When Judith Shahn isn’t teaching at the University of Washington School of Drama’s Professional Actor Training Program, she works on public speaking skills with professionals of all sorts through her business, Vibrant Speaking. She recently taught an “Empowering Your Voice” class to lawyers at a Washington State Association for Justice meeting in Seattle.
“It’s a no-brainer why actors need to work on their voices,” she says — meaning speaking voice, not singing voice. “For lawyers it’s also a no-brainer that they need to be really vibrant and using their voices in a skillful way… [and] find their presence and persona in the courtroom,” where there is plenty of drama. She’ll repeat that class in Spokane this month.
Judith has taught at PATP for 20 years and carries the title of senior lecturer in voice and dialectics. The exclusive program takes about eight students out of 1,000 applicants every other year. Before the U, she taught at Cornish College of the Arts and she started out as an actor herself.
Growing up in Great Neck, N.Y., she got her MFA from Carnegie Mellon and worked as an actor in New York for about seven years. She went to a lot of auditions where there were “500 women who looked like me,” she says. Tiring of that, she came to Seattle with its “smaller pond and much tighter community.”
While working at Seattle Children’s Theater, she was asked to teach voice to teens at their drama school. That led to the job at Cornish where, feeling like she needed more training, she became certified in the Linklater method, created by Kristen Linklater in the 1970s.
She and her husband, Jay Lurie, are members of Temple Beth Am, where her daughter, Ella, just became Bat Mitzvah. Judith credits her mother, Ruth Goldman, who died recently and unexpectedly, for getting her involved in the synagogue.
“She was the root of my caring about Judaism,” says Judith. “An amazing woman, she was such a strong influence on my life.”
I couldn’t resist asking Judith if she’d had any famous students. She can claim Brendan Fraser at Cornish, and Joel McHale (From NBC’s “Community”) at the UW.
PATP students “have a pretty good working actor statistic,” but, she points out, they “go off to L.A. or New York to a profession where there’s 90 percent unemployment.”
Judith herself hasn’t been on stage recently, but “if that door opens, I would love to.”
One interesting part of her business is accent reduction. “It’s surprising how many calls I get for that,” she says. She’s worked with people from all over the world.
“They want to be more understood,” she says. “It takes a lot of dedication and focus…to change one’s accent, but people can do it.”
Find information on Vibrant Speaking at www.vibrantspeaking.com.
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Most of us aren’t lucky enough to know what we want to do when we are 13, but Melissa Bloom, the new director of administration of Bellevue’s Temple B’nai Torah, says she did.
“I always had a passion for becoming an executive director, since I was 13,” she says.
Growing up in Portland, Ore., “I had a very influential executive director in my life,” Sheri Cordova at Congregation Neve Shalom, the city’s Conservative shul.
“I was working with her because I was very involved in [United Synagogue Youth],” Melissa explains. As an organized person, Melissa thought that combining that skill with her “love and passion for Judaism” could come “together nicely to help an organization succeed.”
However, her career path diverged from her passion. Discouraged by her parents from Jewish communal work, Melissa chose to study graphic design at Cornish College in Seattle. Her parents were committed to their congregation, but they “believed you volunteered at a synagogue, you didn’t work at a synagogue,” she says.
Unsure of her academic choice, Melissa quit school to consider what she wanted to do. Moving back to Portland, she managed a photo studio and took a job as a youth director at a synagogue.
“That’s when I decided to follow my passion,” she says.
Matriculating at the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University) in Los Angeles, she finished her undergraduate degree and went straight into a double masters’ program in non-profit business administration and Jewish communal studies. She has worked at synagogues and Jewish camps as a kindergarten teacher, a camp director, an administrative assistant, an interim executive director and, most recently, executive director of Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa, Calif.
“I got to stay in California longer than I anticipated,” she says, “[but] I always wanted to come back [to the Northwest]. I just loved the Jewish community here and the city life,” says the Camp Solomon Schechter alum.
Melissa has settled into urban life in downtown Bellevue with her dog and her cat and she looks forward to serving the Eastside congregation.
“B’nai Torah is a large congregation that fits the needs of many generations,” she says, and “will hopefully see a lot more growth and create more opportunities for families to interact and connect to Judaism.”
And in case you were worried, Melissa assures me that her parents “have learned to love and embrace the profession I’m in.”
More information about the synagogue is at www.templebnaitorah.org.