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May 18 2011

Studying on the Set of ‘The Big Bang Theory’

By at 1:32 pm

Photo by Denise Herrick Borchert

The season finale of “The Big Bang Theory” airs tomorrow on CBS. I make a brief appearance in the third scene of Act I. It’s a funny scene and it’s a great finale overall. I thought that you might like to know what my backstage life was like during the filming of our season finale.

On weeks I work TBBT, I am given a very modest dressing room equipped with a 1980’s chintz couch, a small TV set, a glass table perched on a faux-Corinthian column, a brown telephone (on which I can dial long distance-ah, the perks!), and a small refrigerator. From the TV in this room, I can watch the scenes they are taping while catching up on email, g-chatting, and working on my writing for kveller.com!

All week we have an array of food to choose from on set, but show night often has a chocolate fondue fountain (it’s dairy, no can do), individually decorated cupcakes (ditto), and fun finger foods like pork spare ribs (no can do), mini hamburgers (no can do), and shrimp cocktail (do you see a running theme here?).  I don’t suffer at all for my culinary choices, though: there are always veggie pot stickers, Cracker Jacks, and tons of fresh fruit on hand as well.

I don’t socialize a lot with the cast backstage on tape nights; they almost always have friends and spouses in their amenity-laden dressing rooms! I am so grateful to work with Melissa Rauch (who plays Bernadette) and she and I often have chat-fests in one of our rooms, with us invariably making jokes about what it’s like for me to have the dressing room directly next to the bathroom. The walls are thin, it’s almost always awkward.

Since I only had one scene to film that night, I scheduled time to study over the phone with my East Coast-based “study partner” (chevrusa). I was matched with her almost six years ago when she was working for Partners in Torah, but she is now my “freelance chevrusa.” We study once a week, and over the years we have studied such things as the laws of Shabbat cooking (something I never understood but always wanted to know about), women and feminism in Judaism (ditto), and the writings of Rabbis like Aryeh Kaplan and Joseph Soloveitchik.

The night of the filming of TBBT’s season finale, we studied an essay by Rabbi Ari Kahn about appropriate and inappropriate expressions of ecstatic joy—that spirituality is about serving God, not serving oneself, and that there are things that feel “spiritual” to us that don’t actually serve a spiritual purpose. It may sound kind of intense, and I guess it is. But it’s also, in my opinion, very very cool.

I am not telling you all of this chevrusa stuff so that you think I am a “good Jew.” I am just a curious person who gets a lot out of studying Jewish stuff. As someone who has been curious about and has studied a lot in my life (Neuroscience, psychology, Hebrew, philosophy, mopey angst-ridden men who enjoy all of the above…), what I have become comfortable with as an adult but felt isolated by as a teenager is that I thrive on studying deep stuff of the Jewish variety. Intellectually, it’s extremely difficult at times–sometimes we joke that we need a Jewish version of Sheldon Cooper to help us work through the more challenging passages–and it’s also really beautiful and inspiring. I don’t always agree with everything we study, and that’s part of the exercise in understanding, appreciating, struggling, and learning. It’s what Jews have done for thousands of years and I love it.

Studying text is not something I do on set so that I can feel better than everyone who is downstairs munching on spare ribs discussing last week’s “American Idol.” It’s not something I do because I am a socially inept nerd, although I definitely am not a socially skilled hipster, in case you were wondering.

This approach to living makes everything richer for me. It makes me appreciate my job more. It makes me appreciate my kids more. It makes me appreciate the intricacies of the Universe more. And although it may not allow me to appreciate the spare ribs, this life I am crafting makes me much more able to see that it’s not about the richness of the spare ribs. It’s about the richness of the journey I am on.

So when you tune in this week to our Season 4 finale, laugh hard and picture me backstage: veggie pot stickers in hand, a box of Cracker Jacks tucked into my back pocket; bounding up the stairs past that thin-walled bathroom to sit on my dated chintz couch and call my study partner back East, free of charge. Thank you to the One Above, for so many things: for my study partner, for my Judaism, for the capacity to think and reason and struggle and love, and especially for the free long distance.

When Mayim isn’t studying on the set or writing for Kveller, she’s also sometimes pumping. And you can read about her husband Mike who converted from Mormonism.


Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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