The Seattle Jewish Theater Company
Founded by Art Feinglass, who is also the artistic director, in spring 2011, the mission of the Seattle Jewish Theater Company is to bring classic and contemporary Jewish theater to the Seattle area. The company began as a production by members of Temple Beth Am with the support of Rabbis Beth and Jonathan Singer. Feinglass directed Jennifer Maisel’s The Last Seder, which had won awards and critical kudos at performances in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles.
It proved to be an excellent choice. A warm, sensitive, and funny play about a Long Island Jewish family dealing with contemporary concerns of marriage, aging and the power of tradition to heal family relationships, the subject matter had a lot of appeal. An article about the play and the nascent theater group in The JT News helped to stimulate interest in the production. Originally scheduled for one performance in the 300-seat University Prep Theater next to the temple, tickets quickly sold out and a second performance was scheduled to accommodate the demand. The cast then brought the show to Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue where it was welcomed by Rabbi Jim Mirel and performed to great effect on the limited space of the bima. With three performances in two venues, the Seattle Jewish Theater Company was officially launched.
Several cast members from The Last Seder also appeared in the company’s second production, Tales of Chelm from The World of Sholom Aleichem by Arnold Pearl, presented in the fall of 2011. The show also included The House That Was Too Small, a play adapted by artistic director Art Feinglass from a classic story of Chelm.
The cast was expanded to include a number of Jewish and non-Jewish actors from throughout the Seattle area. Seattle Magazine featured the SJTC in its November issue and quoted Feinglass noting that the company was like the old Levy’s Rye Bread ad: “You don’t have to be Jewish to love the Settle Jewish Theater Company or to be in the cast, the crew or the audience.”
With the goal of gaining visibility for the new company and establishing a presence on the Seattle scene, the SJTC performed at five venues throughout the Seattle area, including the Kline Galland Home in Seward Park, the annual fundraiser for the Washington State Jewish Historical Society at Herzl-Ner Tamid on Mercer Island, The Summit on First Hill, Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue and the Presbyterian faith-based senior residence Skyline at First Hill. With a total audience attendance of some 700 people for the fall shows, the SJTC was achieving its goal of visibility in the Seattle community.
In the spring of 2012 the SJTC presented the Tony award winning The Last Ballyhoo. Written by Alfred Uhry, author of Driving Miss Daisy, the play is a romantic comedy set in 1939 Atlanta as Gone with the Wind comes to town for its world premiere. Hitler has invaded Poland but the biggest concern of the Freitag family is who is going to Ballyhoo, the annual lavish Jewish socialite ball.
The play focuses on the challenges of assimilation, anti-Semitism and generational conflict. In that focus the play, and the SJTC production, carries on a century-long tradition of Jewish theater.
In the fall of 2011 the University of Washington School of Drama posted an audition notice for The Last Night of Ballyhoo. As a result, several very talented students auditioned for roles in the play and one landed a leading role.
SJTC also connected with the prestigious Seattle Jewish Film Festival, then under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee and directed by Pamela Lavitt. The cast performed the opening scene of The Last Night of Ballyhoo just before the 8:30 film showing at the Uptown Theater on Queen Anne on a Wednesday evening in March.
Later in March and April performances of the full play were performed at the University Prep Theater adjacent to Temple Beth Am for the Washington State Jewish Historical Society and at Temple De Hirsch Sinai on Capitol Hill.
In January 2012, the Seattle Jewish Theater Company joined the Association of Jewish Theater (AJT) an international network committed to the enhancement of Jewish culture through theatre and to supporting, preserving and promoting the development of Jewish theater. In February Art Feinglass represented the SJTC at the AJT’s 2012 conference in Los Angeles. Playwrights, actors, producers and theater reps from throughout the US exchanged plans and ideas for presenting Jewish theater.
In June 2013 the AJT annual conference was held in Minneapolis where it was hosted by the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company . Presenters included playwrights Emily Mann and James Sherman, whose play From Door to Door will be presented by SJTC at venues throughout Seattle in spring 2014 and guest artist Theodore Bikel. Since his first appearance as Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof in 1967,
Bikel has performed the role more often than any other actor, more than 2,000 times to date. Bikel shared stories of his long career during relaxed moments at the end of the day after the conference sessions.
In June 2015 Kulturfest, NYC, “the First International Festival of Jewish Performing Arts,” presented a showcase for plays, films and lectures in Yiddish and English throughout the city. At the concluding gala Theodore Bikel was honored with a tribute film and an onstage interview at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Among the notables attending was Sheldon Harnick, lyricist of Fiddler on the Roof.
Harnick talked about some of the songs that did not make it into the final version of the play and some that were shifted to unexpected uses in telling the story. “Far from the Home I Love” was originally slated to be the farewell to Anatevka song that concludes the show.
Art recently saw the revival of Fiddler on the Roof at the Broadway Theater, with Danny Burstein in the Tevye role. A major hit with critics and audiences alike, the latest version confirms that Fiddler’s ability to move audiences has not diminished since it first opened on September 22, 1964.