The Shalom Collaboration: How Performing at the URJ Biennial Changed Our Career Trajectory

December 14, 2020Katie Klein and T.J. Shanoff

We are Katie Klein and T.J. Shanoff, two longtime comedians (and even more longtime Jews!) who co-founded The Shalom Collaboration. We create customized, collaborative, virtual, Jewish-inspired improv comedy shows in the middle of a pandemic.

Who knew this would ever be a thing? Oh, 2020…

A little backstory: our seeds were planted in December 2019, a.k.a. “Before Everything Went off the Rails.” We were working for The Second City and were so fortunate to collaborate on a customized comedy revue for the URJ Biennial in Chicago. We were tasked with creating and performing custom scenes and songs about the Biennial and Judaism as a whole, based on input from Rabbi Leora Kaye and her fantastic team.

The process was enlightening and collaborative right from the jump. We performed our show in front of an energized, boisterous crowd in a massive ballroom with about 5,000 people – yet somehow, it felt intimate. The interactive audience participation and suggestions, the cheering, and the laughter were pure joy. At the end of the show, we were slipping out of the convention center like we always do after a gig: tired, proud, and riding the high from performing live theater.

We then heard the familiar, emotional strains of Jewish music, so we popped back into the ballroom to find a Havdalah dance party in full swing. Foolishly, security didn’t stop this way-too-joyful group of Jewish improvisers from dancing and singing with complete strangers, thoroughly reveling in the feelings of nostalgia, comfort, and love.

We were absolutely taken aback by how meaningful it was to collaborate with URJ and to be a small part of an event promoting community, spirituality, and social justice. Nearly a year later, we are still so moved by that night. The Biennial, and other customized Jewish events with which we’ve been involved – particularly 2017 NFTY Convention in Chicago – are a reminder of how powerful it is when our work connects us to our roots and identity.

Fast-forward to the pandemic, a.k.a. “Uh-Oh, Everything’s Gotten Bad.” The world changed. Jewish communities everywhere were distanced, with no end in sight. Live theater was gone; our decades-long livelihoods vanished. In the spring, the two of us brainstormed about creating something special, virtual, and independent from the big theaters where we had gotten our start.

All the while, our Biennial experience remained our north star. How could we get that feeling again? It became obvious: our “something special” had to be something Jewish.

Drawing on our backgrounds in comedy, music, communications training, and event production, The Shalom Collaboration was born. Mazel tov! (Self-mazel-tov’ing is cool, right? Nope? Got it.) We’re already creating and producing custom, virtual events for Jewish organizations, synagogues, and schools, and we’ve got that feeling again. Our sincere mission is to uplift, energize, and connect Jewish communities during these distanced times.

Live theater may be on pause, but the powerful feeling of laughing and learning, together, remains. We can’t wait to collaborate with you.

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