New Yiddish Rep kicks off an exciting new education outreach series this fall. Its first venture in an on-going initiative to introduce Yiddish theatre culture to young audiences and performers, will be Cornell University’s first ever presentation of Yiddish theatre, a mini-Yiddish Theatre Festival running from September 8 to 10. Packing in five distinct events in three days, the festival, hosted by Cornell’s Jewish Studies Program, will incorporate performances, talks and informal encounters with New Yiddish Rep troupe members, including company luminaries Allen Lewis Rickman, David Mandelbaum, Yelena Shmulenson, Steve Sterner and Shane Baker.
“Our goal is to propagate the living, rich and somewhat insane theatre culture that thrives mostly in New York, and is a testament to the enduring influence of Yiddish on American popular culture,” said New Yiddish Rep’s Artistic Director David Mandelbaum. “Yiddish’s hold on us is both undeniable and surprising, verging on the mystical. Our company is all about finding new ways to open this floodgate onto our shared Jewish and American cultures, for diverse audiences of different ages and backgrounds. Without attracting young actors and giving them a chance to experience the joys of performing in Yiddish, a tradition that still has a lot to offer will be lost.” (See below for details on New Yiddish Rep’s new language training for actors designed in partnership with the Workmen’s Circle.)
The Festival, organized by Jonathan Boyarin, director of Cornell’s Jewish Studies Program, kicks off with a screening of “Jewish Luck,” a classic silent Yiddish film starring the great Soviet Yiddish actor Solomon Mikhoels. Featuring live piano accompaniment of an original score by Steve Sterner, the country’s preeminent silent film pianist, this special screening of the madcap and magical 1920s film based on Sholem Aleichem stories, evokes the atmosphere of communal entertainment that has always been the hallmark of Yiddish theatre.
The film will be followed by a performance of David Mandelbaum’s searing one-man adaptation of “Yosl Rakover Speaks to G-d,” the story of a pious Jew challenging God during the final days of the Warsaw Ghetto. Mandelbaum, who’s been producing and acting in experimental theatre for more than 35 years, has traveled to multiple cities with this acclaimed, profoundly affecting production. (Performed with simultaneous English supertitles.)
Tuesday September 8, 6pm at Cornell Cinema. These back-to-back events are free to the public. Seating on a first-come basis.
On Wednesday September 9 at 7:30pm it’s a special command performance of “The Essence: Yiddish Theater Dim Sum,” New Yiddish Rep’s wacky sampler of scenes, sketches, songs, character tropes and oddball diversions from the classic Yiddish theatre, designed to introduce non-Yiddish-speaking audiences to the form. Performed with breakneck stamina and comic zeal by Rickman and Shmulenson and Sterner, “Dim Sum” is mostly in English with hilarious detours into Yiddish.
Incidentally, Rickman and Shmulenson were featured in the Coen Brothers’s “A Serious Man’s” bizarre 9-minute opening scene in Yiddish, for which Rickman translated the dialogue into Yiddish. The two cavort on screen with the legendary Fyvush Finkel in the Oscar-nominated opus.
Tickets are $5 general admission, free for students. At Ithica College’s Hoerner Theater in the Dillingham Center. For tickets call 607-274-3252, or e-mail email@example.com
The Festival’s centerpiece is a special performance of the internationally acclaimed production New Yiddish Rep’s groundbreaking “Waiting for Godot” in Yiddish. The critically acclaimed version of Samuel Beckett's absurdist masterwork, which many have called a revelation for unlocking a trove of hidden meanings, premiered in New York in 2013, opened the Beckett Festival in Northern Ireland to wide acclaimed and returned for a sold-out run at The Barrow Street Theatre in September of last year. Directed by Moshe Yassur, a veteran of both the Yiddish and modern theatre, “Vartn af Godot” is performed with live supertitles, but you may just want to through yourself headlong into the music of Shane Baker’s widely praised authorize Yiddish translation. The show features Mandelbaum, Rickman and Baker in their original roles.
Thursday September 10, 7:30pm at Cornell’s Kiplinger Theater in the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets $13 general, and $11 for students. Visit www.schwartztickets.com
Also part of the fun will be a roundtable discussion in which the audience gets to watch New Yiddish Rep company members disagree about the underlying reasons for the miraculous continuation of Yiddish — and all the mishegas that this entails — from as far back as 130 years ago on the Lower East Side. How is it possible that such a theatre culture has survived over time, and transmogrified to what it is today, a vibrant, grassroots arts scene with a deep strand of intellectualism?
Place, date and time to be determined.
Cornell’s Yiddish Theatre Festival is sponsored by Cornell’s Jewish Studies Program, with support from Ithaca College Jewish Studies, the Cornell Council for the Arts, and many other Cornell unites and Ithaca community organizations.
New Yiddish Rep, which presents modern theater for a diverse contemporary audience in Yiddish, presents Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” in Yiddish in the fall. The Off-Broadway premiere, which coincides with the centenary of Arthur Miller’s birth, runs from October 8 thru November 22 and is presented in association with the multicultural Castillo Theatre.
Also this fall a new Yiddish language course — “Yiddish Language Through Theatre” will be introduced in partnership with The Workmen’s Circle. Using inter-actional techniques adapted from acting training, a series of weekly classes will give intermediate and advanced practitioners participatory, functional immersion training that focuses on active communication in Yiddish. “We cannot create authentic theatrical experiences in Yiddish unless our actors can train vigorously in the language,” Mandelbaum said. “I am so grateful that the Workmen’s Circle, with its rich tradition of offering a multitude of Yiddish language courses, is interested in developing course geared to actors.”