Scratching below the surface of the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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By Shelley A. Sackett

While Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik’s 2015 book, “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” arguably branded Justice Ginsburg as a pop-cultural phenomenon, the recently released documentary, “RBG” leaves no room to mistake this woman for a fluffy contemporary trend. The diminutive 84-year-old intellectual powerhouse is fierce, uncompromising and a diplomatic champion of women’s rights. After 25 years on the Supreme Court, she remains a force to be reckoned with.

 

Ginsburg’s determination, courage and steadfast ability to drill down on overwhelming numbers of details are the weft in the fabric of her remarkable life. Even her personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, calls her a “cyborg.”

 

Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen have crafted an unabashed valentine to the second woman and sixth Jew appointed to the US Supreme Court, peppering their film with interviews, public appearances, archival material and even a Trump tweet. In less than two hours, they cover a lot of ground.

 

Born to impoverished working-class immigrants, Ginsburg’s intellectual prowess was evident at a young age. She credits her mother in particular with encouraging her to reach her full potential.

 

Central to the film and to Ginsburg’s life is the story of her marriage to Marty Ginsburg, one year her senior, whom she met during her undergraduate days at Cornell. “He was the first boy I ever knew who cared that I had a brain,” she says. A gifted tax attorney, Marty was also his wife’s biggest supporter, holding down the domestic front while she made history and greasing the wheels behind the scene to ensure her name was on President Clinton’s list of candidates when Byron White retired from the Supreme Court.

 

Justice Ginsburg’s days at Harvard Law School planted the seed for her trailblazing fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups. As one of only nine women in a class of 500, she recalls — with neither resentment nor belligerence — the dean asking her why she thought she deserved a seat that belonged to a man.

 

When her husband graduated a year ahead of her and took a job in New York, she transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated at the top of her class with distinction. Nonetheless, no firm would hire her. “Being a woman was an impediment,” she says.

 

Determined to remove that obstruction for others, she co-founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project while on the faculty at Rutgers University Law School and wrote the first legal casebook on gender-based discrimination. She also formulated a slow but steady legal strategy to end sex discrimination fashioned after Thurgood Marshall’s success at ending the US official policy of segregation.

 

She argued six cases before the Supreme Court (winning five), reasoning that the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment barred treating women differently than men, just as it barred racial discrimination. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg quite literally changed the way the world is for women,” NPR’s Nina Totenberg says during an on-screen interview.

 

Nowhere is that more evident than during Ginsburg’s Supreme Court Senate confirmation hearings, when she at times seems to play the role of patient professor lecturing the judiciary panel. “RBG” paints a memorable portrait of an extraordinarily hard-working woman, but it is also at its heart a primer in constitutional law.

 

Overall, despite its passion and solemnity, the film has a light touch, never diving deeply into the grit and controversy that must have swirled behind those hallowed judicial chambers. Ginsburg may be brainy and indomitable, but she is also charming and approachable.

 

That accessibility may explain why Teen Vogue, the e-magazine geared to teenage girls, touts an unlikely pair of stories on its recent home page. One features un-retouched photos of Rihanna’s new lingerie line. The other is “7 Essential Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Rulings to Know About.”

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Filmmakers plan to bring Mass Hysteria to Salem

 

Mass Hysteria Still 2

By Shelley A. Sackett

Salem residents are used to mass hysteria in their seaside city during the month-long Halloween season, but a group of local filmmakers plan to extend the spell into the summer months when they begin shooting their comedy-thriller, “Mass Hysteria,” on the streets of Salem.

 

Set over the course of Halloween Eve, the films centers around a group of historical re-enactors who are falsely accused of witchcraft when a tourist dies on Halloween Night in Salem. The wrongly accused heroes flee as another tourist dies, then another…making it clear this is not just a random accident.

 

“Halloween in Salem is an experience of a lifetime, and we wanted to recreate a modern witch hunt surrounding this annual event. The majority of tourists come to Salem in October with no idea of what actually happened in 1692. Our goal is to make a thriller/comedy that is truthful and entertaining, but also shares the dangers of the effects of a modern-day witch hunt,” said Matt Peruse, producer of First-Names Films.

 

Mass Hysteria Still 1

Production stills from the test shoot for “Mass Hysteria,” shot on-location in Salem last October. Pictured from left: Matt Perusse and co-director/producer Jeffrey Ryan.

 

The film is set to begin production on the North Shore as early as mid-July and wrap by mid-August. The cast has not been disclosed, but Perusse promises “a great ensemble of new and veteran actors.”

 

Co-directed by First-Names producer Arielle Cimino, “Mass Hysteria” unites three former Salem residents on a project dear to their hearts. “We love the juxtaposition of Salem’s rich, historical past colliding with the reality of today’s Salem through the conduit of the millions of visitors to the city each year,” said First-Names Films co-director and producer Jeffrey Ryan in a statement.

 

First-Name Films started as an idea to create a production company that would operate as a collective of like-minded producers who strive to create independent films on a regular basis. “We aim to involve the communities around us in order to help these smaller films reach a massive audience,” Perusse said.

 

Cimino, Perusse and Ryan collaborated on “YouthMin,” First-Names Film’s last feature film, which was produced in Beverly and won the Boston Independent Film Festival’s Audience Award. The film pre-premiered at CinemaSalem to a nearly sold-out audience. With “Mass Hysteria,” the producing team aims to once again engage the town in production of the Halloween comedy/thriller through community involvement and corporate sponsorship.

 

Cimino and Ryan first met at college, where they performed together on the improv comedy team. “We discovered through improv that we not only had similar goals for our film careers, but also a strikingly similar sense of humor that would lend itself to writing and creating comedies together,” Cimino said. After graduation, they started working together on short films and TV pilots to gain experience for their eventual goal of producing and directing independent feature-length films.

 

Perusse met Ryan after returning to Massachusetts a few years after working for a time in Los Angeles as an actor. A mutual professor introduced them with the purpose of discussing how to be a working actor in New England. The two struck up a friendship, which led to an eventual collaborative relationship. “YouthMin” was their first feature-length film.

 

As filmmakers, the three share a common goal of engaging, inspiring and entertaining their audience. With “Mass Hysteria,” they aim to take the audience on a thrilling and comical journey through one of the most exciting nights of the year — Halloween in Salem. “As a result, our audiences will not only appreciate Salem’s rich historical past, but also gain an appreciation for Salem’s standing as a modern, creative and vibrant 21st century city,” said Perusse.

 

For more information, visit firstnamesfilms.com

SalemRecycles celebrates a decade of making Salem greener

 

Salem Recycles

SalemRecycles committee members received special commendations for the committee’s ten years of helping to make Salem one the North Shore’s greenest cities. Pictured from back row: Sharon Kishida, DEP; Rep. Tucker; Hannah, from Sen. Lovely’s office; Shelby Hypes (new member); Liz Vago; Penny Neal (Emeritus); Carol Hautau; Julie Rose; Susan Yochelson and Mayor Kim Driscoll. Front row: Jennifer Percy (Emeritus); Nancy Gilberg; Melynn Nuite; Erin Huggard and Lynn Murray. Current members missing from photo: Tony Keck, John Roberts and Beth Gillette. (Emeritus-members who have been active for over 5 years and who now choose to staff events, etc. and are not obligated to come to meetings.)

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

In 2008, Julie Rose had been at her job in the Salem City Engineering Department for about a year when Mayor Kim Driscoll decided that her department would manage the city’s recently negotiated trash contract, which included new recycling guidelines.

 

Rose realized the engineering department had a lot of work ahead of it to educate the community about the importance of recycling. “We didn’t have a lot of staff, but I had heard about volunteer recycling committees in other communities,” said Rose, currently Business Manager of the City of Salem Engineering Department. She wanted to start one in Salem.

 

She worked with Jason Silva, then Mayor Driscoll’s Chief of Staff, and Sharon Kashida, the Northeast District 2 Regional and Solid Waste Coordinator for the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection. They looked at various recycling committees throughout the North Shore.

 

By talking to other communities, they learned they would need volunteers from various fields such as graphic design, communications, the law, and others. “We needed a committee with strong and diverse skill sets to help us pull off what we wanted to do,” Rose said.

 

Collaboratively, Rose, Silva and Kashida came up with the structure for Salem’s recycling committee. SalemRecycles would be a 12-member committee that is charged with developing ways to increase recycling throughout the city and promote other green efforts. Members’ backgrounds would include environmental studies, graphic and fine arts, business, law, public health, communications and education.

 

Mayor Driscoll appointed the inaugural SalemRecycles committee in 2008 and ten years later, Rose, the committee’s only paid employee, proudly points out that of the current 12 members, 3 have been involved since the beginning and 3 more have served for 8 years or more.

 

Last month, SalemRecycles celebrated its 10th birthday, and Mayor Driscoll presented its members with special commendations for a decade of work.

 

“The Salem Recycling Committee has been such a wonderful driver of positive change in our community. Their dedication and passion for sustainability has been instrumental in so many highly successful projects, events, and initiatives in Salem over the last decade, making our city more green and more livable for all. The volunteers who devote their time to the committee and its many efforts are committed to Salem and to our planet,” Mayor Driscoll said.

 

Since 2008, Salem has become a recycling leader on the North Shore, improving recycling rates by 3 times, holding 20 events per year and pioneering many initiatives. The recipient of many grants, awards and special recognition, SalemRecycles was the winner of the 2017 Mass Municipal Award for Innovation.

 

Kashida, as municipal recycling coordinator for 39 communities north and northwest of Boston — including Salem — is in a position to compare SalemRecycles to other communities she serves, and she gives Salem high marks. “I have been able to see how Salem Recycles has enabled the City to accomplish so much more. This is not your standard volunteer committee,” she said.

 

“Under Mayor Driscoll’s continued support and Julie Rose’s aegis, the committee is empowered to work with the City to help it achieve its waste reduction and recycling goals and be on the cutting edge,” she added.

 

Among the Salem programs Kashida cites are: trash limits; dual stream recycling education campaign with the former Newark industries; E-waste collections; book swaps; an annual textile drive; an annual swap and drop; a newsletter and blog, and the recently enacted plastic bag ban.

 

Two initiatives, the food waste collection pilot and the twice-yearly Repair Café, are firsts in her district. “SalemRecycles has served as a role model for other communities to replicate, so its impact goes beyond Salem,” Kashida said. “The SalemRecycles Facebook page is considered the “go-to” source for up-to-date vetted information.”

 

Seven or eight years ago, when she first joined SalemRecycles, Nancy Gilberg took on the primary administrative role for the Facebook page. She grew it from several hundred followers to about 1,850.

 

“I enjoy writing, editing, and building positive community. I create and promote the FB events, and draw from dozens of other recycling pages and everyday life experiences to create and share content,” she said. While the committee’s primary goal is to educate and to provide recycling and diversion opportunities, “we also want it to be fun and easy.”

 

Lynn Murray has been a member since the committee’s inception and served as its Chair for a year and a half. She remembers how its initial emphasis was to educate Salem residents about the then new recycling initiative. While education remains a prime focus, social media now makes the job easier and more far reaching.

 

SalemRecycles has a Trash and Recycling page on the City website (Salem.com/trashandrecycling), the GreenSalem website (GreenSalem.com), the SalemRecycles Facebook site, videos, an e-newsletter, occasional articles in local newspapers, appearances on SATV, door hangers, flyers and more.

 

The committee’s efforts to help residents think more broadly about recycling efforts make Murray especially proud. A twice yearly book swap (attended by up to 850 people at each event), an annual Textile Drive (where 7 tons of textiles were collected last November), and the Spring Swap and Drop are examples of recycling’s reach beyond just curbside collection.

 

Murray has loved her decade serving on SalemRecycles. “The committee is made up of volunteers who represent nearly all wards of the City, are passionate about what they do, yet have a lot of fun carrying out the various initiatives. Because the volunteers are from all over the City, we serve as emissaries to neighborhood groups encouraging participation in events and answering questions,” she said.

 

Murray credits the Mayor and Rose for the committee members’ commitment and longevity. “The Mayor has given us a lot of latitude, which has allowed for the expression of creativity and the development of initiatives beyond the scope of the City-mandated recycling programs,” she explained.

 

Rose’s management style and leadership have also been crucial to SalemRecycles’ success. “She delegates work effectively, empowers committee members to come up with new initiatives and always gives credit to and focuses on the accomplishments of committee members,” Murray added.

 

Past chair and current committee member Anthony Keck is no less passionate about SalemRecycles and its mission. He pointed out how Salem’s status as a tourist destination is a mixed blessing. “Hundreds of thousands of visitors arrive in the city each year. They bring tourist dollars with them, and they also bring and create trash from their single use items,” he said. SalemRecycles is attacking this problem on several fronts.

 

Visible recycling bins are now placed throughout the City. SalemRecycles became involved with charitable walk and run sponsors and found ways to reduce trash and to recycle, “saving the City by reducing trash tonnage.” The committee introduced cigarette butt recycling bins and placed them around the city.

 

“Feedback from visitors has been encouraging and many have commented with gratitude for encouraging and providing recycling collection to them,” Keck said.

 

He considers launching the Repair Café, which teaches how items can be repaired and reused rather instead of being tossed in the trash and replaced, one of SalemRecycle’s most significant initiatives.

 

“Raising the consciousness of all residents and stakeholders to the importance of reducing trash continues to influence how people purchase products,” Keck said. “Everyone can find ways to reduce, repurpose, reuse, repair and lastly recycle.”

 

SalemRecycles holds regular meetings, open to the public, the first Tuesday of the month on the 1st floor of 90 Washington Street at 6:30 pm. For more information, visit salem.com/recycling-and-trash, greensalem.com or Salem Ma Recycles on Facebook.

 

 

Israeli Stage presents blistering, sensual drama ‘The Last Act’

 

Guy Ben-Aharon, c:o the director, photographer Esra Rotthoff

Director Guy Ben-Aharon

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict seems to be an unavoidable topic of discussion: in the news, in the gym, even in the produce aisle. From May 18 through June 1, the conversation will move from side bar to center stage when the Israeli Stage presents the world premiere production of award-winning playwright Joshua Sobol’s latest play, “The Last Act” at Martin Hall in the Calderwood Pavilion.

 

Known for controversial work that challenges and provokes, Sobol’s newest work boldly addresses a difficult question: once society legitimizes branding and treating a group as the “other,” is there any hope the two sides can ever see each other as anything other than an enemy?

 

Playwright Joshua Sobol

 

Crafted as a play-within-a-play, the blistering and sensual drama centers on Gilly, a Jewish-Israeli unemployed actress leading a dull, settled life, and Djul, a Palestinian actor. The two share a passion to put on theater that is risky and matters. They mount an adaptation of August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie,” a play about an aristocratic woman and a senior servant, Jean, whose mutual attraction leads to tragedy.

 

Like the characters they play, Gilly and Djul feel a magnetic pull towards each other despite the cultural, political and social barriers that separate them. The plot thickens when Gilly’s husband, Ethan, a Jewish-Israeli intelligence officer, receives a surveillance assignment that involves spying on his wife and her Palestinian co-star, whom Ethan’s boss falsely assumes is a Hamas operative.

 

New York-based actress Annelise Lawson is just getting to know her character, Gilly, and she likes what she is discovering. “Her genius is her intuition; she picks up on everything. She is unabashedly assertive in pursuing her loves and doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” she said. “I’m a little envious of how she navigates her world.”

 

At one point, Gilly growls, “Theatre should be dangerous, or else it should not be!” Lawson agrees. “To get along in our daily lives, we have to edit ourselves constantly, making sure we express our opinions in just the right way. Theatre is one of the few places where we can drop the social mask and take the temperature of our culture. The act of telling the truth is dangerous.”

 

Sobol sees many parallels between “Miss Julie,” with its irrational and rigid focus on impenetrable social class barriers, and the situation in Israel. “The Israeli-Palestinian ‘mess’ has long abandoned the territory of sound reason,” he said, pointing out that the mutual prosperity Palestinians and Jews have experienced should have convinced the two communities they can only gain from a peaceful acceptance of each other. “But instead of thriving together in peace, the Hosseini belligerent leadership of the Palestinian community opted for a forceful showdown.”

 

The Israeli Stage’s mission is to share the diversity and vitality of Israeli theatre, and Director and Producing Artistic Director Guy Ben-Ahron considers “The Last Act” a perfect fit. “While the play is inherently Israeli, it is utterly universal. The peril of the surveillance state is a global phenomenon. The option for society to choose fear or hope is one that faces all Americans today,” he said.

 

Artistically, he appreciates that the play-within-a-play structure distorts the lines of reality, inviting the audience to tune into two realities simultaneously. “It blurs the lines of comedy and tragedy- it’s funny, it’s sharp and it’s poignant. I love the playfulness of the script,” he said.

 

Nightly dialogues will follow each performance, providing an opportunity for communal reflection. “Our vision is to create an opportunity to listen, inquire and reflect deeply at a time when our world suffers mightily from divisions and distrust. We’re not trying to change hearts and minds as much as we’re trying to open them. Just a little bit,” Ben-Ahron said.

 

For more information or to buy tickets, visit israelistage.com or call (617) 933-8600.