Alexandra Silber is an actress and singer with multiple Broadway and West End credits, and even a Grammy nomination. Now she can add accomplished writer to that list. Al recently published, not one, but two books which are both heartfelt and insightful. In her memoir White Hot Grief Parade, she reflects on the loss of her father and dealing with pain at a young age. After Anatevka is her sequel to Fiddler on the Roof and it offers us a glimpse at what might have happened to Hodel and the other characters that we know so well. We spoke to Al about her inspiration for these books and how they are so intertwined.
What inspired you to get started in theater?
I have always been drawn to the theater, even as a kid. My experience as a young person in the theater were mostly community theater and school plays. I had a really wonderful and rich childhood but I also had a childhood where very early in my life my father was diagnosed with cancer. I don’t even think I realized that I was sitting on a lot of big thoughts and a lot of big emotions that were much bigger than my nine‑year‑old self could process or had any skills or capacity to process, and the theater felt like a place where I could take all of these big thoughts and big feelings and channel them in a really productive and beautiful way and do it with other people. I could create a community outside my home. I think in that way it was a very emotionally productive thing and I also had a really big imagination. It was ticking a lot of boxes for me. As I started to develop, I also started to realize that I had a knack for it, that I was talented. What initially drew me there from a place of need was then fueled by my desire to become better at it, and an interest became a passion.
Did you start writing White Hot Grief Parade while the events in the book were happening or is it all from memory?
It’s a memory book. I started writing White Hot Grief Parade almost sort of by accident, if you will. My father died in 2001, and on the ten‑year anniversary I wrote a blog post called Ten Years, I had been running my blog at that point for about five years and at no point in the blog – I had mentioned that my father had died the way you would discuss a plot point. You know, my father died, I am from Detroit, I went to school here. It wasn’t an emotional exploration of that event. It was more like a book report. I decided to honor what felt like a milestone anniversary, decided to open it up and really discuss the nature of what I had experienced, how I had endured, how I had failed, how I had succeeded and really just look back on it with the lessons I had learned at that moment. I have always had very good numbers on my blog, and was fortunate to reach a lot of people. This was viral. There was absolutely no comparison to anything else that I had written, and what was clear was this post had touched a nerve. That it wasn’t just about my experience of grief and grieving my father. It somehow touched a nerve about the universality of discussing adversity, that we don’t really do in society. All I have read or even seen in films is long, drawn‑out explanations about how bad something is, followed by a reflection post. Here is what I learned – I never read anything about the day, what it takes to stand day by day by day, unglamorous victory, the three‑step forward/ten‑step back of a grieving process. It was very, very clear to me from that blog post that this was not only something that I needed to write about at length, but it was something that in a funny way, clearly the world was craving. I tried to basically write the grief manual, the grief book that I wished I had when it happened to me. Sort of this dialogue between my contemporary and 18‑year‑old self.