NJT hosts Jewish theater conference

The New Jewish Theatre is hosting this year’s Association for Jewish Theatre conference from April 3 to 6. The conference theme is “Redefining Jewish Theater in an Age of Multiculturalism.” The annual conference is typically hosted each year by a member theater. NJT last hosted the conference in 2002.   

In light of the city’s 2014 turmoil in Ferguson and the ongoing discussions about race and social justice, the local conference planning committee (Edward Coffield, Marsha Coplon, Seth Gordon, Jill McGuire, Henry Schvey and Jennifer Wintzer) decided that the AJT should focus on multiculturalism and rethink issues of race, ethnicity and other societal issues vis-à-vis the notion of “Jewish Theater.” The committee’s goal is to broaden the concept of Jewish theater to become much more inclusive and to expose the universality of what we do by bringing in ideas of inclusivity, identity and multiculturalism, and to broaden the idea of identity and what it means to do or to be a Jewish theater today.   

President of the AJT Board David Y. Chack, professor in Jewish and Holocaust theater at DePaul University said, “Theater is a highly appropriate platform for discourse, education, heritage, and identity in Jewish culture and in socially relevant issues. So, we are so excited about being in St. Louis to soak up where ‘Black Lives Matter’ began and explore our theme viscerally.”  

Broadway- and Chicago-based director Kimberly Senior will give a keynote address to the group about her own Jewish identity and her experience of producing award-winning multicultural themes such as Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Disgraced” and Matthew Lopez’ “The Whipping Man.”   

Another session will explore what the arts can do in areas like Ferguson: how theatre portrays these incidents, situations and people and how arts organizations can and should respond. Panelists will include activist Rabbi Susan Talve, Cecilia Nadal (Gitana Productions), and Deanna Jent (Mustard Seed Theatre’s Bosnia Project). The panel will be facilitated by Roseann Weiss, director of the Regional Arts Commission’s CAT Institute.  

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Mike Isaacson, Muny Executive Producer/Artistic Director, will discuss his experience as the lead producer of the Tony Award-winning “Fun Home.”  

Over the three days of the conference, there will be multiple workshops, panel discussions, etc. that will shed light on these important issues in addition to some very exciting events.  

An event paying tribute to the late Theodore Bikel will be open to the public, and takes place at 7 p.m. Monday, April 4.  The event will celebrate his life and work, and will include film clips from the recent film, “In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem,” and will feature the singing group Shir Ami, which will perform many of the songs associated with Bikel, as well as leading a sing-along. The cost is $15, payable at the door by check or cash.  

A full schedule of sessions can be found on the AFJT website, AFJT.com

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