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J*Stage Theater Company, Penn's newest acting group, produces theatrical performances that help spread Jewish values to broader social contexts. Board members of J*Stage: College sophomore Zoe Stoller, College junior Michelle Guefen, and College sophomore Ethan Friedson (director). Not Pictured: College sophomore Sam Korn, College junior Robbie Tannenbaum, College junior Megan Lane. // Ananya Chandra | Sports Photo Editor-elect

Credit: Ananya Chandra

In the next couple weeks, a new performance group will be flyering students on Locust.

In January, College junior Michelle Guefen founded J*Stage Theatre Company — Penn’s newest acting group. The organization’s mission is to produce theatrical performances that help spread Jewish values to broader social contexts. Many of these Jewish values, like social justice, community acceptance, family and lifelong learning, are “applicable to everybody,” according to College sophomore Zoe Stoller, the vice president of J*Stage.

Guefen has been involved in musical theatre for most of her life. Growing up in San Diego, she performed in shows at her local Jewish community center. She said performances were fulfilling and enjoyable experiences for her.

When she came to Penn in 2013, Guefen said she hoped to join an acting group that was similarly “Jewish-based, among Jewish people.” She became involved with Hillel, where she noticed a Jewish acting group was “something that was really missing.”

For Guefen and Stoller, being part of J*Stage has been a rewarding experience. “Theatre is very important to me,” Stoller said. “Judaism is very important to me. It’s very special to be involved in those together.”

Stoller first learned of J*Stage at its inception in January. She read about the club in Hillel Highlights and immediately reached out to Guefen.

“I tried to find people who were as passionate as I was,” Guefen said. “So when I got an email from Zoe saying how excited she was, it was like, ‘Yes, someone else agrees!’”

From there, it was all about “getting people involved, getting our name out there,” Guefen said. The J*Stage executive board expanded over time to include a marketing chair, social chair, treasurer and tech director. Together, they have been meeting to discuss future productions.

In the coming months, J*Stage will be holding auditions for its spring production — Wendy Wasserstein’s 1984 play “Isn’t It Romantic.” The play is set in 1980s Manhattan and follows two twenty-somethings, Janie and Harriet. They are in the “figuring things out” stage of life — searching for happiness and love in New York, all while redefining their relationships with their parents and staying afloat in their careers.

“Isn’t It Romantic” does more than provide comic relief. It also explores ideas of Judaism, like Jewish self-authorship and self-identity. Judaism plays an important role in Janie and Harriet’s lives as they build relationships and venture into adulthood. One of J*Stage’s goals is to inspire dialogue and discussion — “Isn’t It Romantic” is their next platform for that.

Some of the themes of the play are the centrality of family and the problem of self-doubt. “A big question [in the play] is what you owe your parents,” J*Stage Treasurer and College sophomore Ethan Friedson said. “Janie feels a lot of pressure. Her parents expect her to do certain things, like be a lawyer and marry someone successful. [There are] really high expectations, and that’s something Penn students can really relate to.”

While auditions for the play are right around the corner, there are many other ways students can get involved in J*Stage. J*Stage encourages Penn students to “not only audition, but also be members of the club, to come to fundraisers, social events and movie nights,” Guefen said.

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