Featured Conference GuestsAJT 2018 ConferenceRegister Now!

Featured Conference Guests

Tovah Feldshuh, Adam Kantor, Jacqueline Goldfinger, and more!

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AJT 2018 Conference

Join us Oct 21-23 in Philadelphia, for our conference... This year, themed Connecting • Learning & Doing • Inspiring.

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Sign up now for the October 2018 conference!

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AJT Story

The Story of the Association for Jewish Theatre

Jews have always told stories. We might even be called “the people of the performance” since the concept behind the Yiddish word shpil is to play as well as to tell stories intrinsic and responsive to Jewish life, identity, cross-cultures, history and survival.

With the vision of individual pioneers such as Norman Fedder and Steve Reisner and funding by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the idea of the Association for Jewish Theatre was birthed in 1979. Invitations were sent to theatres and performers doing Jewish theatre for this new and exciting alliance: “We tried to contact as many people as possible. The association is open to all artists exploring aspects of Jewish culture from either an historical or contemporary perspective, whether they be Jewish themselves or not…” (TDR: September, 1980)
Annual conferences and intermittent Jewish theatre festivals began in 1980, first at Marymount College in Manhattan with a theatre festival that took place all over the city. Inspired by ethnic theatre and Jews in avant-garde theatres* Jewish theatres sprung up all around North America and the Jewish Theatre Association (the original name) helped spawn these theatres with Jewish producer/directors either at JCCs or independently.** Later, in keeping with the nature and needs of most of the membership, the name changed to the Council of Jewish Theatres.
At the same time, playwrights were invited to join, as well as leading critical thinkers in theatre such as Ellen Schiff who wrote the groundbreaking From Stereotype to Metaphor: The Jew in Contemporary Drama, later editing collections of Jewish plays, and who recognizes herself “…with a shudder as a serial anthologist.” More recently other important theatre writers have joined with AJT including Julius Novick (Beyond the Golden Door: Jewish American Drama and Jewish American Experience), Jeffrey Sweet (Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and the Compass Players), and Robert Skloot (The Theatre of the Holocaust, Volume 1 and 2).

As the organization grew, annual conferences were held all around the U.S., engaging Jewish theatre artists from all over the continent and the world. Over the years, more Jewish theatres were created and their leaders became active in the Council.*** They also encouraged a stronger role for playwrights and managing producers, who now flocked to the Council; so much so that the Jewish
Community Center Association became a sponsor which brought about a wider focus and a new name, the Association for Jewish Theatre (AJT).

In the new millennium AJT reached out to theatres abroad and with the Jewish Theatre of Austria, AJT had its annual conference in Vienna in 2007. Theatres from all over Europe attended and AJT spread its reach to Russia, Hungary, Scandinavian countries, England and Israel. At this time the iconic performer Theodore Bikel attended (on his first trip back to Vienna, from where he and his family had fled before the Holocaust). Theo was later to join the AJT Board.

Since 2011, AJT has been an independent non-profit under the leadership of AJT president David Y. Chack (ShPIeL-Performing Identity, Chicago). Throughout its over 30 years of existence it has kept the light of Jewish theatre alive. Now, with over 225 individuals and theatres in the world (from the U.S. to Buenos Aires to Israel to London to Vienna to Romania to Russia) are part of the AJT community. Theatres have fallen away but others have maintained their viability such as The National Yiddishe Folksbiene, Jewish Rep in Buffalo, Center Stage in Rochester, Theater J in D.C., Theatre Ariel in Philadelphia and Minnesota Jewish Theatre. And new ones have started including: ShPIeL-Performing Identity, Continuum Theatre – Chicago; Interplay Theatre – Cleveland, Theatre Chevruta – Silicon Valley; theatre dybbuk, Jewish Women’s Theatre – Los Angeles, National Jewish Theatre – Miami; 24/6 Theatre, Jewish Plays Project, Untitled Theatre Co. – New York; Jewish Theatre Collaborative – Seattle/Portland; Mosaic Theatre – Washington, D.C.

In recent years conferences have been held in New York City (with a Jewish theatre festival), Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis/St Paul, and St. Louis. Great figures in the theatre world have attended such as Wendy Wasserstein, Israel Horovitz, Motti Lerner, Donald Margulies, Itamar Mozes, Carl Reiner, Emily Mann, Richard Montoya, Gordon Davidson, Theodore Bikel and more making the conferences a vital and annual destination for creative renewal and networking. Hannah Hessel (Director of Audience Engagement for the Washington, D.C. Shakespeare Theatre and a founder of Project Gym in Maryland) puts it beautifully in the online theatre journal HowlRound:

“I find my Jewish identity in how I work… The facts of my life are inseparable from my religious and cultural background. But do I make Jewish theater? This is the question that seemed to boil underneath the 2012 AJT conference. One question and answer session exploded when someone asked the question ‘What is Jewish theater?’ Yet, I am not making work for a particularly Jewish theater or audience. Legendary comedic writer Carl Reiner said, in a serious tone, ‘Jewish theater is when they speak Yiddish.’ Intelligent producers, like Ari Roth at Theater J (now at Mosaic Theatre, Washington, D.C. ), have shown that instead of remounting the past, success in a Jewish theater comes when you focus on quality productions that reflect the current moment. Jewish artists do not need to write in Yiddish or tell biblical stories; they just need to tell their story.”

In other words Hannah and other young theatre-makers are the story of Jewish theatre. Dedicated to the next generations of emerging theatre people, AJT celebrates them through a new program called AJT Theatremachers. This program provides funding for new, young Jewish theatre-makers of all kinds – playwrights, solo performers, producers, dramaturges, audience engagement managers, etc. to our conferences. There they are supported, mentored and made part of our wonderful community. Recent examples of these young people who are remaking the world of Jewish theatre and Jewish culture including:

  • Aaron Henne in Los Angeles (theatre dybbuk, Los Angeles) now a 2015-17 recipient of a Wexner Fellowship
  • Yoni Oppenheim (24/6 Theatre, New York), receiver of the Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36” Jewish leaders to watch
  • Jon Adam Ross (independent performer, New York) who received the prestigious two-year Covenant Grant
All will receive the AJT Theodore Bikel Award for Distinguished Theatre Artists at the 2016 AJT Conference at the New Jewish Theatre in St. Louis.
As “the vessel for putting our meanings” and through the over 30 years of our existence, AJT is a touchstone that is constantly changing with the times, vital and passionate. As a result creativity is tapped, new works spontaneously combust, connections are made between artists for their audiences (over one million people
a year see the works of our members), individual lives are deeply affected, and support is given to young emerging theatre people where they meet the great leaders from the theatre world. And we honor them all for their contributions to Jewish culture and world culture moving forward to the future. AJT is the cultural
embodiment of that most important of Jewish values, L’Dor V’Dor – from generation to generation.

* Judith Malina and Julian Beck’s The Living Theatre, Richard Schechner’s The Performance
Garage, Richard Foreman’s OntologicalHystericalTheatre,etc.
** The JTA then organized the International Jewish Theatre Festival in Tel Aviv in 1982. Leaders
and theatre artists such as Janet Arnold (Arizona Jewish Theatre), Herb Katz (Center Stage),
Evelyn Orbach (JewishEnsembleTheatre, Detroit),Corey Fischer,AlbertGreenberg, andNaomi
Newman (A Traveling Jewish Theatre, San Francisco) and Bryna Wasserman (Saidye Bronfman
Centre Yiddish Theatre, Montreal), among others became prominent in JTA.
*** To name but a few Kayla Gordon (Winnipeg Jewish Theatre), Marilyn Hausfeld (The Center
Company in Northern Virginia), Mira Hirsch (Jewish Theatre of the South, Atlanta), Naomi
Jacobs (West Coast Jewish Theatre in Los Angeles), Deborah Baer Mozes (Theatre Ariel,
Philadelphia), Ari Roth (Theater J in Washington, D.C.), Kathleen Sitzer (New Jewish Theatre, St

Alliance for Jewish Theatre’s 2018 Conference Philadelphia October 21 – 23, 2018 Connecting • Doing & Learning • Inspiring HOSTED WITH THEATRE ARIEL CO-SPONSOR – THE DRAKE THEATRE Conference Snapshot […]

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Your assistance supports the production of Jewish theatre around the world. Please make a tax-deductible donation today. AJT is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.

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Check out our members – a cross-section of playwrights, directors, artistic directors, dramaturgs, critics, and other practitioners of Jewish theatre: Members: Want to update your page? Don’t have a page […]

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Check out our member theatres – a wide array of performing arts organizations around the world, with a focus or interest in Jewish theatre. Members: Want to update your page? […]

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