With accolades and notoriety increasing by the day, including selection in June as one of the New York Jewish Week’s “36 under 36,” entertainment producer and entrepreneur Cori Silberman-Sais would be forgiven if she shouted her accomplishments from roofs.
However, as the native Milwaukeean, trained vocalist and founder of Bandits Roost Entertainment indicated, “that really wouldn’t be me.”
In fact, Silberman-Sais, 30, is not shy about crediting her Wisconsin upbringing, family and community with providing her with the foundation that has enabled her to build a career that has attracted notice in New York and elsewhere.
And in a recent telephone interview, she emphasized that her Jewishness permeates her work.
“The basis of everything I do as a person and we do as a company is Jewish,” she said. “I think it’s important that our work, implicitly or explicitly has a Jewish root to it. If the heart of everything we do is intrinsically Jewish, then anything we make will have a Jewish soul.”
‘The little performer’
Silberman-Sais traces her love and ambition for entertainment to age 5, when she began performing in theater throughout Milwaukee at venues including First Stage, The Florentine Opera Company, The Skylight Opera Theater and many others.
“I was known as ‘the little performer’ since I always seemed to be doing a play or a musical,” she said. “It was a very fun childhood.”
She said her parents, Debbie and David Silberman of Bayside, inspired her love of music. She also was active in the Milwaukee Jewish community, attending the Steve and Shari Sadek Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River.
“Music was such a vital and influential component of my experience as a child, especially at camp, that it not only reinforced my desire to pursue entertainment as a career, but it has remained at the very core of my love of Judaism,” she said.
After graduating from Nicolet High School in 2001, she headed to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, from which she graduated with a degree in drama and musical theater.
During college, a chance encounter with a friend who had written an Off-Broadway play led Silberman-Sais to explore a new and unchartered area of theater for her — producing.
“I had never produced a thing before,” she said. “Fortunately, I knew enough to know that when you don’t know something, the best thing to do is to go learn from someone who does.”
So she interned for Broadway producer Roy Gabay and worked for the legendary Broadway producer Hal Prince.
“They were wonderful. Roy taught me an enormous amount about theater production and I had loved Hal’s work from the time I was young, so working for him was a dream come true,” she said. “They taught me everything I needed to know to produce my first show.”
Silberman-Sais became hooked on producing. She worked on a Hal Prince musical, “LoveMusik,” and a year later, worked for another major producer, David Binder on the High Line Festival curated by David Bowie.
Until then she was used to seeing things from on stage as opposed to behind it, but this change led her to what would be the beginning of a successful career in television.
Silberman-Sais started working for “The Montel Williams Show,” where she fell in love with television’s fast pace.
“You film nine episodes in a week,” she said. “One morning you’re doing a show on cooking, then in the afternoon one on cults, and then another one on mothers in crisis. You have to be an expert on everything very quickly. I liked the energy and the challenge of constantly needing to figure out something new.”
She joined the programming team at AMC Television Network where she worked on shows including “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” “Rubicon,” “Hell on Wheels” and “The Killing.”
‘A different lens’
Silberman-Sais then decided to return to producing, this time with her own entertainment company.
She called it “Bandits Roost,” a name simultaneously chosen for the Yiddish translation of “bandit” (a pain in the neck), and the inspiring photograph of the same name taken in the late 1800s by photojournalist Jacob Riis for his essay “How The Other Half Lives.”
“There are a lot of problems that exist in the world and to me, being Jewish means to actively engage in tikkun olam, or repairing the world,” she said.
“Riis shined a light on the deplorable conditions immigrants living in tenements on the Lower East Side were forced to endure and brought attention to their plight. That’s why it’s important to look at our world, our problems and even our art through a different lens.”
Silberman-Sais said the company’s current projects include television reality shows, scripted television series, fiction and non-fiction books, comics and feature length films.
Some of the projects she is most proud of have direct connections to the Jewish experience, such as turning a book about the chestnut tree outside of Anne Frank’s home into an animated children’s film short and a documentary film.
Bandits Roost is also working on a film about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of the comic book character Superman.
Silberman-Sais’ connection to Wisconsin and Judaism received additional reinforcement in her personal life when she met her husband and business partner, native New Yorker Michael Dovid Sais.
“We met at a synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and fell in love very quickly,” she said. “It was like we had this unwritten shared experience that I eventually discovered was due to the fact that his mother and her family were born and raised in Milwaukee as well.”
“I love Milwaukee,” she added. “I go back a lot. I love the people there. I love my family, our friends, the Jewish community and definitely the Packers and Brewers. It is still my home away from home.”
Silberman-Sais said the company is expanding to Israel, partnering with Israeli producers and creators to bring their work here and some of Bandits Roost’s content there.
As for what lies ahead for her and Bandits Roost, she said, “If my past is any indication, it will be a lot of fun and I will be well prepared for it.”
More information about Bandits Roost can be found at www.banditsroost.com.
Joshua Becker is a Spanish teacher for Shorewood Public Schools and a freelance writer. Joshuabecker.info