American Theatre Companies, 1888-1930

By Weldon B. Durham | Go to book overview
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Published Sources:

Macgowan Kenneth. Footlights Across America. New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1929.

National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. 1932 ed. S.v. "Henry Jewett."

Archival resources:

New York, New York. New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Collection. Robinson Locke Collection, scrapbook series 2.

-----. Players' Club. Henry Jewett portfolio.

Mary Israel

JEWISH ART THEATRE. The Jewish Art Theatre ( New York, New York), also known in Yiddish as the Naye Teater (New Theatre), was organized in 1919 by dissident members of Maurice Schwartz's Irving Place Theatre who were dissatisfied with Schwartz's star-dominated troupe. The key member of the Jewish Art Theatre's acting company was Jacob Ben-Ami; the stage director was Emanuel Reicher. Financial backing was provided by Louis Schnitzer. The company's first production was Peretz Hirschbein The Idle Inn staged on September 3, 1919, at the Madison Square Garden Theatre on Madison Avenue and Twenty-seventh Street.

The Jewish Art Theatre was a significant venture because of its attempt to establish a Yiddish ensemble similar to the Moscow Art Theatre and the earlier European independent theatres. The troupe subscribed to a series of idealistic precepts. The star system was avoided by providing the director with total control over casting. A performer who played a lead in one production was expected to perform a minor role in a following presentation. The director was not allowed to act even though this was usual in most other star-dominated Yiddish companies. All performers' names were listed alphabetically in publicity releases. Artistic decisions were made by a committee composed of authors, designers, and actors. The Jewish Art Theatre also employed a standard stage Yiddish. Furthermore, a greater amount of rehearsal time was spent on each production. While the innovations were based on late nineteenth-century models, they were unusual practices for Yiddish theatre in America.

The Yiddish Art Theatre was dedicated to presenting the best in Yiddish and European drama. Its repertory included: Peretz Hirshbein The Idle Inn, Green Fields, and A Life for a Life; Sholem Asch With the Stream and Jesus; Sholem Aleichem's People and Spread About; David Pinski The Dumb Messiah; Ossip Dymov's Bronx Express and Pests; Gerhart Hauptmann Lonely People; and Leo Tolstoy Power of Darkness. Again, the repertory followed the pattern of the independent theatres. Many of the Yiddish plays staged were folk dramas dealing with the concerns of the Jewish people, as, for example, were many of the plays produced by the German Freie Buhne.

Emanuel Reicher ( 1849-1924), the company's director, had worked with the Freie Buhne and Max Reinhardt in Germany. Reicher, who did not speak


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