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Yiddish Theater, Folksbiene


New York City's Folksbiene Yiddish Theater, which the New York Post called "one of the city's most remarkable cultural institutions," is America's sole surviving professional Yiddish theater and the longest continuously producing Yiddish theater company in the world. When Folksbiene was founded in 1915 on the Lower East Side, New York City boasted 14 other Yiddish theater companies. True to its name (the People's Stage) the Folksbiene Yiddish Theater is dedicated to producing shows and events that are socially relevant and that foster understanding and cohesion within the broader Jewish community.

From 1915 to 1998 the Folksbiene existed under the auspices of the *Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring as a semi-professional company, serving an immigrant community and presenting literary Yiddish plays as well as plays from the world repertoire in Yiddish translation. In 1998 Folksbiene's board of directors ushered in a new era by replacing the company's management and instituting a new mandate to modernize the company and expand the audience beyond its strictly Yiddish-speaking core constituency. Its mission is twofold: to be the custodian of a rich cultural legacy, while developing new works that will add to this legacy. Zalmen Mlotek, noted conductor and Yiddish music specialist, took over the leadership and brought in new and innovative programming.

The Folksbiene became independently incorporated, employed a fully professional staff and performers, and provided English and Russian translations for non-Yiddish speakers. By the fall of 2004, the Folksbiene had ushered in a dramatic expansion of its programming, producing a year-round schedule of mainstage productions and a wide array of other music, literary, and theatrical events. More and more theatergoers with no previous exposure to Yiddish culture flock to the theater to sample all the excitement. In an effort to continue this growth, the Folksbiene instituted an Outreach Program to bring Yiddish performance to communities outside of New York City. Looking forward, the Folksbiene is in the process of establishing itself as a national membership organization and has raised $1.9 million toward building a permanent home.

See also *Theater: Yiddish Theater.

[Zalman Mlotek (2nd ed.)]

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