Adversity is a great educator.
Director Joyce Becker Lee grew up in one of the only Jewish families in Burlington, Wis. The experience was not always pleasant. She remembers being called names in school.
"Soul Sisters"Location: Clockwise Theatre, 221 North Genesee St., Waukegan, (847) 775-1500 or visit clockwisetheatre.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 11
"Growing up the only Jewish kid in a country town, you learn to walk with your eyes backwards," she explains.
But Lee, who now lives in Mundelein, credits this difficult past with giving her greater insight and empathy for outsiders and minority cultures and the challenges they face. It also helps her relate to the production she's currently directing for Waukegan's Clockwise Theatre: "Soul Sisters," a play about two women singers, one Jewish and one African American, and their struggles to understand each other and move beyond the stereotypes that divide them.
"Both women find themselves by exploring their roots," Lee explains. "One discovers her parents were Auschwitz survivors, a fact hidden from her growing up. The other travels to Africa to find her roots."
Interestingly, the more the women discover about themselves, the more they are able to reach out to the other. Of course, the women have always been united by their love of music. Both begin the play singing gospel and the blues. In fact, the play, by Joanne Koch and Sarah Blacher Cohen, is packed with jazz, gospel and blues favorites -- "Miss Otis Regrets," "God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit.
The show covers the years from 1968 to 1980, a time of great change for America's Jewish and black communities.
"I learned a lot about the black experience directing this play," Lee explains. "I learned why there is sometimes an animosity between my community and the black community. I used to think, 'I don't understand. Why don't they like us?' But now I see there are deep emotional wounds that travel from generation to generation.
"I have always been someone who said, 'Come on! Get over it! Move on!' But now I see not everyone can easily move on."
She pauses a moment, and then adds "I learned if people want to get along they have to understand where people are coming from -- and accept it."