Monday, March 22, 2010

Yiddish Theater Competition May Lead to More Productions

Can you picture a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance -- in Yiddish?  You may see it -- and many other musicals and plays, if negotiations now underway in the world of Yiddish theater are successful.

The Folksbiene troupe (formerly called the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene) has been a presence on the Jewish theater scene for 95 years.  It's the last survivor of the dozen or more theaters that thrived on the Lower East Side in the early 1900's, but two years ago it found that a new theater group, the New Yiddish Repertory Company had arrived and started a sort of competition for the same small audience.

Yiddish theater lovers, concerned about its future, are trying to bring the two groups together and collaborate, if not merge.  This rivalry and its possibilities for growth in this still-lively segment of Broadway and off-Broadway productions is the subject of an article in Friday's New York Times.

Writing in the Times, Joseph Berger reports:
So far, there has been one powwow between Zalmen Mlotek and David Mandelbaum, the artistic directors of Folksbiene and New Yiddish Rep, respectively. At that amicable meeting last month, the two traded ideas about promoting each other’s fare and Folksbiene was asked to consider financing New Yiddish Repertory as an offshoot.
Such amity is no small thing. The narrowing world of Yiddish theater has been bedeviled with one “broyges” — a cherished term for a falling out — after another.
“In a shrinking, small world, there is such hostility between people, and that has to change if anyone has any hope of doing something,” said Mr. Mandelbaum.
And that world is certainly shrinking. In 2006, the nation had 152,515 Yiddish speakers, a 15 percent decline from 2000. Although most live in the New York area, many are either over 65 or are Hasidim, who rarely attend theater.
Mr. Wiesenfeld, however, thinks that statistics about Yiddish speakers may be irrelevant. Folksbiene claims to be appealing more and more to non-Yiddish speakers, by staging free performances at colleges and by using English and Russian supertitles projected over the stage.
Mr. Mlotek added that 10 of the last 13 major productions have been original shows, not revivals, and include fare like a Yiddish adaptation of “The Pirates of Penzance” and an offbeat adaptation of a Yiddish story that features images projected onto prayer shawls.
Here is an interview with cast members of "Di Yam Gazlonim" which translates roughly to "The Sea Thieves" followed by a video of an actual performance of its most famous song, "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General", in Yiddish of course.  Enjoy!

1 comment:

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