Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Jewish theatre or what?

Lots of thoughts are going around my head since I got back from Los Angeles and the Jewish Theatre Conference we held there. So many good people came and showed their work and discussed topics like the ethics in a Jewish themed play or about "memory and identity" in plays with Holocaust content. We met with icons in American entertainment - Ed Asner and Carl Reiner and we saw performances that varied from "Yiddishy" style drama to personal wrestlings with what it means to be a Jew in a post-modern world. 

So what is the upshot? Jewish theatre, Jews in theatre, theatre impacted by Jewish thinking and Jewish experience and Jewish history -- where does it end? When Richard Montoya our keynote speaker on the "Shaping and Shifting of Jewish Theatre" came from Culture Clash, he spoke about the "taco meets pastrami" and I loved it because it said it all for me. It is about the taco and pastrami becoming friends and doing a dance. It is about the partnership that can come in a transcultural exchange. It is about what I have to gain from meeting you and what you have to gain from meeting me.

Martin Buber one of the greatest social-theologians in the 20th C, who also adored and believed in theatre and was a dramaturg in his early career, wrote that all of life is meeting. It is in the meeting that I respect where you come from and your journey, that enhances and excites me and the journey I can take with you. Theatre is the best way to enact that meeting, to communicate and be in the fully present moment. It brings me into the "awe" and transforms me, even for a short amount of time. Yet from this transformation I realize it is possible to be moved. It is in theatre that I become fully other and that I can best come to an understanding for the other who is in front of me. Buber felt that the I-Thou revelatory moment lived in theatre.

So Jewish theatre is that moment for me when all of this comes together. When I create or see theatrical creations before me I see the great tragedy of humanity and how heroic we all are in our desire to be more fully human -- to be just, to love, to endure our suffering and pains, to overcome grief, to laugh and make fun, to not take ourselves too seriously, to play and shpiel and to be meaningfully thoughtful when we are faced with memory and what the future holds. Jewish theatre brings all of this together for me and yet....

Yet we must join with others. Our theatre must be transcultural today. It must include and be exposed to other identities and heritages. It must include and be affected by others and it must not be triumphal - only trumpeting ourselves. When Richard Montoya said that he wanted to include Jewish culture into his work and he wanted to be proud of his Jewishness from his crypto-Spanish Jewish roots, I said "Jews should be proud of the Spanish inflections in our roots and how some of the greatest collection of writings and experiences of all time came from those roots - the Kabbalah. The magical realism of Spanish culture is a strong element in our joint roots and it is no accident that the crucible of our search for the transcendent was in the history we lived together." So Richard said to me, "let's make a new play about this and I'll write it with you." So Richard, I will take you up on that offer. I'm there!

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