Interview with Rivka Siegel
by Yehudis Keller, age 15, from NY

Hi Rivka! We are so glad for this opportunity to talk to you. Many of us have seen you starring as lead actress in A Light for Greytowers and The Heart that Sings. How does it feel to play such an important role in these movies?

To begin with, I really feel it is a privilege to be involved in these projects at all. I honestly didn’t understand how necessary these movies were until I started seeing the response from the audiences and people who recognize me on the street. I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me, so excited, gushing over how much they, their kids, their grandmothers, just love the movies. It’s really kind of humbling.

The fact that I was cast in these roles is an even greater privilege. Acting gives you the opportunity to connect to the character you are portraying. Both Anya (A Light for Greytowers) and Miriam (The Heart that Sings) were really deep and special women. To be able to bring them to life was very exciting for me.

How did you discover your acting and singing skills?

I was a bit shy when I was younger. It never occurred to me that I would end up performing for large audiences. When I was in 8th grade, I was cast in the school play as the rabbi who became a coachman. Yes, I had to paste on the beard. Anyway, while there were definitely a few cringe-worthy moments (like the part where I had to sing a Sholom-Aleichem-a-Yid song), I found that I really enjoyed being up on the stage, with the lights dimmed, and becoming a person that I would never have connected to otherwise. I went to a performing arts camp (Kol Neshama) that summer, and was able to study with Robin Garbose and many other talented teachers there. Robin actually directed a few of my high school plays, and cast me (sometimes against my will) in really strong roles. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time. I was still a bit shy, and didn’t like the attention. I didn’t necessarily think I could do it. In retrospect I realize that it was these experiences that forced me to discover my love for acting and pushed me to learn what I was capable of as a performer. I’m really thankful for that.

What makes you such a unique actress?

I don’t know if I’d necessarily call myself a unique actress. There are many different types of actresses and I think it’s safe to say that many of them are unique. Personally, I really love playing emotional characters. I like to make the audience cry. In a good way. One of the fun differences between acting on stage versus film, is that with the movies, I can actually be in the audience and hear when the people around me start to cry and blow their noses. Is that mean? The truth is, all reactions from the audience are fun. I tend to watch the audience more than the movie.

On the set of The Heart That Sings

How does it feel to be a Jewish actress? Don’t you ever wonder what it would be like to act in the non-Jewish world? 

Well, as I mentioned before, I do feel like it’s been a privilege to have these opportunities to perform as a Jewish actress. Film goes a long way, and we have the opportunity to affect many many people with positive messages. I was at a film festival recently, and a mother came up to me with two little girls and told me that although they aren’t observant, her little girls loved The Heart That Sings so much and now really wanted to attend a Jewish summer camp. I thought that was pretty cool.

If it was up to me, acting would be a full time career, but at this point, there aren’t enough venues for that in an Orthodox setting. For that reason, I’ve often wondered about acting in the secular world. There are many aspects that would make it difficult. Kosher, tznius (modesty), Shabbos, to name a few. Nothing is impossible though. We are pretty lucky to live in a time where, thank G-d, there are more and more arts opportunities becoming available and acceptable for frum (observant) women. And kudos to all the talented ladies who are making it on their own as singers, performers, writers and artists and paving the way for the next generation.

We also know that you are an incredibly talented artist. What made you uncover this hidden talent? 

I used to doodle as a kid but I never seriously pursued painting and drawing until my second semester at Stern College. I signed up for a studio art class as an elective, kind of as a break from my very academic schedule. I was a bit nervous about it because everyone else in the class had been painting and drawing forever. The class was intense but it turns out that I secretly loved painting without actually knowing it. I developed a passion for it and basically became the ghost of the art studio. I went on to study fine art and illustration for the next 3 years at Stern, FIT and Bezalel. Art has become a huge part of my life since that first class. I would definitely recommend that everyone pick up a paintbrush and get painting if they haven’t tried it yet.

What inspires you to paint and draw?

I am constantly inspired by people I see around me, on the subway, in the street, people doing what they do in their regular lives. I find it incredibly beautiful to watch. Much of my work is based on the sketches that I’ve done of these people.

How does being Jewish affect your art? 

Being Jewish affects every aspect of our lives, whether we realize it or not. Not all of my work has specific Jewish content, but I hope that all my work has the neshama (soul) aspect. Art is about revealing a deeper dimension, the soul of something. The Lubavitcher Rebbe once wrote in a letter to an artist that, “The artist exposes the essence of the thing he portrays, causing the one who looks at the painting to perceive it in another, truer light, and to realize that his prior perception was deficient.”

That is definitely something I strive for as an artist.

You don’t seem to be the only one in your family with artistic talent. Can you share with us a bit about your sister Ashira?

Ashira is an incredibly creative artist, and I’m lucky to have her as my older sister. She works in glass, paper and fabric, as well as sculpture and film.  She is also an expert at screen printing techniques. We have, thank G-d, successfully collaborated on many projects, and recently had an art show together in LA.

Rivka and sister Ashira working in art studio

How did you come this far with your talents?

I was lucky to meet Robin at a young age and be involved in many of her projects. She introduced me to different teachers and developed several roles for me over the years. In Stern I had a remarkable group of teachers in the art department, whom I became very close to and learned a lot from. My parents have been super supportive of all my creative pursuits. I honestly would never have been able to get to this point without their love and encouragement.

What message or advice would you give to Jewish girls today?

I think it’s important for us to realize that Hashem (G-d) has given us all gifts, whether we know what they are at this point or not. For some people it’s more apparent, and for others it takes a bit more time. Your gift can be something more subtle, or something strikingly obvious. They are equally special. Our job is to develop and use this gift in a positive way. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how we are meant to use it…and it can be easy to become discouraged, so it’s important to remember that it wasn’t given to us for our own gratification, but to serve Hashem, or to help others. I struggle with this every day. It’s an obligation on each of our parts to develop our talents and potential to the best of our abilities…and always be reaching higher. Good luck!