Thursday, November 17, 2011

Yiddish theatre was a fairly big deal in the US and then died. Some of the reasons were heavily death related--all those Yiddish speakers and understanders killed by the Hitler gang in Europe.

But before that Yiddish theatre was hurting because in the early 1920's the US heavily restricted all immigration, so Yiddish speakers couldn't get in. Of course, a lot of those who couldn't get in were killed by Hitler, so the death of Yiddish theatre in the US is not so big.

However, the death of Yiddish theatre,though not big in mass atrocity context, is still something. It was unnecessary, which is important. It created moments to help people working really hard and living really poor, as new immigrant often do, to get through the next day and the next week.

And even without it's big problems, Yiddish theatre was hurting itself and reducing the quality of those helpful moments.

The union of Yiddish theatre actors successfully made it so producers couldn't hire young people to be in Yiddish plays. So producers had to hire 50-year-olds to play 20-year-olds. Which meant young people couldn't get work in Yiddish theatre. Which meant that the plays often looked ridiculous in their casting.

Which fed into another way Yiddish theatre hurt itself--it seemed more and more old-fashioned and out of it. If young people had been working in Yiddish theatre in numbers, they very likely would have brought it up to date, because that's what young artists do.

A good Yiddish theatre in the US with lots of young people working, and then thinking, "I could do better than this" and then trying to and sometimes succeeding--this is a twentieth century mythical creature.

What was missing was some quality and surprising moments for the tired workers in the audience--something better than the could imagine that was not presented. But that kind of surprise, art better than you thought of hoping for, closer to your life and heart than you thought possible--is a reason art exists, because it gives people a little more reason to exist.

So don't be petty and self-serving if you can help it. The missing moments from the last years of Yiddish theatre in the US, which would have been the last years anyway, because of large historyical awfulness, could have helped and changed people's hearts. And could have led, through artists seeing each other's art and getting ideas from it, to amazing saving moments that could be happening today, but don't, because the young people weren't riffing on what Yiddish theatre could be and the old people in the union, in terms of jobs for them, short term,won.

--facts from the book "The Yiddish Theatre in America" by David S. Lifson