This article appeared in the August 13, 2010 Jewish Advocate.
Fest offers a feast of Yiddish theater and music
Yiddish Theatre and Klezmer Festival at the Payomet Performing Arts Center in Truro, Aug. 14-18. A $95 Festival Pass is good for all shows, films and parties; tickets also can be purchased for individual events. Visit www.ppactruro.org/festivals.html; call 508-487-5400; or email email@example.com.
Andy Statman also plays mandolin.
(photo by David Sears)
Eleanor Reissa will appear at two events. (no photo credit).
By Susie Davidson
Special to the Advocate
Those seeking sun and fun on Cape Cod this weekend may also find tradition at the second annual Yiddish Theatre and Klezmer Music Festival in Truro.
The five-day extravaganza at the Payomet Performing Arts Center includes concerts, films, speakers and readings in English of classic Yiddish plays (including Tony Kushner’s adaptation of “Dybbuk”).
Among festival highlights:
·The film “Yiddish Theatre - A Love Story” Aug. 14 at the Wellfleet Library, with live klezmer music beforehand.
·The Western Wind, a vocal sextet, Aug. 15
·Hip, Heymish and Hot, concert with Tony Award nominee Eleanor Reissa and her trio of musicians singing Yiddish Theatre hits, Aug. 16
·Yiddle With a Fiddle, a concert featuring Isaiah Sheffer, Reissa and Lanny Meyershost, Aug. 17
·Andy Statman Trio, featuring the mandolinist and klezmer clarinetist Aug. 18
The festival also features a free talk by author Nahma Sandrow called “The Ultimate American Theatre Was Yiddish”; parties; and a concession stand with New York bagels, knishes and ruggelah.
The festival is the brainchild of Kevin Rice, Payomet artistic director. “I’m half-Irish, half-Italian and 100 percent born-again Russian Jew, according to my wife,” Rice said by phone, while rushing around seeing to last-minute details.
Rice, a Milford native who now lives year-round in Wellfleet, founded the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre. He was named a 2004 New York Theatre Person of the Year for the off-off-Broadway production of his original satire, “Amerikus Rex.”
The nonprofit Payomet’s music festivals, held on the Center’s site on a former radar base in North Truro, aren’t jam parties. “We have a very sophisticated intellectual audience in this area of the Cape, so a lot of our programming is entertainment with strong social values,” said Rice, who has been director for three years.
He said he knew of no other festivals that include both Yiddish theater and klezmer, and that it appeals to “a world music audience” that is much broader than Jews.
Already as a child, Rice was fascinated by Russian language and literature, subjects in which he earned degrees at Boston University and the University of Michigan.
He went to the Soviet Union as an exchange student in 1972. “You can’t have studied then and been in Russia and not have become very acquainted with the plight of Soviet Jews,” he recalled. “I became friendly with many people of Jewish background and became involved with helping Soviet Jews immigrate and acclimate.”
Another influence was his mother-in-law, a big Yiddish theater fan. Rice’s wife is Brooklyn native Marla Freedman.
Yiddish arts and culture – which exploded onto the American scene with the huge waves of Eastern European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century – has seen a resurgence in recent years.
“Jews are no longer fearful about acknowledging their ethnic roots,” said Robert Brustein, founding director of the American Repertory Theater and author of the klezmer musical “Shlemiel the First.”
“We have seen a resurgence of interest in Yiddish culture over the last decades due to better outreach from the Yiddishist community,” said Mathew “Motl” Didner, the 37-year-old associate artistic director of The National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene (People’s Stage) in New York.
“Yiddish is now offered as a language course at more college campuses than at any other time in history,” Didner said. “Young people are getting involved in the Yiddish world and are using technology to stay in touch with each other and to spread the word.”
Yiddish Theatre and Klezmer come to the Cape
By Susie Davidson
Special to the Advocate
Those seeking sun and fun on Cape Cod may also find tradition next weekend at the Payomet Performing Arts Center in Truro’s Second Annual Yiddish Theatre and Klezmer Music Festival. The extravaganza includes fifteen concerts, films, speakers and classic Yiddish play readings spread out over five days, including a free talk by author and theatre scholar Nahma Sandrow entitled “The Ultimate American Theatre Was Yiddish,” parties, and readings of Yiddish Classics in English including Tony Kushner’s adaptaton of “Dybbuk.” And if that doesn’t grab you, how about fresh New York bagels, knishes and ruggelah at the concession stand at all shows?
The fest will include the film “Yiddish Theatre - A Love Story” on Aug. 14 at the Wellfleet Library, with live klezmer music before the film; internationally renowned vocal sextet The Western Wind on Aug. 15, “Hip, Heymish and Hot” with Broadway star and Tony Award nominee Eleanor Riessa and a trio of musicians singing Yiddish Theatre hits on Aug. 16; “Yiddle With a Fiddle” featuring Isaiah Sheffer, host of NPR’s Selected Shorts, Reissa and six-time Emmy Award winning musician Lanny Meyers on Aug. 17; and premiere mandolinist and Klezmer clarinetist Andy Statman Trio on Aug. 18. Also performing will be violin virtuoso Alicia Svigals, founder of the Yiddish group The Klezmatics.
The festival is the brainchild of Payomet Artistic Director Kevin Rice. “I’m half-Irish, half-Italian, and 100 percent born-again Russian Jew, according to my wife,” he said by phone, while rushing around finalizing details. A Milford native and year-round Wellfleet resident, he founded the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre and was named a 2004 New York Theatre Person of the Year for the off-off Braodway production of his original satire, Amerikus Rex.
Other recent Judaic-themed concerts on the Cape have included May 30’s Klezmer on the Vineyard workshop at the he Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center, a Klezmer workshop at the 2009 Cape Cod Mandolin Camp at East Sandwich Beach. The Orleans-based O'Challah trio plays its folk/Klezmer and Irish mix around the Cape as well.
The nonprofit Payomet’s music festivals, developed during Rice’s three-year directorship, aren’t jam-parties. “We have a very sophisticated intellectual audience in this area of the Cape,” Rice said, “so a lot of our programming is entertainment with strong social values. We incorporate talks and lectures.” He cited the Aug. 2 exclusive screening of author Sebastian Junger and the New Orleans festival, with world class zydeco and Cajun music and also a documentary about the city since Katrina (this year’s will address the BP oil crisis). The site is located on an abandoned radar base in North Truro.
Rice said the Yiddish Theatre Festival is the only festival of its sort in the U.S. that they know of. “There is one in Montreal and there are Klezmer fests,” he said, “but not Yiddish Theatre and Klezmer.” He attributes his interest to his childhood passion for Russian language and literature, which led to degrees in the field at Boston University and the Univ. of Michigan. He was one of the first exchange students at the former Soviet Union in 1972. “You can’t have studied then and been in Russia and not have become very acquainted with the plight of Soviet Jews,” he recalled. “I became friendly with many people of Jewish background and became involved with helping Soviet Jews immigrate and acclimate,” he said.
Rice was also influenced by his wife (Brooklyn native Marla Freedman)’s mother, a big Yiddish theatre fan.
The late 19th and early 20th century saw an explosion of Yiddish arts and culture in America. Pioneered in 1881 by 12-year-old singer Boris Thomashefsky (grandfather of musical conductor Michael Tilson Thomas), Yiddish theatre enabled long-repressed Ashkenazi, Yiddish-speaking immigrants to express cultural pride and give voice to the tensions of assimilation. Early performers overcame obstacles such as scorn by German Jews who viewed Yiddish as undignified, ghetto language. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, which states that “Yiddish theatre helped bridge the shtetl and America,” as many as a dozen Yiddish theatre companies performed on the Lower East Side, the Bronx and Brooklyn between 1890 and 1940. Although devastated by the mass slaughter of Yiddish-speaking Jews during the Holocaust and survivors’ immigration to Hebrew-speaking Israel. According to the History of Hebrew by Jenny Mintz, published by the I. L. Peretz Community Jewish School in New Jersey, “[Zionists] saw Hebrew as the future of Jewish culture and looked down upon Yiddish.”), Yiddish theatre not only continues to influence today’s performers; it has enjoyed a resurgence.
The days of fear of the “ghetto-language” seem to be gone. “Yiddish theatre has had a resurgence for the same reason that Jewish stand-up (Lewis Black, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart), Jewish movies (“Greenberg,” “Dinner with Schmucks”), and Klezmer (the Klezmer Conservatory Band, the Klezmatics) have become more popular,” said Robert Brustein, founding director of the Yale Repertory and American Repertory Theaters who wrote the Klezmer musical “Shlemiel the First” and authored 15 books on theater. “Jews are no longer fearful about acknowledging their ethnic roots,” he said.
“We have seen a resurgence of interest in Yiddish culture over the last decades due to better outreach from the Yiddishist community,” said Mathew "Motl" Didner, the 37-year-old Associate Artistic Director of New York-based The National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene (“People's Stage”), which is one of only four professional Yiddish theatre companies operating today (the others are in Montreal, Warsaw and Tel Aviv), the sole surviving professional Yiddish theatre company in the U.S., and the longest that has been continuously producing in the world. “Yiddish is now offered as a language course at more college campuses than any other time in history,” he told the Advocate. “Young people getting involved in the Yiddish world and are using technology to stay in touch with each other and to spread the word,” he continued. “Facebook and YouTube are full of Yiddish content.” He noted that the Yiddish theatre also employs new technology such as English translation supertitles available at all performances. “This greatly opening up the audience that we are able to serve,” he said.
Filmmaker Miri Ben-Shalom, writing on jewish-theatre.com, says Yiddish theatre’s resurgence can be attributed to its continuing relevance. “It offers a look not only at the past, but a look at who we are as Jews today. When we see theatre pieces that describe Jewish experiences from our history, we see a little bit of ourselves in them,” she writes.
Rice said the festival attracts everyone: “It isn’t just Jewish people who come - it’s a world music audience.”
For information about the Yiddish Theatre and Klezmer Festival at the Payomet Performing Arts Center In Truro, visit http://www.ppactruro.org/festivals.html. For tickets, call the box-office at 508-487-5400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A $95 Festival Pass is good for all shows, films and parties. All four evening concerts begin at 8:15 p.m.