“To Jews and non-Jews in the audience, we must show not just a rosy picture, glossing over blemishes, but a picture as close and sometimes as painful to the truth as we can come.”
Theodore Bikel’s (Austria and USA) advice from his important keynote address for the members of the Association for Jewish Theatre (AJT)—now the Alliance for Jewish Theatre--and many other theater groups around the world, organized by Warren and Sonja Rosenzweig, founders of the Jewish Theatre of Austria.
Bikel's address represents one of the many powerful images in our constantly changing conference kaleidoscope where theater people from around the globe contributed beautiful, thought-provoking, and sometimes even terrifying aspects of life, showing the strength and tremendous range of Jewish theatre worldwide.
We were taken to the edge of human existence many times: Brenda Adelman’s (USA) My Brooklyn Hamlet relived her mother’s murder by her father (who then married the victim’s sister), a drama that created a classical Greek catharsis in a modern Brooklyn setting (at right, Adelman performing below a painting of her mother).
Dutch Puppeteer Coby Omvlee (Norway) presented Teater Fusentast’s educational outreach to Scandinavian, Dutch, and immigrant audiences, including children from Africa and the Islamic world--a puppet-sized step toward counterbalancing the often vicious, relentless, and threatening verbal attacks on “the Jew” hammered into the children in many madrasahs around the world on an almost daily basis. Coby describes two of the scenes:
Having secured the Bishop’s permission to perform in Vienna’s Votivkirche, one of the most important Neo-Gothic religious architectural sites in the world, our host Warren Rosenzweig (USA and Austria), artistic director of the Jüdisches Theater Austria (Jewish Theater of Austria), and his international cast presented his dramatic epic Die Judenstadt (The Jewish City). Centered around Theodor Herzl in the months before he conceived the Zionist manifesto Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews), the play follows the psychological journey of Herzl, a frustrated bourgeois playwright, as he faces down his inner demons and, in particular, his self-hatred, to emerge at last with a grand vision of himself as redeemer of the Jewish people.
This extraordinary event held in a sacred Christian place, three generations ago, would not have been allowed, and if so, would have led to most audience members being carted off to Theresienstadt—a scenario that colored and haunted my perception of the entire conference.
I felt this gnawing Henrik Eger holding up photo of his father, Alf Eger, and Mira Hirsch, holding up photo of Lily Spitz awareness very strongly during the performance of my docudrama Metronome Ticking (Germany and USA), where Mira Hirsch (USA), artistic director of the Jewish Theatre of the South and I, at the end of the scene, held up (poster-sized photographs of Lily Spitz, a young Holocaust survivor, and her contemporary, a Third Reich Warren Rosenzweig accepting photos of Alf Eger and Lily Spitz at Vienna Museum, March 2007 propaganda officer, my father. Neither of us said a word, while a metronome was ticking mercilessly, until the audience broke the Third Reich spell and applauded, a cathartic moment in my life.
Shortly before the reading of that scene, I had asked our host, Warren Rosenzweig, whether he would like to have the two large photographs from our presentation. He told me that he would feel deeply honored and that those historical images would hang on the walls of his Jewish Theater of Austria--a permanent reminder of the work that still had to be done.
I am deeply grateful to Warren and to everyone in that audience, especially those who said, “What a powerful play,” and urged me to write more. I am doing just that, bearing in mind the advice from my father’s final letter, written after he had witnessed a mass execution in Russia in 1944 (and shortly before he got killed, too): "Lies mehr als meine Buchstaben, lies was ich nicht schrieb, lies was mein Herz zerspringen lassen möchte." (“Read more than my letters, read what I did not write, read that which could shatter my heart.”)
TO BE CONTINUED . . .