Chutzpah! Festival, Gutteridge was deeply involved in producing theatre for children and youth to enhance their emotional literacy.

      In the future, she's hoping in the future to introduce performing-arts programming for families and young people at the Chutzpah! Festival.

      "Hopefully, it will encompass all the artistic disciplines," Gutteridge says. "But this year, we’re focusing on work for the more general audience.”

      She describes herself as a “Jewish New Yorker”. When she moved to Vancouver six-and-a-half years ago, she didn’t have any connection to the local Jewish community in Vancouver.

      “But one of the first things I saw was a big poster advertising the Chutzpah! Festival and immediately felt at home here,” Gutteridge reveals. “I’m glad that Jewish arts and culture has a strong presence here in the Vancouver arts scene and the Canadian arts scene. And I am happy that I get a chance to continue to promote that work in this community.”