The Sounds of Sephardic Identity

Shirley here.

Last Sunday we hosted the fabulous musician and musicologist Ramón Tasat for a Post Show Panel Discussion titled: Sephardic Identity–An Encounter through Music. Stephen Stern, Theater J Council Member, led the conversation. We’ve posted some highlights (including several incredible musical excerpts) on Vimeo.

Sephardic Identity – An Encounter Through Music from Theater J on Vimeo.

And speaking of Vimeo, I’ll take this opportunity to point folks towards some of the discussions we recorded and posted earlier this season, during the run of OUR CLASS. The first was a pre-show talk that Jan Gross gave (author of the book Neighbors–which inspired the play); the second is a panel co-sponsored by the Polish embassy with esteemed guests:
• Tadeusz Słobodzianek, playwright of OUR CLASS
• Mr. Krzysztof Persak, Ph.D, Director of the Institute of National Remembrance President’s Office
• Derek Goldman, Director of OUR CLASS
• Allen Kuharski, Chair of the Department of Theater at Swarthmore College and an authority on Polish theater and drama

We love continuing the conversation beyond the stage, and this play gave us much to discuss. Follow us here on the blog and on Vimeo to keep up with the latest discussions!

Our Class Pre Show Discussion with Jan Gross at Theater J from Theater J on Vimeo.

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The Big Release – The Big Relief

Morning After The Election. A time to take stock on where we are as a country, and as a company, as we reflect on the first two shows of our season and a month of new play development; four workshops coming out of our twin festivals, both Voices From a Changing Middle East (which is very much with us in all the planning right now) and three Locally Grown workshops (including Monday night’s reading of ANDY AND THE SHADOWS, our first public airing of the play in front of a Theater J crowd).

We’re three months into our most ambitious, and most personally revealing and expansive season ever. We’ve taken gambles with our programming. We wondered whether our audience would be there to meet us. If we built it would they come? And if we offered timely tunes, would anyone come out to sing?


I ask this as we today, in the Post’s new Guide To Lively Arts section, advertize for the first time our Sunday night Hootenannies following Sunday night performances of Woody Sez. Will people come with their banjos, their recorders, their kazoos and folk guitars and join with the performers (and me) in singing our hearts out on a Sunday night? I kinda think we’re gonna find some kindred spirits most eager to sing along. See today’s Backstage column in the Post for a nice interview with Woody Guthrie avatar — and show creator himself — David Lutken).


The confidence comes from taking stock, on this morning after. A morning after such a long long run-up to an election night, no?  Quite a relief!


It’s that immense relief, even before the Obama victory, of knowing that in this massively expensive and culturally draining run-up, our theater was still able to command attention and respect, publicity and ticket sales, for a searing drama about Poland and The Holocaust, as rendered in an artful, lyrical, searing 3 hour performance. We built it because we believed in it, and people came. But we were also very worried. From the day we named the play as a offering (and before it, and in the weeks and months after), we didn’t know what the outcome would be.

So after all that hard work, of building that show and believing it so hard — and after all the hard work of the campaign, and believing in it so much — and after all the hard work in October on our 4 workshop projects (BOGED, DANIEL DERONDA, THE HAMPTON YEARS and ANDY AND THE SHADOWS), we know — just life after a convention; just like after one of the debates — there is still so much work to do in order to deliver a successful production. But in each case, we’ve got shows with great ensemble members aboard; shows with strong content; strong, deeply felt reasons for being; and there’s reasons to keep pushing each of them along to the batters box, or the voting booth, ready to make their case before an audience and to have their fates rendered. With three of those shows, we’re already committed to an opening day. BOGED, HAMPTON and ANDY are all scheduled for production later this season. None of them are finished. They’re all three brand new. They’re all three very much on their way, but they need to keep building and close strong.

In the case of DANIEL DERONDA, we’re still very early in the process with a good meeting set up to plot a course for next steps.

As for me as a playwright on ANDY, let me share with you thoughts that I shared with my cast and creative team yesterday, the morning after our Monday night reading:

Hey All,
Want to thank you all for your spirited contributions to my play over these past two weeks of workshop rehearsal, discussion, and last night’s good reading in the library.

We learned and absorbed a lot; we tried new things; we cut a few of them; we discovered new meanings and are now asking fresh questions and have new challenges before us in the 4 months before first rehearsal. We’ve got lots and lots of dreams, fantasies, memories, dark night of the soul internal dialogues, and a movie that goes off the rails as its invaded by ghostly figures. Will our audience keep up with it all? Will they know where they’re situated? Will they feel comfortable enough to laugh? Can we help clarify? Can I simplify? Or do I just need to be a lot funnier?

I’m so happy with the team we’ve assembled; with the fabulous 4 actors who helped us out just for the workshop itself, and with our core who’ll continue; with our ample dramaturgical team; and with a wonderful circle of designers. Daniella’s got a formidable team of collaborators here to help bring loving and artful support to this very intimate family portrait; to this highly theatricalized portrait of the artist as a young man looking back from a vantage point that’s less than young. I think we have permission to be innovative; permission to be bold; permission to dream and write our dreams; to stage them with style and evoke interior worlds as well as be very, very pragmatic in the story we tell. Daniella will be a great balancer and juggler. Delia, as always, will help orchestrate the three-ring circus that is every ambitious collaboration. This one has much potential… To be a production that’s whimsical, moving, artful, evocative, and very, very vivid. We just need to make sure it’s not a mess. First and foremost, that will be my job. To make sure the play has solid and concrete foundations. That I answer as many of the tough questions as I can in the script. Questions like “where are we?” “What’s the point of this?” “Do we need more help here?”

I’m enjoying the collaboration with all of you immensely. It’s a wonderful counter-point to all the other great art-making work we’re doing together on the mainstage of Theater J. I can’t thank you enough for your involvement. Onward, and please, do share your thoughts as we move into the next critical phases of our production’s development.

So there they are. Words of gratitude and appreciation on another Morning After

And now onto Tech for Woody Sez!

OUR CLASS Still Reverberates Even After Closing

A wonderful guest blogpost in Moment Magazine, penned by TJ Council member, Al Munzer.

Earlier this month, as I watched the Theater J production of Our ClassI revisited a painful part of my family’s history in Poland. The play, being performed in Washington, D.C., chronicles the lives of ten friends—five Catholics and five Jews—over the course of 80 years beginning in 1926. The play comes to grips with one of the most painful aspects of the Holocaust when political differences and foreign invasions rekindled ancient religious hatreds that pitted neighbor against neighbor. It portrays the inexorable tragic descent from the innocence of childhood into the hell on earth that mirrored the experience of my own family.  And it leaves us with the question whether reconciliation after such horror is ever possible.

My family history, wrapped up in the history of Poland and the Holocaust, is not something upon which I often care to reflect. My mother was born in Rymanow, a small town in Polish Galicia whose Jewish population was deported to Belzec, a Nazi extermination camp. She left Rymanow to avoid persecution in 1925 for Berlin, and in 1932 went on to the Netherlands  where she married my father. Her brother, who found asylum in Bolivia, was the only other family member who was spared the fate of the Rymanow Jews.

To continue reading, click here.

OUR CLASS Closes – We Make WashPost’s The Reliable Source!

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 11/04/2012

Hey, isn’t that…?: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By  (to see the full article, click here)


Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Yale University last month. (Jessica Hill/AP)

• Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Theater J on Saturday night. The Supreme Court justice (white scarf, dark coat) and her daughter attended “Our Class,” a play about the fate of 10 Polish classmates over 80 years; went backstage after the performance to meet the actors.