Playful Substance joins
National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, Israeli Artists Project, Kairos Italy Theater, New Heritage Theatre Group/Impact Repertory Theatre, New York Classical Theatre, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, Repertorio Español, and Turkish American Repertory Theater & Entertainment
A historic reading of Sinclair Lewis’ 1936 classic “It Can’t Happen Here,” adapted for the stage by John C. Moffitt and Sinclair Lewis; unprecedented collaboration in Yiddish, English, Spanish, Italian, Turkish and Hebrew. Viewable at 1 PM at https://nytf.org/live and only available until November 1.
Initiated and hosted by National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, nine prestigious theatre companies will come together on Wednesday, October 28 to present an unprecedented virtual play reading – in Yiddish, English, Spanish, Italian, Turkish and Hebrew – of “It Can’t Happen Here”, a dramatization of the 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis imagining the rise of fascism in America. More than 60 actors with Israeli Artists Project, Kairos Italy Theater, National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, New Heritage Theatre Group/Impact Repertory Theatre, New York Classical Theatre, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, Playful Substance, Repertorio Español and Turkish American Repertory Theater & Entertainment will participate in this one-time event.
Adapted for the stage by John C. Moffitt and Sinclair Lewis in 1936, “It Can’t Happen Here” was presented simultaneously by 21 theater companies under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Theater Project as fascism was on the rise in Europe. The work chronicles the rise of a demagogue who is elected President of the United States after fomenting fear and promising sweeping economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values.
The organizations are presenting the multi-lingual reading of this landmark play to bring attention to the need for greater support of the theater industry, which has been impacted in a dramatic way during the COVID-19 pandemic (and on the heels of the announcement that Broadway will not raise its curtain again until after May 2021). “It Can’t Happen Here” is a benefit, through permission from Theatre Authority, Inc. for the nine participating theater companies.
The reading will take place on Wednesday, October 28 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time, and then only be available for viewing until Sunday, November 1 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time. The event will be presented on National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s website at https://nytf.org/live.
“We got hold of the script for ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ about a year ago, already knowing of its history with the Yiddish WPA theater. We had been planning to present a staged reading of this play before the pandemic struck,” said Motl Didner, Associate Director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. “The idea to present this in several languages with many other theater companies came out of a conversation that we had with our friends at New Heritage Theatre Group / IMPACT Repertory Theatre about the need for a new Works Progress Administration to help artists and cultural organizations get through these times when we have seen the devastation of our entire industry. We are all in this together.”
“A powerful necessary voice from the 30s talking about today. It did happen in Italy, it can’t happen here?,” said Laura Caparrotti, President and Artistic Director of Kairos Italy Theater.
“The creation, history and significance of the 1930’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Theater Project, established during the great depression under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, placed a spotlight on the importance of the role of arts and culture in the United States,” said Voza Rivers, Executive Producer, and Jamal Joseph, Senior Artistic Director, at the New Heritage Theatre Group/ Impact Repertory Theatre. “Not only did the Federal Theatre Project program employ tens of thousands of workers in theater, music. arts, etc., it also supported racial integration of black and white Americans. Significant theatrical presentations were produced and presented. Because of the challenging times we are now living in today, COVID-19, systemic racism, and civil unrest, we applaud the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene for selecting the 1936 play ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ by John C. Moffitt and Sinclair Lewis. A play that brings to light a message for today that “it can happen again” if our country and citizens can’t find a way of living together peacefully and in harmony. New Heritage Theatre Group believes that the positive power of theater, music, and art can break down any and all barriers of misunderstanding.”
“Since our inception in 1977, Pan Asian Rep has promoted stories seldom told and voices seldom heard. Our productions have focused on stories of probing social justice issues, making ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ a project that aligns directly with Pan Asian’s values. We are thrilled to join this roster of change-makers in the American Theater to tell this timely tale,” said Tisa Chang, Artistic Producing Director at Pan Asian Repertory Theater.
“The authoritarian playbook is neat, trim and oh so effective. It takes hold so quickly, so quietly, using predictable, repeatable steps that make it easy to just follow along. Stories can be disruptive. That’s part of their power,” said Bree O’Connor, Artistic Director at Playful Substance. “It may be disheartening to hear how familiar It Can’t Happen Here sounds to our 2020 ears, but what a gift it is to have voices from 1936 reach out to disrupt THIS moment. To disrupt us.”
“We are all in this thing together for sure. We want to move forward as a human race not backwards. We see a lot of similarities between now and then and we need to act smarter and be better and fix our mistakes. I am so happy to be a part of a multicultural, multinational project with my friends,” added Ayse Eldek Richardson, Turkish American Repertory Theater & Entertainment’s founder.
The event is part of National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s ongoing virtual programming, Folksbiene! LIVE, an online celebration of Yiddish culture, featuring live-streamed theater, American Jewish performers, concerts, lectures, talks, and other events. Programming provides inspirational and entertaining experiences as cultural and arts venues across the country and the world remain closed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
All Folksbiene! LIVE programs are presented at 1:00 PM. Stay in the loop and get reminders about new episodes by subscribing to Folksbiene’s newsletter, and catch up on past episodes on-demand, at nytf.org/live.
Prior to the presentation, Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò at New York University will hold a virtual discussion (in English) between Laura Caparrotti, Artistic Director at Kairos Italy Theater, and Motl Didner, Associate Artistic Director at National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, on Thursday, October 22 at 5:00 PM. The event is free, and will be aired on Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò’s Facebook page and website.
The special event features more than five dozen actors affiliated with participating theatrical organizations. You can view the full list of participants and directors on Folksbiene’s website here and at www.nytf.org/itcanthappenhere.
About the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene
Now entering its 106th season, Tony Award-nominated and Drama Desk Award-winning National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF) is the longest consecutively producing theatre in the U.S. and the world’s oldest continuously operating Yiddish theatre company. NYTF, which presented the award-winning Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, directed by Joel Grey, to sold-out audiences before it moved to Off-Broadway uptown, is in residence at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek and Executive Director Dominick Balletta, NYTF is dedicated to creating a living legacy through the arts, connecting generations, and bridging communities. NYTF aims to bring history to life by reviving and restoring lost and forgotten work, commissioning new work, and adapting pre-existing work for the 21st Century. Serving a diverse audience comprised of performing arts patrons, cultural enthusiasts, Yiddish-language aficionados, and the general public, the company presents plays, musicals, concerts, lectures, interactive educational workshops, and community-building activities in English and Yiddish, with English and Russian supertitles accompanying performances. NYTF provides access to a century-old cultural legacy and inspires the imaginations of the next generation to contribute to this valuable body of work. Learn more at www.nytf.org.
About Playful Substance
Playful Substance is a New York based theater company dedicated to fostering new works through our Writers Groups, developmental workshops, community events and fully staged productions. We believe that lifelong artist development, work-life balance, and the vitality of an inclusive creative space are integral to the artist’s practice. “Playful Substance” is the mission; substantive work approached with joy, cooperation, sensitivity and humor. We all deserve to be seen. We also have the responsibility to see. www.playfulsubstance.com
About the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is New York’s contribution to the global responsibility to never forget. The Museum is committed to the crucial mission of educating diverse visitors about Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust. The third-largest Holocaust museum in the world and the second largest in North America, the Museum of Jewish Heritage anchors the southernmost tip of Manhattan, completing the cultural and educational landscape it shares with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage maintains a collection of more than 40,000 artifacts, photographs, documentary films, and survivor testimonies and contains classrooms, a 375-seat theater (Edmond J. Safra Hall), special exhibition galleries, a resource center for educators, and a memorial art installation, Garden of Stones, designed by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. The Museum is the home of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene.
Currently on view is the acclaimed exhibition Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. This is the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the history of Auschwitz and its role in the Holocaust ever presented in North America, bringing together more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over 20 institutions and museums around the world. Also on view are Ordinary Treasures: Highlights from the Museum of Jewish Heritage Collection and Rendering Witness: Holocaust-Era Art as Testimony.
The Museum receives general operating support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council on the Arts. The Museum has reopened to the public with timed ticketing and limited capacity. For more information on health and safety measures, visit mjhnyc.org.
About the Israeli Artists Project
The Israeli Artists Project is a NYC based organization that promotes and presents Israeli theater, music and art. www.israeliartistsproject.org
About the Kairos Italy Theater
Kairos Italy Theater is internationally recognized as the Italian Theater Company in New York. KIT’s mission is to spread Italian Culture and to create an Italian/International Culture Network in the United States (and abroad). KIT produces plays, events, lectures, and workshops. KIT is the co-creator of In Scena! Italian Theater Festival NY, that takes place in all five New York City boroughs and of OnStage!, the first American Theater Festival in Italy. KIT is the Theater Company in residence at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo’ at NYU. www.kitheater.com
About New Heritage Theatre Group/Impact Repertory Theatre
New Heritage Theatre Group (NHTG) is celebrating its 56th anniversary and is the oldest Black nonprofit theater company in New York (est. 1964). NHTG’s original mission was to present entertaining, informative, educational and first-class productions at affordable prices and preserve and institutionalize classic works by established and emerging black playwrights, authors, and artists of color. Our mission has expanded from local to global, placing an additional emphasis on international issues that impact on people of color. In 1997, playwright/director Jamal Joseph joined as Executive Artistic Director. In the same year Rivers, Joseph, Joyce Joseph, and Alice Arlen, created a NHTG youth division IMPACT Repertory Theatre a creative development leadership training program for young people that encourages members to create and marry activism with their artistic works. It combines a performing arts program, with training in the creative arts (spoken word, musical theater, dance, poetry, and songwriting) and youth leadership development, through the concept of “art-ivism”—using art and activism to change the world. www.newheritagetheatre.org and www.impactreptheatre.org
About New York Classical Theatre
New York Classical Theatre’s mission is to create and reinvigorate audiences by presenting free performances in open public spaces. Since 2000, we have produced over 40 interpretations, translations, and adaptations of timeless masterpieces for more than 250,000 people. By producing at no direct cost to our audiences, we engage neighbors from all walks of life. We activate beautiful, accessible places including: Central Park at West 103rd Street, Castle Clinton National Monument, Carl Schurz Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the Tata Innovation Center on Roosevelt Island. NY Classical offers audiences the opportunity to enjoy professional classical theatre together as a community. www.nyclassical.org
About Pan Asian Repertory Theatre
Pan Asian Repertory Theatre is the most veteran pioneer, award-winning Asian American theatre company on the East Coast. Founded by Tisa Chang and core artists in 1977 with the vision that Asian American artists can equally contribute to the excellence of American Theater with stories seldom told to promote social justice and access. Our live theatre will return with CAMBODIA AGONISTES in 2021. www.panasianrep.org
About Repertorio Español
Founded in 1968 by stage director René Buch and the late producer Gilberto Zaldívar, and joined by Robert Weber Federico in 1971, who now serves as Executive Producer, REPERTORIO has presented an unparalleled body of theater that promotes and divulges the rich heritage of Hispanic theater. Spanish masters like Calderón, Lope de Vega and García Lorca, renowned playwrights from Latin America and the growing body of American writers who capture the Latino experience in the U.S.—from New York City to Portland, and in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Texas, Denver and Chicago—are all at home in REPERTORIO’s programming. Also, the company has presented acclaimed translations of plays by Edward Albee, Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Gian Carlo Menotti, Eduardo De Filippo and Noel Coward.
The Company presents a rotating repertory of 13 different plays, musicals and dance concerts with over 300 performances every year. Its productions are seen by over 50,000 people annually at its home, the historic Gramercy Arts Theatre and on tour. Every year, approximately 20,000 students are introduced to the heritage of Spanish language theatre through its education program, ¡DIGNIDAD! www.repertorio.nyc
About Turkish American Repertory Theater & Entertainment
Turkish American Repertory Theater & Entertainment—TARTE—is a unique performance institution established by Ayse Eldek-Richardson in May of 2010. The productions explore aspects of Turkish identity that may be unfamiliar or unknown to many in the United States. Turkish culture developed over many centuries and each work we produce has its own related signature and design reflecting a past or current aspect of that cultural development. We hope to broaden the perception of what Turkish culture is.
While the company’s primary emphasis is on performing Turkish classics and original works by Turkish and American writers, plays and musical submissions with Turkish or Middle-Eastern themes are considered from American and international writers as well so as to present a repertoire of quality works to a wide range of Western audiences.
Turkish American Repertory Theater & Entertainment works on producing original plays, cabarets, and musicals by TARTE’s honorary writers and multi-ethnic writers group. TARTE also organizes educational workshops called “Drama Club” aimed at younger members every year. www.tarteusa.com