Cultural identity is made out of little, everyday things, just as the character of a neighbourhood is made up of the everyday rather than the exceptional. The best sign of gentrification in London’s East End isn’t the Cereal Killer Café, but the slow closure of its greasy spoons and corner shops and their replacement with more Pret A Mangers. Nick Cassenbaum’s performance is about Jewish identity, and the self-care ritual of the Schvitz, an intergenerational steam bath that unfolds as a psychogeographic narrative of the Jewish East End. It has orbiting interests of personal, urban and cultural history, and through them questions the identities of individuals, groups and cities.
Biographic detail is specific and explored, but the historical sweep of Cassenbaum’s journey intersects with many other stories. Even some 400 miles from London, Edinburgh audiences recognise the narrative of old rituals falling away, as cities change and traditions atrophy. Although the schvitz specifically may have a future; In other cities the steam rooms have opened to all, male and female, from whatever nationality, and had some success. Perhaps the key might be to let the tradition change, rather than hold on to something already slipping away.
In doing so though something specific and historic will be lost. The schvitz is an old-world thing, a wash that is as much about taking the time to relax as it is getting clean. In a constantly connected city, with few respites from modernity, the importance of a space for discussion and a location to be at ease with your own body in, is a rare and ancient luxury. (LC)
Bubble Schmeisis played at Summerhall through August 28 - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/bubble-schmeisis
Nick Cassenbaum - http://www.nickcassenbaum.com
Schvitz (from Yiddish) - http://www.jewish-languages.org/jewish-english-lexicon/words/483
Having A Schvitz (Jewish Chronicle) - http://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/lifestyle-features/143194/having-a-shvitz-working-a-nostalgic-head-steam
New York Schvitz Resurgence - http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/nyregion/after-124-years-the-russian-and-turkish-baths-are-still-a-hot-spot.html
We Need to Talk About Gentrification (Lifehacker) - http://www.lifehacker.co.uk/2015/10/02/the-battle-of-the-cereal-killer-cafe-and-why-we-need-to-talk-about-gentrification