A Jewish Artist Finds Hope Amid COVID and a Life in Entertainment
To say that Yuval David is prolific would be an understatement. The Jewish actor, host, filmmaker, and activist, seems to have an endless amount of energy and imagination, and an endless amount of drive and resources to help bring his vision into reality.
His filmmaking projects involve the use of “man on the street” encounters to create movies starring real people, such as his award winning series “One Actor Short,” and as an actor, he’s appeared in such mainstream projects as CBS’ “Madam Secretary.”
And while some artists may have been slowed down by the pandemic, David was not. He somehow managed to continue his real-people projects (David and most participants were masked), and he also filmed three other projects from his home.
David recently spoke with The Algemeiner to discuss his work and his activism.
David Meyers: Your grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Were you close to them — and how did their upbringing and influence on you help shape the actor and person that you’ve become?
Yuval David: I was very close to my grandparents. My grandparents were the matriarchs and patriarchs of our small family. Family and community are important words for us, especially because of their experiences. Most of our family were killed in the Holocaust, and I understood that I must live my best in their honor and continue their legacy.
Being a grandchild of heroes and survivors has enhanced my understanding that we must all be advocates and activists to fight hate, and ensure the safety and longevity of our families and our people. If we do not represent ourselves, nobody else will. Taking action is vital, being a leader and helping others lead is vital, informing others and sharing the stories is vital for the legacy.
DM: Did you have any artists in your family, or any family members who loved the arts — and what was your family’s reaction to you choosing to make the arts your career? Were they supportive?
YD: Yes, most of my family members are cognoscente of the the arts, with appreciation of music, theatre, dance, film, literature, and visual arts. And we have artists in the family. My mother is a renowned dancer, choreographer, and teaching artist. My maternal grandmother painted and sculpted, and was a skilled orator. My paternal grandmother wrote poetry and stories. My aunts are quite artistically creative. And even those who did not pursue a career in the arts, express themselves creatively.
My family was not surprised by my career choice. They wished me great success — and continue to! Having the emotional support of my family helped me make bold choices within my career path.
DM: A lot of your work has employed using real people; can you tell us what draws you to that format, and why you keep coming back to it?
YD: As an actor, host, and filmmaker, I create art for an audience and share it with them. I have always been intrigued by including the audience within the art. That focus truly comes from theatre, as the audience’s energy and reaction is integral to the overall performance. That developed into doing guerrilla theatre, which is theatre for an audience that did not expect to be an audience. And eventually, that further progressed to my trying to get random people to actually create the art with me! You see this from my own series, “One Actor Short,” “Pranks of Kindness,” and Public Improv Experiment,” to my actually acting in hidden-camera shows like “What Would You Do” on ABC, and my hosting shows where I interview people on the street.
My concept behind my work in this format is that everyone deserves to have the camera and microphone pointed at them. Everyone is special and interesting. And if I have an opportunity to make people shine, then I will do it. Also, there is great risk in doing this kind of work. Improvisation is key. It has made me a better actor, host, director, and producer.
DM: You filmed your man on the street project “One Actor Short” amid the pandemic; I believe I read that you contracted COVID early into the crisis. Did that make you less reluctant to shoot? And did you find people more hesitant to engage with you than before — or were they more hungry for contact after all the isolation of lockdowns?
YD: Yes, I had COVID in March 2020. That did not make me less careful at all — it made me even more careful. After I got better, I had to jump back into production on various projects, including filming my own production of “One Actor Short.”
“One Actor Short” is based in improv and requires my interacting with strangers. So, I was up for the challenge of how to do so during this pandemic. I thought it would likely be hard to have people engage. But I found that it was hard to find people who would not engage! People were hungry for connection. And so we created this.
DM: Can you tell us about your project “Wonderfully Made” and how your identification as an LGBTQ Jewish individual helped shape it?
YD: “Wonderfully Made” is a documentary feature and photo art project that was conceived and initiated when I saw that my husband was struggling to feel represented at the intersection of LGBTQ and religious identity. Through the advocacy that I do for the LGBTQ community, I often encounter people who struggle to maintain a place within many denominations and faiths. Anti-LGBTQ people often justify their positions on the basis of religion, their religious interpretations, and the sentiments of religious leaders.
My identification as Jewish and LGBTQ are parts of my identity that I have been able to express within communities that are like me and communities that welcome me. The documentary “Wonderfully Made – LGBTQ+R(eligion)” aims to make people feel seen, represented, and accepted. “Wonderfully Made” focuses on Catholicism, and is the first part of a series of “LGBTQ+R(eligion)” that will focus on all faiths and denominations.
DM: Would you like to see more projects that explore LGBTQ themes in the Jewish world; and do you still think it’s a taboo topic for many in the religious world?
YD: Yes, absolutely — I am creating more projects that explore LGBTQ themes in the Jewish world, and I would be glad to collaborate with those who are also exploring these themes. Those of us who work in film, television, and theatre are in a unique position to share the narratives of people and to affect our audiences creatively.
LGBTQ themes are anathema within certain parts of the religious world. But it is a fact that LGBTQ people exist within those communities. And I find it imperative to give voice to those people and support them, in addition to ensuring they know there are other people and organizations that are there to support and include them. No one is alone.
DM: You have over 11,000 subscribers on YouTube and many millions of views of your content there, and your work has screened at countless festivals and other venues. How have you been so successful in getting your work out there, and what tips would you have for those who’d like to emulate your success?
YD: My tip is to believe in yourself and to live the life you want. If there is something you want to do, then do it. As is said in Hebrew “ma laasot, laasot,” which means “what to do, do!” Too many people wait around for someone else to create an opportunity for them. You must create your own opportunities and then share those opportunities with others. Whenever I have time between the productions I am involved in, I am creating my own productions. I follow my mantra to “consistently create compelling collaborative content” — so please feel free to reach out to me on social media.
DM: Did your grandparents ever get to see you perform? And do you have plans for any projects based on their history?
YD: Yes, they saw me perform. I wish they lived longer, because as my own filmmaking career advanced, I would have had more opportunities to film them more to document their stories. But they were interviewed and featured in various museums, including by the Shoah Foundation. I plan to share their story as a documentary or narrative film or series. That is one of the exciting productions in development.
David Meyers is the Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner, and also a published and nationally-produced playwright, author, and screenwriter.