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Yiddish Theatre

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Theatre in Spotlight :The State Jewish Theatre of Bucharest Romania Director Harry Eliad
By Moti Sandak

Name of Theatre: Teatrul Evreiesc de Stat (T. E. S.) – The State Jewish Theatre of Bucharest, Romania
Director: Harry Eliad
Theatre Mission: 

Preserving and disseminating Yiddish language and literature in Romania and abroad by playing in Yiddish and by accomplishing special projects such as workshops on acting, directing, composition or choreography.

Theatre History:

Jewish Theatre in Romania has a tradition dating back 130 years. Documents show that in 1876 the writer and artist Avram Goldfaden started the first professional Jewish theatre in the world, in a public park in the Romanian town of Iasi. A few months later, Goldfaden moved with his theatre company to Bucharest. The first review of the work of the Jewish Theatre was written by the eminent Romanian poet Mihail Eminescu.

Since then the Jewish Theatre has held a particular place in Romanian Theatre. The early days were difficult with precarious finances hindering the building of a permanent company and theatre base. But these obstacles did not stop the artistic development of the work and the company could count on the support of fellow artists.

The great director and teacher Jacob Sternberg raised the artistic profile of the company in the early part of the twentieth century. In 1930 he created a studio theatre where modern trends in European theatre could be developed.
The fascist dictatorship years of World War II brought hard times, Jewish artists were not allowed to perform in their own language nor to appear in public. A group of them started the “Barasheum” Theatre in Bucharest where the performances were in Romanian.

In 1948 the Bucharest State Jewish Theatre was created. The repertoire followed a mix of traditional and modern theatre including Jewish, Romanian and international plays.The audience could admire on the Bucharest Jewish Theatre stage the acting of very gifted Jewish actors as were, in former days, Sevilla Pastor, Dina König and Mauriciu Sekler, then Lia König – who is today the great actress of Israeli theatre –, Samuel Fischler, Mano Rippel and Seidy Glück, and now Leonie Waldman-Eliad, Rudy Rosenfeld, Maia Morgenstern, Roxana Guttman.

The actors’ versatility and the use of various means of expression are characteristic features of the work. This power of expression and permanent communication with the audience constitutes the main concern of “total” theatre. The theatre has premiered almost 200 new works, offering its audience numerous Yiddish classics including Shalom Aleichem, I.L.Peretz, Mandele Moher Sforim, and works by important Jewish playwrights such as S. Ansky, Jacob Gordin. Classics from the world stage by Ibsen, Moliere, Balzac, Brecht, Lessing, Ibsen, Feuchtwanger, Dürrenmatt and Max Frish have been performed along with works by Romanian dramatists.

The Jewish Theatre of Bucharest has toured successfully to the USA, Canada, Israel, Germany, Austria, Russia, Switzerland and France, as well as performed in numerous international festivals. In 1991, for instance, the theatre performed in Vienna and participated in the International Festival in Krems (Austria); in 1992 the company toured to Israel, Germany and Russia, and in 1993 scored a great success by participating in the International Festival in Nitra (Slovakia). In 1994 the Bucharest Jewish Theatre accomplished one of the longest tours in his entire history. For almost 60 days our actors performed successfully on 25 stages in various parts of Germany and Switzerland.
Not to forget another acclaimed tour to Vienna in 1999.

A very important aspect in the activity of the Bucharest Jewish Theatre consists in initiating and organizing international workshops and festivals of great proportions. In 1991 and 1996 our Jewish Theatre organized and participated in the first two editions of the INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF YIDDISH THEATRE in Bucharest.

The Bucharest Jewish Theatre presented in 2000 in Romania and abroad An die Musik, a performance by Pip Simmons, music – Chris Jordan, after an original idea of Rudy Engelander being accomplished as a co-production with artistic institutions in various countries. The Bucharest Jewish Theatre toured with this performance during 2000 to Nancy, Avignon, Salzburg, Zürich, London, Berlin, Copenhagen, Rotterdam etc. 

 In its uninterrupted 130 year history, the last 56 as a State institution, the Jewish Theatre of Bucharest has developed a distinguished profile and occupies a unique position in Yiddish language art worldwide.


National and International Cooperation:

The International “Goldfaden” Festival of Jassy, Romania; The National Theatre Festival “I. L. Caragiale”; The UNITER Galas; regional festivals; The Festival of Minorities Theatres. – Tours to the United States, Canada, Israel, Moldavia, Russia, Austria, Slovakia, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Great Britain etc. Participations in International Festivals in Avignon, Nancy, Weimar, Berlin, Dresden, Frankfurt, Nitra (Slovakia), Moscow, Kiew, Birmingham etc. – Cooperations with the Romanian stage directors Catalina Buzoianu, Grigore Gonta, Ion Cojar, Alexandru Dabija, Cornel Todea etc. and also with the artistic agency Artsadmin (London), the stage directors Pip Simmons (Great Britain), Moshe Yassur (USA), Peter Bokor and Alexander Hausvater (both from Canada) etc.

Prizes and awards:

The UNITER Award; the Gala of Minorities Theatres Award; the TVRI (Romanian TV International) Award, etc.

Behind the scenes story:

 Important actors of the Jewish Theatre in Bucharest are: the two founding actors Leonie Waldman – Eliad and Rudy Rosenfeld (both distinguished with the National Order “For Merit” in rank of a Knight, 2002); Nicolae Calugarita (distinguished with the National Order “For Merit” in rank of a Knight, 2002); Maja Morgenstern, a theatre and movie actress with a sustained international activity (the Felix Award, Berlin). – Other important actors of the younger generations: Roxana Gutman, Natalie Ester, Geni Brenda etc.

Repertoire 2004:

New productions

From Amsterdam, Anne Frank (after Anne Frank’s Diary, by Alexander Hausvater); A Businessman’s Story (a musical after Shalom Aleichem); Playing for Time (Arthur Miller); The Scamp (Pierre Chessnot); Gimpel the Fool (stage version after Isaac Bashevis Singer); Fire in the Vacaresti Road (a musical by Dorel Dorian after I. Peltz); Report on a Pop Festival (Dery Tibor); Nathan the Wise (G. E. Lessing); How to Become a Jewish Mother in Ten Lessons (Paul Fuchs)

Permanent repertoire

The Chaloimes Sellers (a musical after Shalom Aleichem); The Kreutzer Sonata (Jacob Gordin); Tonight Lola Blau (Georg Kreisler); The Book of Ruth (Mario Diament); Park Your Car in Harvard Yard (Israel Horovitz); Shylock (Arnold Wesker); Frank the Fifth (Friedrich Dürrenmatt).

10 Questions to the Director :

Q :What makes a good Theatre Director?

Harry Eliad :A bad actor becomes a stage director, but a good stage director can also be a good theatre director. Such a theatre director should be a clever manager in order to accomplish the projects his institution is interested in. A solid dramatic culture is a valuable asset in this respect. 

Q : From your perspective, what is the future of Jewish Theatre?

Harry Eliad :I would say the future of Jewish Theatre, and first of all I’m speaking here of the Jewish Theatre in Bucharest, consists in its mission to preserve and disseminate Yiddish language, to regenerate and hand it down to younger generations. Yiddish has a long tradition and is the bearer of Jewish Diaspora’s past. Our Jewish Theatre in Bucharest is a living demonstration of Jewish spirit and has always tried to maintain the cultural and intellectual unity of Jewish Diaspora.

Q : Your career highlights

Harry Eliad :I’ll mention first the Jewish education I received in my family, the good knowledge of Jewish history and the Talmud writings, but most of all of the Yiddish language and literature. Because I consider it to be the very basis of my “career highlights” which consist in directing the stage versions after the whole work of Shalom Aleichem and in the consistent promotion of Yiddish drama, poetry and music. 

Q : Your career disappointments

Harry Eliad :The refusal of Yiddish by Israel and the Israelis, although many of them grew up in the Yiddish tradition.

Best business decision To play most of the performances in Yiddish and thus disseminate the treasures of Yiddish literature.

Q :Best advice you received

Harry Eliad : Moses Rosen, the former chief rabbi of the Jewish community in Romania, gave me once this advice: “Eliad, in what concerns Yiddish theatre, die in the shafts!”

Q :Best advice to offer

Harry Eliad :Two advices: promote Yiddish, and pay a visit to our Jewish Theatre in Bucharest!

Q :If I weren't doing this, I'd be…

Harry Eliad :Well, I think I’d be… once again Director of Jewish Theatre in Bucharest. 

Q : What friends would be surprised to learn about you?

Harry Eliad : Being a rather unforeseeable individual with a lot of imagination, I’d like to think that I always surprise my friends with many things, of course.

Q : Your  Office paraphernalia

Harry Eliad :I keep in my office a money safe (although empty!) with a statue on its top – a nice little armless Venus. And I also keep an over 100 years old grandfather clock, which doesn’t work anymore but makes me feel I’ve turned back the time a bit....

Contact: 

Alex Sahighian
The Bucharest Jewish Theater
15 Dr.Iuliu Barasch Str.
Phone: 40-1-323 4530
Fax: 40-1-323 2746
Monday-Friday: 10:00-14:00
Saturday, Sunday: 9:00-13:00
e-mail: tes@dnt.ro
Web: www.dnt.ro/users/tes/







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    There is currently 1 comment about this article:

    1.Lewis Hallam
      Ling, Germany    (9/15/2009)


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