Though Maya Avisar has traveled far to come to New York, she just by now may be a native. Born in Israel, she is now part of The Lambs, after her being awarded a junior membership through her school, the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). Located on Manhattan’s upper west side, AMDA trains the next generation of theatrical talent. Regarding her junior membership at The Lambs, she said, “I’m so grateful.” She has been to The Lambs’ Low Jinx twice and describes how she loves how the club keeps theatrical traditions going.
Maya has been performing since she was very young. “All my family has been part of the arts,” she said. On her mother’s side, there have been performers in the Israel Philharmonic. Her grandparents and uncle played double bass there. Of the Israel Philharmonic, she said, “I grew up in their backstage.” Maya started as a dancer at age 6 and danced until she was 15 years old, encompassing ballet, jazz and modern styles. She performed in a small suburb of Tel Aviv called Qiryat Ono. She would dance on the main stage celebrating Israel Independence Day.
But at age 15 she needed a change. She left dance, but still wanted to be on stage. That next year she began studying acting. She joined a youth theater directed by Ika Sohar located in the town of Ganei Tikva. There she discovered that she could sing. The director Sohar said, in approbation of her talent, “Why have you only come here now?” She performed in musicals, comedy, and improvisational theater for three years until she graduated high school. Her credits there included Hair and the musical Circle of Life, based on The Lion King. She also performed in a play about the Holocaust called Mezrich, about a family hiding in an attic for years.
Maya graduated high school and joined the military whose service that is broadly mandatory in Israel. In the service, she worked in instruction development, assisting in improving military course teaching. Being an instructor in the military and beyond, she notes, involves inspiring others. “Stage presence and stage skills are what every lecturer needs to know,” she said. Military leaders need to know how to deliver a message clearly, Maya added.
She returned to performing and began study at the Tel Aviv Musical Theater Academy, which is directed by Eidan Lipper, a graduate of American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. He had returned to Israel to found a school dedicated to musical theater, filling in a gap in the arts in that small country. “Eidan is a pioneer in the industry,” she said.
Lipper brought productions to Israel that include The Last Five Years, Avenue Q and Ordinary Days. Maya says though not as developed as it is in the United States, musical theater in Israel “is getting there.” “Remember,” she says, “Israel is still a young country.” Maya arrived in New York in February 2017 to attend AMDA here. She has been a musical theater major there, learning acting, dancing, and singing. That makes Maya a term that people have called “a triple threat.” As part of her dance training, she has learned ballet, jazz, tap, and waltz, among others
Maya says that she will remember her acting teacher Ray Virta for the rest of her life. He has taught her to act without music using only a printed text. “He has made it feel real for me,” Maya said.
She said instructor David Cady has taught her to believe in herself. Maya has studied the Golden Age of musicals with Jay Dias, in the second semester of her studying at AMDA. He takes students on a journey of standards from the 1920s through the 1950s, encompassing musical theater in many styles. “It makes you broader as an artist, and more well-rounded,” she said. Maya much credits her musical theater teachers David Cady and Jay Dias: “They have helped me become what I am now.”
AMDA students perform in every class at least once a week. “When I tell people that I have tests, they think I need to sit and write an exam.” Instead they are performances. She will graduate on May 26 and her family will travel to New York for the occasion. “Someday I may go back to Israel and bring everything that I’ve learned here back home,” Maya says reflectively.
Maya would also like to perform Shakespeare as well as explore film and television. Her advice to those thinking of studying theater: “Be professional, do your work, and study, study, study. It will show.”
In her spare time, she has seen just about every Broadway show. She enjoyed seeing one that involves her country of birth: The Band’s Visit, which is about an Egyptian band that gets lost in Israel. “The show is romantic and charming,” Maya said. “Tourist activities are part of my time in New York, too.” She has been on the Staten Island Ferry, visited Chelsea Market, and wants to go up to see the view from the Empire State Building. She likes to walk around the streets of New York and take it all in.
But she said what she most likes about her experience here is studying musical theater. She says, “I’m doing what I love.”
- – Gary Shapiro