A theater lover and a mensch

Although Paula Segal Shulak moved permanently to Arizona in 2006, she left an indelible mark on the Southeast Valley’s theater community and on Jewish communities there and in Prescott, before her death on Dec. 22, 2014, at age 78.

I was privileged to work with her on two major theatrical productions: a couple of Purim spiels at Temple Emanuel of Tempe. OK, maybe they weren’t so major, but she approached the job of putting on those little productions with the same vitality and dedication that she brought to bear on much more serious work. She directed the premiere of the late Irv Fellner’s “The Eighth Stage” at Emanuel in 2007. That work focused on a man reflecting on life and attempting to reconcile with his estranged daughter as he approached his 70th birthday, a far cry from the broad parody of the Purim productions.

More recently, she played a key role in the development of “Say Yes to Life,” a play about two Holocaust survivors who search for meaning and a new life in the United States. Shulak brought together the playwright, Virginia Fleishans, with survivor Kurt Bronner, and Fleishans wrote the play loosely based on Bronner’s story. Shulak directed the first staged reading of the play at the first official social event of Generations After, a group for children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, last January, and subsequent performances at the Prescott Library and Temple B’rith Shalom last April in Prescott.

She also directed plays locally for community theater groups such as Mesa Encore Theatre and Temple Little Theatre.

She and her husband, Carl (who acted in many of her productions), discovered the Valley in retirement, becoming snowbirds in 2003 and moving here for good in 2006, when she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. She wanted to live near the Mayo Clinic, which treated her for the deadly disease. They were active members of Temple Emanuel for years and moved to Dewey, up near Prescott, permanently in 2013.

As Rabbi Susan Schanerman said in a eulogy she delivered at a memorial service on Friday: “Paula was an actor, a director, a mentor. No stage was too large or too small for her theatrical interests. … On top of her directing and acting, Paula served on temple boards, and on theater boards. She taught religious school, she reviewed local plays, she just had so much energy and drive.”

For some of us, she embodied the answer to the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Someone with her energy, of course. She will be missed. May her memory be a blessing.

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