Segal unveils plans for Yiddish theatre, programs

Audrey Finkelstein [Paul Ducharme photo]

MONTREAL — The future of Yiddish theatre in Montreal looks more secure with the announcement by the Segal Centre for Performing Arts last week that Audrey Finkelstein will assume the new role of artistic and program co-ordinator of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (DWYT).

Finkelstein has been performing with the DWYT since childhood and in recent years helped direct its annual productions.

In addition to the annual play, the Segal announced plans for new Yiddish programming through the year.

“The DWYT is in an exciting state of evolution,” said the centre’s president and chair Alvin Segal. “As a cherished part of the Montreal community for over 50 years, the DWYT has touched countless lives, carrying on Dora’s vision of a vital Yiddish language and culture.”

Bryna Wasserman’s departure last June for New York, after having been artistic director of the DWYT since 1996, left a vacuum that many wondered could be filled. DWYT was founded by Wasserman’s mother more than 50 years ago.

Wasserman subsequently became executive director and then artistic director of the Saidye Bronfman Centre, now the Segal. She resigned from the latter post and is now executive director of the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre in New York.

She continues as the DWYT’s honorary artistic director.

“I am honoured to take on the role of DWYT artistic and program director,” said Finkelstein. “Growing up with Bryna, I had the rare opportunity to learn from a true master of the craft. I am convinced that our shared love and devotion to the DWYT will take it to new heights.”

Wasserman hailed Finkelstein as “a natural successor to continue our legacy. I look forward to working closely with Audrey.”

They will co-direct this year’s play, a return of the popular musical On Second Avenue by the Folksbiene’s Moishe Rosenfeld and Zalmen Mlotek, first staged by the DWYT in 1998. This all-new production will be mounted from June 10 to July 1, under the sponsorship of Reitmans Canada Ltd.

The play, which will have a large cast and live band, is a collection of vignettes about Yiddish theatre in Romania from its beginnings to its heyday in the 1940s.

“Two generations of Yiddish theatre aficionados, co-directing this musical journey through the history of Yiddish theatre, is the perfect way to usher in a new era for the DWYT,” said the Segal’s artistic producer Paul Flicker.

The Segal had announced at the 2011-12 season launch last spring that the DWYT would mount the classic Israeli musical Kazablan, about the star-crossed love between a Sephardi man and Ashkenazi woman.

A Yiddish weekend, March 31 to April 1, part of the new programming, will include a Yiddish sing-along, Lomir Zingen a Yiddish Lid, on Saturday night and, on Sunday, a play-reading and film screening.

In keeping with its hope of interesting all ages in Yiddish, the Segal is introducing Baby Yaya Jan. 29 at 11 a.m., an hour of Yiddish songs and nursery rhymes for tots and their parents and grandparents, led by Anna and Aron Gonshor.

The Segal is partnering with the Jewish Public Library and KlezKanada, which are also committed to the preservation of Yiddish culture, in this expanded programming.

Wasserman and Finkelstein previously co-directed The Wise Men of Chelm, and Finkelstein assisted in the direction of God of Vengeance and Fiddler on the Roof.

Finkelstein has also worked in non-Yiddish theatre, acting and directing, and studied with acclaimed Quebec director Robert Lepage.

The Segal also unveiled a two-year pilot project with professional archivists and researchers to digitize parts of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre Archives, described as “a communal treasure.”

This documentation from the theatre’s history has been lovingly maintained by a team of volunteers.

The project will led by Eric Méchoulan, Jean-Marc Larrue and the Centre de recherché sur l’Intermédialité of the Université de Montréal, in conjunction with the Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec, the National Library and Archives of Canada, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University and University of Manitoba.