Folksbiene Kicks off Season With New Executive Director

Bryna Wasserman, who led the Segal Centre for Performing Arts in Montreal through a period of impressive growth, begins as the new executive director the award-winning National Yiddish Theatre - Folksbiene. During her first season at the helm - which is the company's 97th! - Wasserman will lay the groundwork for an ambitious celebration of Folksbiene's centenary in 2015; strengthen the company's outreach and touring capabilities, and continue to broaden Folksbiene's artistic horizons to insure that the award-winning company continues to develop new works for an ever-widening audience.

Wasserman joins Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek in presenting two significant new works in the fall of the 2011-12 season. The company's Fall Mainstage production is the first New York revival of the highly praised klezmer musical "Shlemiel the First," conceived and adapted by Robert Brustein (2010 National Medal of Arts awardee, founder and artistic director of the American Repertory Theater) from Nobel Prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer's folktale.

"Shlemiel the First" plays at New York University's Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place, just south of Washington Square Park, for 24 performances, December 13 through 31.Theatre for a New Audience, the National Yiddish Theatre - Folksbiene, NYU's Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, and Peak Performances at Montclair State University are presenting the first New York revival of "Shlemiel the First" since only four performances at Serious Fun! at Lincoln Center nearly twenty years ago.

Lyrics are by Arnold Weinstein ("Dynamite Tonite!" and "Casino Paradise"), music composed, adapted and orchestrated by Hankus Netsky; arrangements and additional music by Mlotek, and editorial supervision, direction and choreography by David Gordon. In Chelm, a village of fools, the naïve beadle Shlemiel is sent on a pilgrimage to spread the wisdom of the local sages. His simple-minded folly turns an already absurd world hilariously, and redemptively, topsy-turvy. With a cast of eight, a live klezmer band and topsy-turvy set, it gently mocks the lavishness of other musicals.

According to Wasserman, the high-spiritEd English-language musical "captures the giddy, often bawdy irreverence of Singer's folktale. Best of all it has the potential to excite and inspire both uptown and downtown audiences with little exposure to Yiddish culture." Singer is the only Nobel Laureate to have written predominantly in Yiddish.

Earlier in September, an innovative concert "Soul to Soul," explores the intersections between Yiddish and African-American musical folk traditions with an inter-racial cast. Created by Zalmen Mlotek, and starring Lisa Fishman, opera's Elmore James and the actor and singer Tony Perry, the concert opened the 2nd Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival in June. Its first New York performances, beginning September 19, will kick off the sixth season of Folksbiene's highly praised City University of New York outreach series with performances on four CUNY campuses (Lehman, Brooklyn College, Queens College, Hunter College) September 19, 20, 21, 22.

Two of Wasserman's main institutional objectives - to build bridges beyond the Yiddish cultural community through partnering and outreach, and to continue to modernize by developing inventive new work that adds to the Yiddish theatre's great legacy - are uniquely served by these productions.

Early group discounts for "Shlemiel the First" are available now through Folksbiene by calling 212/213-2120, ext. 204. For information about "Shlemiel the First," and the free concerts of "Soul to Soul" at CUNY, and at other locations later in the season to be announced, visit

"My goal moving forward," says Wasserman, "is to insure that Folksbiene is seen as a modern theatrical and cultural institution that, in addition to preserving a rich legacy, develops exciting new work in Yiddish, or English or other languages, with the goal that Yiddish culture can serve as a deeply meaningful window into the Jewish identity."

Recognized internationally for deftly bridging cultures at the Segal Centre (which programs in English, while also housing the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre), Wasserman ran the Centre beginning in 1996. A $6M capital campaign helped solidify this institution's role as the leading English language theatre in Montreal, while the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, quadrupled its subscriber base while becoming an internationally recognized innovator in Yiddish cultural programming.

The Drama Desk Award-winning National Yiddish Theatre - Folksbiene is the longest continuously producing Yiddish theatre company in the world, and America's sole-surviving professional Yiddish theatre. It presents plays, concerts and literary events in English and Yiddish, with English and Russian supertitles accompanying all performances. The company's mission is to celebrate the Jewish experience through the performing arts and to transmit a rich cultural legacy in exciting new ways.

Zoey's Playlist on NBC

Related Articles View More Off-Off-Broadway Stories   Shows

More Hot Stories For You