Athletic clashes in NorCal, artistic togetherness in SoCal

Two seemingly opposite JCC Maccabi events are occurring this summer in California: In San Francisco, teens will square off against one another in athletic competitions, but in Orange County, teens will work  together under the guidance of professional artists in residence at the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest.

“In contrast to the JCC Maccabi Games, where they’re competing, all of the filmmakers are working together, [as are] all of the musical theater artists, the singers, the dancers,” said Alan Scher, teen program manager at the JCC of San Francisco. “It’s collaboration by definition.”

The JCC Maccabi ArtsFest, taking place from Aug. 9 to 14 and hosted by the Merage JCC in Irvine, will bring together hundreds of teens to create visual, musical and performance arts through the lens of Jewish culture.

The festival is as much about bonding and friendship as it is about artistic production.

“I‘m expecting to see a lot of teens having a lot of fun, making a lot of art, making a lot of friends,” Scher said, adding that attending ArtsFest is “akin to the universal camp experience. It’s an intense week of building relationships.”

Many of the teens that will be participating, including a delegation of eight from the JCC of San Francisco, first had to audition to win a spot.

“We want artists who aren’t afraid to get out there and put themselves out on stage,” Scher said. “All of my teens came in and auditioned at the JCC with me. I didn’t turn anyone away … everyone had an opportunity to get involved in this amazing opportunity.”

During JCC Maccabi ArtsFests, teens work with hands-on instruction from the guidance of numerous professional artists in residence. The ArtsFest artists all have impressive creative resumes, from the stages, studios and canvases of New York to Cape Town, Los Angeles to Tel Aviv.

The JCC ArtsFest is entering its fourth year; there are two programs this summer, Aug. 2 to 7 in New Orleans and the following week in the Orange County area.

During the day, teens will work on artistic projects in musical theater, photography, film, rock music, visual art or dance — depending on their specialty. At night, teens will stay with volunteer host families.

Interspersed between all of this will be bonding events, and on the second-to-last day, the teens will prepare for the gala finale by setting up art exhibits and going through their final rehearsals.

The program is a valuable experience for artists of all levels, Scher said, as they look to refine their craft or receive instruction in an entirely new form.

“I‘m a firm believer that every single one of us has some artistic ability and creativity and has the well-spring inside of them that they can really use an outlet,” Scher said. “Everyone is really a writer or visual artist or musician inside.”