Follow-on thoughts about ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ – Part 2: Happiness

By Ande Jacobson

Happiness is a central theme that Yuval Noah Harari explores in detail in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He discusses the multitude of advances that humankind has achieved throughout its history, starting, as he puts it, as “an animal of no significance.” As mentioned in previous discussions of this book, Harari separates humankind’s history into several revolutions (cognitive, agricultural, scientific), and through them all, he questions whether the individual members of our species are happier with each advancement. Even at our earliest stage in history, Homo sapiens has been a biologically successful species, but is biological success enough? Does that alone serve to make the majority of us happy? Continue reading


‘Fiddler’ 2017 breaks all SCP records – L’Chaim!

By Ande Jacobson

This run just keeps surpassing itself. The Sunnyvale Community Players production of Fiddler on the Roof continues to receive not one, but two standing ovations every performance, and as of 29 September 2017 (one quarter of the way through its penultimate weekend), the run completely sold out. As written in the background pieces – promising cheers and tears, tech week chronicles from the pit, and why his run – this production means a great deal to everyone involved with the show. Rather than rehashing the background already discussed at length, this article attempts to provide some more video insights into this heartfelt journey. Continue reading

SCP’s ‘Fiddler’ 2017 – why this run

By Ande Jacobson

Half-way through, this Sunnyvale Community Players production of Fiddler on the Roof continues to receive not one, but two standing ovations every performance. Not only that, each and every performance of the first two weekends has drawn sold-out houses. Beyond those inside the theatre, many times lines of hopeful patrons formed hoping to take the seats for any no-shows. Tickets for the remaining two weekends (eight performances) are selling quickly.

There is a lot to love about this production for both performers and audience members alike. The story is as applicable now as it was in the period depicted talking about traditions, and dealing with the challenges of a changing world. As I wrote in my background pieces promising cheers and tears and tech week chronicles from the pit, this production means a great deal to all of us involved with the show, and for one of our dearest, it is the fulfillment of a life’s dream. This is also the biggest production SCP has ever mounted in several respects including its 38-member cast and its full 25-piece orchestra with every instrument on its own mic. And those spontaneous standing ovations at two separate times every show are unprecedented for a SCP production.

The story contains several vivacious moments, as well as some somber reflection as shown in the following tech week video samples.


As for the life’s dream, the special video below is from early in tech week. The pictures in the video are still shots of the stage action from scenes throughout the show, and the audio is from a recording session of the John Williams mini-symphony on the second night of tech. The recording session was part of an interview for a major national magazine. This Williams piece was originally written for the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof and was broken up to cover the opening credits, the Entr’acte, and the end credits. We perform this work in its entirety each show as intermission entertainment featuring Eric Sun as he achieves a major life goal playing the iconic Isaac Stern solo violin part. Eric’s virtuosity is impressive, but the thing that makes this production so emotionally charged is that he won’t be around much longer than the show as he is suffering from terminal brain cancer. This run is Eric’s farewell tour. As his final musical act, he will be putting his vintage 1855 Vuillaume violin down after this run to share it with promising young artists through the Eric Sun – Karen Law Vuillaume Fellowship for community-building projects.


Like many others in this production, Eric is also an accomplished engineer and worked his way from intern to engineering manager at Facebook picking up several patents along the way. This feature story with NBC Bay Area was filmed the first Sunday of the run, and the piece aired two days later telling how Eric reenergized his music to connect so many others in the community while he still could.

Many of the people involved with this production have done the show before in various capacities, but for all of us, this run is by far the most memorable and poignant, and audiences seem to agree.

The show continues Thursdays – Sundays through 8 October 2017. Don’t miss this extraordinary production, and get your tickets soon before it’s too late.

Tickets are available online through the Sunnyvale Community Players website or by phone at 408-733-6611.

Performances are at the Sunnyvale Community Center Theater located at: 550 E. Remington Dr., Sunnyvale CA 94087.

Fiddler on the Roof (Special Edition) by MGM (Video & DVD)
Fiddler on the Roof: Based on Sholom Aleichem’s Stories
Fiddler on the Roof (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Fiddler on the Roof: Vocal Selections
Tevye’s Daughters: Collected Stories of Sholom Aleichem
Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories (Library of Yiddish classics) by Sholom Aleichem
Collected Stories of Sholom Aleichem

 (Photos and videos courtesy of Sunnyvale Community Players)

SCP’s ‘Fiddler’ 2017 Tech Week Chronicles from the pit

By Ande Jacobson

Starting at the end of this story, on opening night, this Sunnyvale Community Players production of Fiddler on the Roof received not one, but two standing ovations! Needless to say, all the hard work over the many months, and especially this final week, Tech Week, paid off. This last week was a doozy, but we not only survived, we thrived, and the show runs at the Sunnyvale Theater Thursdays – Sundays through 8 October 2017. Now on to the focus of this article, the path through our final week of rehearsals from the pit.

Tech Week, or more colloquially, Hell Week, is always an adventure in the theatre, particularly for musical theatre. Tech Week is that last week leading up to opening night when all the elements are combined, both technical and artistic, which in the case of a musical also includes the music itself. Everything that can go wrong often does, but somehow, magically, it all works by the time the last element is added – the audience. Fiddler on the Roof is a big show, and this Sunnyvale Community Players production includes a cast of 38 (with around 20 of them wearing individual mics) and a full 25-piece orchestra (with every instrument on its own mic) covering every part in the licensed orchestration. By the time we arrived at the first day of tech, the cast had been rehearsing for two months, and two sitzprobes with cast and orchestra together had been conducted.

The video below is a sample from early in the week. The pictures in the video are still shots of the stage action from scenes throughout the show, and the audio is from our recording session of the John Williams mini-symphony on the second night of tech. Note that this Williams piece was originally written for the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof covering the opening credits, the Entr’acte, and the end credits. We will be performing this work in its entirety each show as intermission entertainment, featuring Eric Sun playing the iconic Isaac Stern solo violin part:

Continue reading

Paroxysms, circa 1880s, abound at the Pear

By Ande Jacobson

According to a handy, modern medical dictionary, a paroxysm is defined as:

  1. a sudden violent attack, especially a spasm or convulsion, or
  2. the abrupt worsening of symptoms or recurrence of disease.

In a broad sense, the first definition fits the 1880s meaning in terms of all outward appearances, but that’s not exactly what they meant by the word in those days – at least as it’s used in Sarah Ruhl’s play, In the Next Room or the vibrator play, currently on stage at the Pear Theatre. This work was inspired by Rachel P. Maines‘ research. Maines specializes in the history of technology and accidently discovered an odd connection between medical practice of late 19th century and technological advances in the use of electricity based on ads from numerous American women’s magazines from the era. The new gadget of the time was the precursor to the modern vibrator, and it was used to treat the nebulous, mostly female malady known as “hysteria” through “manipulation of the uterus” resulting in “paroxysms” that were supposed to fix the imbalance. Looking back from the present, it seems far more likely that the symptoms this 19th century device was supposed to treat resulted from taboos surrounding intimacy, ignorance, fiendish fashion norms, gender discrimination, and an extremely patriarchal society. Continue reading

SCP’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ promises cheers and tears – opens 16 September 2017

By Ande Jacobson

Sunnyvale Community Players’ production of Fiddler on the Roof is going to delight audiences in ways that no previous Fiddler production has. The well-known story is based on the works of Sholom Aleichem, often called the Jewish Mark Twain. Playwright Joseph Stein collaborated with composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick to create a captivating presentation of the lives of the people of Anatevka, a little village in Czarist Russia in the early 20th Century. Its themes of tradition vs. change, family, and community are timeless, and given the current state of the world today, they are especially timely. This Broadway favorite first hit the stage in 1964, became a highly acclaimed feature film in 1971, and is beloved the world over. Continue reading

What if…

By Ande Jacobson

What if you could explore the impacts of everything you’ve ever done along with everything you’ve never done? Constellations (written by Nick Payne and currently on stage at TheatreWorks) combines the science surrounding the concept of the multiverse (i.e., multiple universes existing simultaneously) through the lives of two people who meet by chance, fall in love, and live out their lives together; or maybe they don’t. Continue reading

‘The Student Conductor’ masterfully merges politics, history, fiction, and musical reality

By Ande Jacobson

Robert Ford isn’t exactly a household name, and it’s been over a decade since he published his first (and seemingly only) novel. He went on to write several award-winning one-act and full-length plays that have been produced both in the U.S. and in Europe, but his novel remains a unique work. The Student Conductor was first published in the U.S. in 2003 with subsequent editions in Europe and Australia. It gives readers a look into Ford’s imagination as he conjures up plenty of intrigue and heart. He also guides readers deep into the magical world of classical music giving them an idea of just what it takes to become a professional symphony conductor. Continue reading

‘Lord of the Flies’ reveals the savageness within us

By Ande Jacobson

A Theatre Near U tackles the stage adaptation of William Golding’s classic novel, Lord of the Flies, a story touching on timeless themes showing just how tenuous a thing civilization can be. Golding’s novel was published in 1954, a time of high tension in various parts of the world. He’s quoted as saying that writing this story was “like lamenting the lost childhood of the world.” He knew of whence he wrote having lived through both world wars, served in the Royal Navy in WWII, and spent several years as a schoolmaster. As such, he was well-versed in the fortitude and foibles of humanity overall, and of schoolboys in particular. Continue reading

FMT lets its Freak Flag fly!

By Ande Jacobson

This summer, Foothill Music Theatre (FMT) shows its heart with its rendition of Shrek The Musical. The show is based on the animated DreamWorks film, Shrek, and it puts all of the magic and message of the film live on stage. The musical version (with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori) debuted on Broadway in 2008 and in London in 2011. Since then, the show continues to be a family-friendly audience favorite as it now makes the rounds in regional and community theatres.

The story is, in broad strokes, a sassy mashup of traditional fairy tales mixed with some current events. Its well-known Freak Flag anthem packs a powerful, positive message about celebrating one’s uniqueness. The lively story turns the traditional boy meets girl theme on its head with a clever twist and sends audiences home in high spirits. Continue reading