On Sunday, 26 March, Ellie Silver will premiere her new work-in-progress TV sitcom, “Beth’s Din”, at MJM during the first evening event of this Spring’s “Synagogue Scratch” season. We speak to Ellie about her journey as a Mancunian comedian and get a sneak peek at her upcoming show!
Ellie Silver is a writer, actress, and comedian from Manchester. She has been nominated for the 2022 Funny Women Comedy Writing Award and the 2020 Channel 4 Writing for Television Award. Her work draws on stand-up comedy, women in comedy, cultural identity, and mental health.
This Spring she will perform at Manchester Jewish Museum with her newly written TV pilot of a work-in-progress sitcom, “Beth’s Din”. The show tells the story of Manchester’s first ever female rabbi, Bethaney Shapiro, who struggles to be accepted by her traditional congregation. Ellie’s show will open the museum’s inaugural “Synagogue Scratch” season, focused on sharing Jewish Mancunian stories and celebrating new shows in development.
In the below interview we spoke to Ellie about why she thinks that “we can all be a little more Bethaney”. Ellie has also recently been interviewed live on BBC Radio Manchester. You can listen to the full recording of this interview HERE.
Hello Ellie! We’re very excited to meet you and we can’t wait for your show at MJM. Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about your work?
Hi, I’m Ellie. I’m a writer, actress, and comedian from Manchester. I write for the screen, the stage, and the radio (or at least try to!). My work tends to explore comedy and women’s changing role in the modern world. Whilst I’d call myself a ‘solo practitioner’, I’ve now reached a point where I need to collaborate with other performers to bring my work to life, and I’m very excited about that!
How has your career in acting and comedy started?
I’ve acted in youth theatres and am dram companies since I was very young. My first taste of performing comedy live was with Lipservice Theatre Company in their production of ‘Jane Bond’ at the Library Theatre. I played an SAS officer who had one line and no name. I did a degree in Theatre Studies at Lancaster University – somehow, my work always ended up funny whether that was intentional or not (probably not a great sign).
In my mid-twenties, I was awarded a full scholarship to study Theatre & Performance Practices at the University of Glasgow, and this is where I really fell in love with comedy. I did my ‘thesis’ on female comedians, focusing on legends like Victoria Wood and Joan Rivers. This then evolved into female Jewish comedians, and I wrote a piece called ‘It Offends Me as a Comedian’ (a quote from ‘Seinfeld’), in which I’m a novice stand-up comedian who’s hosting an all-female, all-Jewish comedy night. Of course, the acts don’t show up and I have to perform the whole show myself, with hilarious results, as they say… The feeling of being on-stage and making people laugh is something you don’t understand until you’ve done it – like bungee-jumping or wild water swimming (two things I don’t ever intend to do). There’s nothing like it, and once you’ve done it, you can’t do without it.
What is ‘Beth’s Din’ about and where did the idea behind it come from?
‘Beth’s Din’ is the story of the world’s most unlikely rabbi. She’s clumsy, disorganised, naïve, and impulsive. But she also has a heart of gold. The main character, Bethaney (see what I did there?), has a sort of epiphany in her mid-twenties and re-trains as a rabbi (having previously been a financier). However, instead of being allowed to stay in London – where the reform Jewish community is thriving – she is dragged back to her hometown, Manchester.
I wanted to write something about intersectional identity, based on my own experiences. On one hand, my paternal grandfather was a Jewish, London cabbie who probably spoke Yiddish better than he spoke English. On the other hand, my maternal grandmother was a Geordie, Christian bus conductress who was baptised, married, and buried in the same church. It’s about being neither one thing nor the other – or, rather, other people making you feel that way. It’s also a love letter to Manchester. I think our wonderful city is largely missing from our screens. Yes, we have ‘Cold Feet’ and ‘Life on Mars’, etc, but I still think the true Mancunian cultural landscape is yet to be done justice on TV.
What do you like most about Bethaney?
She’s not a particularly easy person to like. As you might have guessed, there’s quite a lot of me in Bethaney – just like there’s quite a lot of Alan Partridge in Steve Coogan. Like Meg Cabot said about ‘The Princess Diaries’, “this is about me – the princess thing is incidental”. I wouldn’t say Bethaney’s being a rabbi is incidental, exactly, but it’s what makes her interesting. She’s achieved what she wanted to achieve in the face of great adversity, and I think I can relate to that quite a lot. She’s done the last thing anyone expected her to do, purely because she had faith in herself when no one else did – I think we can all be a little more Bethaney.
Your show is currently a work-in-progress and has not been shared in front of a live audience before, which is very exciting! Where do you hope to take it next and how can we hear about it?
The most interesting thing has been adapting a script that was written for the screen – for the stage. This is now its third incarnation – I originally wrote it for TV, then adapted it for radio, and now the theatre. I’m really hoping that this performance will give people a taste of what it might look like on screen. There has been interest in the script from (quite big) production companies, which is incredibly exciting. This will be the first time I’ve seen it on its feet, so I’m hoping the characters will finally be brought to life and really jump from the page to the stage (sorry…). This is what gets audiences excited about a script, so I hope everyone who sees it will share in my excitement afterwards. Sorry for saying the word ‘excited’ so much.
If you email me at email@example.com, then I’ll add you to my mailing list. I’m also very open to collaborations if any artists or other writers want to get in touch.