Grace here. This is my last posting (and Tuesday is my last day) as Director of Marketing and Communication of Theater J, so please forgive me if I wax sentimental…and verbose. Theater J has never been just a ‘workplace’ to me, so I want to say good-bye properly.
My freshman year of college, shortly after discovering The New York Times, I read an NYT article touting Theater J as “The premier theater for premieres.” As I read more, and began keeping tabs on the Theater J website, salivating over their Season Announcements on a yearly basis, I felt like I had discovered a secret. Jewish theatre was nothing new; my local JCC in Cleveland did community productions like Fiddler on the Roof on a fairly regular basis. But the idea of top-level professional theatre devoted to telling Jewish stories was unheard of to me.
So I moved to DC and began my life as a Theater J Groupie. I started coming in doing odd jobs; running the open-captioning machine or taking line notes for The Four of Us. This was where I met the inimitable Karl Miller, who introduced me to Ari Roth and became a great guide to the wonderful world of DC Theatre.
When I was 24, Ari Roth hired me to be Theater J’s Director of Marketing and Communication. It was my first ‘real job’ and I almost constantly felt like an awkward college student masquerading as a professional. At one point, our then-Managing Director had to send me a diplomatically-worded email pointing out:
“Our Theater J administrative dress is more conservative than perhaps you’re used to. This means that short skirts, knee socks and side ponytails are not appropriate professional dress.”
I don’t remember everything about my first few months of employment at the J. I recall lots of late nights of program-making, huddled at the computer fighting with Adobe software and trying to remember to call the CEO ‘Arna’ and not ‘Mrs. Meyer Mickelson.’ Mostly, I just remember feeling unprepared and afraid.
As time passed, things changed.
I found a slew of role models in the Theater J Council members and in my colleagues, Patricia Jenson (who introduced me to Miriam’s Kitchen), Becky Peters (my kind and selfless Comrade-in-Silliness), Daniel Risner (Good News: He’s Still Attractive), Gavi Young (my “Doppleganger”) Delia Taylor, (who feels as only “saints and poets do”) Erin Shannahan, (Mellifluously-voiced “Intellectual badass”) Shirley Serotsky, (who stands up for herself and others) Rebecca Ende (who juggles everything with such calm and warmth), Tom Howley (Santa Claus!) Alice Magelssen, Molly Winston, Ryan Breen, and more. Theater J also brought me to my amazing friends Rebecca Sheir, Natalia Machuca, and so many people who I know will be part of my life even as I leave DC.
Through Theater J, I met and fell in love with James Flanagan, whom I first saw onstage in the Voices from A Changing Middle East reading of Games in the Back Yard. It wasn’t for several months that I could work up the nerve to talk to him, at a reading of The Moscows of Nantucket. But by the time he was in rehearsal for Photograph 51, we were living together in our cramped but happy subterranean studio apartment.
And I found my own niche in Theater J’s programs with Miriam’s Kitchen and the 5×5’s. With Catherine Crum, Gwydion Suilebhan, Renee Calarco, and a panoply of other MK guests and DC playwrights, we had 5-minute response plays and discussions about Imagining Madoff, The Hampton Years, and everything in between.
Here, time passes in show openings and closings. 27 productions have come and gone since my first day at Theater J.
Next month is my 28th birthday, and it’s startling to realize that chronologically, only three and a half years have passed since I began here. Qualitatively, it feels like ages. For one thing, my days of side ponytails have long passed. And though I still have moments where I feel like a kid pretending to be a grown-up (perhaps everyone does) they are growing fewer and more far between. Most importantly, I don’t feel afraid anymore.
A lot of this growth is because of Ari, who holds Theater J to highest standards of excellence, and demands that his staff do likewise. He is the definition of visionary; constantly pushing for deeper conversations, more robust programming, a larger presence in the media, and ever-improving productions.
Living up to Ari’s standards can be exhausting, absorbing, and sometimes frustrating. But Theater J is stronger because of them. And I am stronger because of them. Ari and his company have challenged me to do things that I didn’t realize I was capable of doing until I did them.
Now I’m heading to graduate school, at Northwestern University’s Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Theatre and Drama, to spend at least five years becoming an academic. And again, I worry about feeling like an imposter; overwhelmed and underprepared.
But now I have these three and a half years to look back on. I have my inner Ari Roth-voice, wheedling its way into wells of effort that I hadn’t even realized existed. I have a partner who has loved and supported my every step. I have the dozens of colleagues who have worked alongside me, modeling strength, intelligence, and unparalleled dedication.
No, Theater J has never been my workplace. It has been my lifestyle, my family, and my home.