Fiddler on the Roof performed by African and Burmese youth

By Abby Wojcik

Assistant Features Editor

This past Saturday, February 11, members of Our Lady of Hope parish put on a production of Fiddler on the Roof at Canisius’ Lyons Hall. The performers were African and Burmese refugee children that came to Buffalo with their families, overcoming various obstacles to be a part of American society. They originated years ago, as a church youth choir organization at Our Lady of Hope, with only ten small children in elementary school. Now they have grown to a large group ranging from eight to eighteen years old.

The youth choir does one musical per year, Fiddler on the Roof being their third annual show. Their previous productions have been Once on this Island Jr., and last year they did Godspell Jr. When they first started working on this musical, Fiddler on the Roof was celebrating its fortieth anniversary. Therefore, one of the men in charge of picking the play decided that “this is a great time to give this wonderful, wonderful piece of theater, a piece of culture, to another generation of young people who have experienced some of these ideas of displacement that occur in Fiddler on the Roof.”

The kids rehearsed for close to a year on this musical, meeting once a week for an hour at a time. As it got closer to the performance date, they met every day for tech week.

They wanted the kids to challenge themselves and relate to the messages of the musical. Through doing Fiddler on the Roof, they were surprised to discover that “a lot of people in our community have connected to them through the retelling of this story,” a member of Our Lady of Hope parish commented.

Their director Jenny Sernuik, a doctoral student at the University of Buffalo, said that, “This year we did a leap and tried to do a more mature show with a little more content. [This] definitely stretched these kids’ stage ability quite significantly.”

While Fiddler on the Roof might seem difficult to pull off, the audience was so impressed with what the kids were able to do. They worked together flawlessly, telling jokes, speaking their complicated lines, and singing ambitious songs. It was incredible to see such a wide range of people come together to create art for their families, friends, and community.

The most challenging part about doing these annual musicals is “getting the kids accustom to new spaces,” Sernuik said. “This is their third performance, and each stage is has been quite different. Each stage has offered its own set of challenges, but they were very flexible and adaptable to each environment that they’ve been in.”

When they were introduced to the stage in Lyons Hall, they were faced with carpet and cloth seats: fabrics which absorb a lot of sound. They had to practice projecting their voices throughout the whole auditorium. Nonetheless, they did a perfect job of this and everyone could clearly hear their stunning delivery of Fiddler on the Roof.

After the final bow was complete, the cast stayed on stage to answer a few questions from the audience. People asked where they were from and how it felt to be on stage. Then one audience member made a comment about how moved she was by seeing them perform. She said that “this kind of diversity is the America that I know.” The whole audience and the children on stage applauded in agreement that diversity is a vital part of a successful society.

One of the stars of the musical, Florence Ndayishimiye, is a refugee originally from Tanzania and has been living in Buffalo for almost nine years. She first heard of the musical Fiddler on the Roof when she was in eighth grade, but she didn’t really know much about it or its history. After playing Golde, the sharp-tongued wife of the main character Tevye, Ndayishimiye said she really enjoyed it.

From watching the show, it is clear that all the kids are friends and enjoy being together. Ndayishimiye said, “We go to the same church; we’ve been together. Some for eight years, some just came, but we know each other pretty well.”

Her favorite part of the show was singing “Do You Love Me?,” which she received plenty of compliments for. This was no surprise, considering Ndayishimiye has an undeniably amazing singing voice.

Sernuik reflected on the experience of direction these kids by saying, “To me, it’s always a pleasure to be able to work with these students. I think over the years, we’ve kinda become a family, so it’s like being proud of your own little sisters and brothers or your own kids.”

If you missed their production of Fiddler on the Roof but are interested in meeting these kids or hearing their incredible singing voices, they are at a rotating schedule at the 11:00 a.m. mass at Our Lady of Hope. All are welcome to attend the mass to hear them sing liturgical music as a church choir.

 

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