March 15, 2024

Melanie Ehrlich headshot

2023 was the year of Melanie Ehrlich (GAL ’10). In the past 12 months, she has led a group of striking Jewish actors on the picket lines during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, starred in the successful one-woman show, Eyshet F***ing Chayil (A Woman of F***ing Valor), at the Hollywood Fringe, and had a star-making guest role on the critically-acclaimed FX show Dave. And she did it all while regularly observing Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest on Friday nights and Saturdays.

“This episode wouldn’t work without Melanie Ehrlich, who really helps the whole thing feel genuine and not cloying.” – from Ben Rosenstock’s  five-star recap of Dave season 3, episode 5 in Vulture

Since graduating in 2010, she’s appeared in the Sundance Grand Jury Award-winning film The Miseducation of Cameron Post alongside Chloë Grace Moretz, in a recurring role in the cult favorite Netflix show The OA, sang the works of Karl Jenkins at Carnegie Hall, did motion capture for the video game Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (Sony/Insomniac), taught voice acting classes, created the video game Frum Girl Adventures, and had numerous voiceover roles, including for Disney Junior and Adult Swim Games.

Read on to learn more about Melanie who, much like her focus at Gallatin, is forging her own path in an ultra-competitive industry, while keeping her faith alive, both spiritually and in her career.

When did you know you wanted to be a performer?

There are some people who are born knowing what they want to do and for others, it takes time. I'm in the former camp. Ever since my debut acting performance in The Three Little Pigs in preschool, I wanted to be a performer; I always had that ham instinct. My grandparents in particular were very instrumental in making this life happen. My grandfather took me to classical music and opera performances when I was a kid, and my grandmother was always singing, especially Yiddish songs; both cultivated my lifelong love of music.

How have you assimilated your Gallatin focus of education and communication through the performing arts into your post-grad life?

It's very emblematic in everything that I value. About a decade ago, I was taking a business and marketing class for actors and had to write a mission statement. I took it as personal. Since doing that, I’ve used that statement as my barometer. Whenever I take on a project, I ask: Is that the goal for my life? Do I need to change anything about it?

This is my personal, two-part mission statement: The first part is to entertain and educate by being who I am and doing what I do; The second part is raising the positivity of the world. I’m not going to solve world peace but if I can make someone feel more fulfilled, then that's good.

What deepened your connection to Judaism?

I started keeping Shabbat when I was studying abroad in South Korea. It really influenced my life and my work. When I went to some services in the U.S., the message I got was ‘this is the right way to Jew and if you're not doing it this way, you're bad.’ But in South Korea, they were being so Jewish but they weren’t supported because they’re such a small community. They had to make everything from scratch. The food, the traditions, everything. I came into myself in this place. 

How do you balance your career with keeping Shabbat? 

People say ‘Oh, isn't that hard?’ Yeah, it's hard but I'm doing it. I didn’t grow up with Shabbat but my Saturday is really a day of rest as much as I can make it. Shabbat is different for everyone. The unifying theme for mine is that it is my day and beholden to no one but me. It’s a special time.

I haven’t been able to do theater since keeping Shabbat. That’s why I created my one-woman show Eyshet F***ing Chayil (A Woman of F***ing Valor). The show was the first time I was able to act on stage consistently because I could create my own schedule.

I'm not choosing between being religious and fulfilling my professional aspirations. There was a moment where I would've had to make the choice between my career and my faith. I kept my faith and I kept that job.

What was it like for you during the SAG-AFTRA strike?

Rough. I have a new manager now, but no one is doing anything until after the strike. Even with all my credits, I don’t make enough residuals to live comfortably without work. I didn’t qualify for the Entertainment Community Fund because under the SAG-AFTRA application ‘striking is not enough for applying for this emergency aid’ and I didn’t make the threshold for working the amount they required. I was interviewed by Hal Eisner on FOX 11 when it all hit me at once. That was a low point. 

But the bright spot was when I organized Jewish actors for Shabbat dinners. Los Angeles can be a very lonely place but, at its peak, I had 25 people come over. Even if I have two people over, it’s such a wonderful time to talk and commiserate about what it’s like to be working Jewish actors. At the end of the last one, we started building a contact list. People look hard out here to build something that feels like home. I’m proud to bring back Jewish traditions into my life and make new ones, much like my time with the Jewish community in South Korea.

Now that the strike is over, what do you hope to bring into the new year?

Every night at the Shabbos table, one of the songs we sing is called ‘Eyshet Chayil,’ which translates to ‘a woman of valor.’ It’s where I took the title of the one-woman show I wrote. The song's about seeking balance between who I am and what I do. I’m taking that energy into 2024. It’s the year of the woman of f***ing valor.

Bonus questions: What’s your favorite:

  • Food? Mac and Cheese, Bibimbap, and Kongguksu
  • Book? The Giver [by Lois Lowry]; Bel Canto by Ann Patchett; Wendell, His Cat, and the Progress of Man by V. Campudoni
  • TV Show and or/ Movie? Community, Letterkenny, Fleabag, Being Erica; Movies: Nightmare Before Christmas, Hot Fuzz, The Court Jester, and Everything Everywhere All at Once
  • Song and/or Musical Artist? Favorite composers are Leonard Bernstein (Leonard Bernstein's Math is the single most meaningful work to me) and Karl Jenkins/Adiemus. B’z is a great Japanese band. Raffi is also great.