Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Good News Continues!

More good news. Thanks to one new individual donor, we are now much closer to our September 30 goal of $50,000 from our community. This new donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, will match your contributions up to $25,000! Thus you can ensure that we'll reach our goal by donating only half of it. Once we reach that goal, we'll be able to make a formal announcement of our 30th season.

We're grateful and moved by the generous, timely support from all of you who have been helping. We know that there are more claims than ever on your generosity and that knowledge deepens our appreciation. The recent outpouring of help is the strongest validation that we've ever received in our 30 years. It's more meaningful than all the awards and rave reviews because it's coming directly from the community that partakes of our work; the people for whom we do what we do. Please help us make this final hurdle.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

TJT Crosses the Road!

We’re thrilled (and relieved) to announce that we have made our goal! That is to say, we reached our first benchmark of raising $100,000 from our community by June 30. A big thanks to all who supported our effort. Because of you there is a future for Jewish theatre in the Bay Area.

Now, we have to raise another $50,000 by September 30 in order to be eligible for special funding from a number of foundations who have been supporting us. Please stay tuned for season announcements and up-to-the-minute news.

This would be a perfect time to recite the shehechianu, the prayer that simply expresses gratitude to the creative power of the universe for bringing us to this moment.

Baruch ata, Ya*, melech/malcha** haolam,
Shehechiyanu v'kimanu v'higiyanu lazman hazeh

Blessed are You Source of Being,
who has given us life, sustained us,
and allowed us to reach this day, this moment.


* I’ve changed the traditional adonai eloheinu to Ya. Adonai eloheinu – “the Lord our God” is, itself, a euphemism for the “unpronounceable name of God.” Ya is simply another stand-in for the ineffable that has less patriarchal associations than “Lord.”

** melech = King; malcha = Queen

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Crossroads Update

Since the last post, less than a month ago, TJT has had a very gratifying response to the appeal letter we sent out in the first part of May. As of today, Executive Director Sara Schwartz reports that we have received gifts and pledges of $90,000!

That's 90% of our goal. We have ten days to raise another $10,000 to fulfill the criteria set by our foundation funders to begin receiving the extraordinary help from them which -- along with the generosity of our community -- will allow us to keep the doors open and to celebrate thirty years of unique work with a compelling and surprising season of offerings (see previous post, below.) We hope to post a more detailed report in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile we need all the help you can give to spread our good news and to reach the goal that's now so close at hand!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

TJT at the Crossroads, 2008:

Questions and Answers.

Many of you are reading this after receiving our recent appeal letter. Because some of you have raised some very important questions that could not be addressed in a necessarily brief letter, we have posted the following Q and A in order to provide a lot more of the background and history that has led to the present moment.

In our 29 years, TJT has rarely been flush. We have constantly operated close to the edge as we worked to make theatre of consistently high quality while maintaining one of the nations’ few professional Jewish theatre companies in an environment of ever-rising costs and ever-diminishing resources. We have had triumphs and we have made mistakes. And we have learned a good deal along the way.

About seven years ago, we began a process of serious re-evaluation with a consultant funded by the Hewlett Foundation. The findings led to a number of difficult but essential changes in our internal structure. At the same time we were in the process of developing a new generation of leadership for the company. This double transformation took us from an increasingly dysfunctional artistic leadership set-up of four co-artistic directors with no workable system for decision making to a single artistic director (Aaron Davidman, who had joined TJT five years earlier) responsible for programming, staffing, and long-term planning, all with considerable input from the two founding members (Corey Fischer and Naomi Newman. The third co-founder and the fourth co-artistic director, Albert Greenberg and Helen Stoltzfus, respectively, left TJT at this time.)

The next seven years saw a blossoming of new creative energy in the form of critical success, awards and audience growth. Among Aaron’s first hires was Sara T. Schwartz who joined TJT as development director and, in 2006 became Executive Director.

But in the midst of this renascence, TJT’s already high fixed costs were rising along with gas prices, worker compensation fees, cost of material. Earned income reached a ceiling (see below); assumptions that larger cast productions and larger marketing budgets would lead to increased ticket sales did not bear out as we’d hoped.

With hindsight, it’s much easier to see that we needed to slow our rate of growth to allow income to keep pace with expense; we needed to give more attention to consolidating before continuing to do more. In the four years between 2000 and 2004 TJT produced 18 plays, 9 of which were original, company-created works that required considerable development time. Even with 6 over-the-top box-office record-setters, we couldn’t keep up with expenses. In many respects, we were producing at the same level as a 1.5 million dollar per year company on a budget of $700,000.

With no cash reserve to serve as a buffer, the long-term debt we had been carrying since our major renovation on our theatre in 1997-98 (though our $750,000 capital campaign reached its goal, costs went over budget by $200,000.) grew as we drew down our lines of credit.

We responded immediately by tightening our proverbial belt and deferring salaries, shortening seasons, laying off all but absolutely essential staff. This in turn lowered our ability to fundraise as our presence was diminished.

We began another re-evaluation and realized that we have one more chance: by assembling our assets; by looking at our recurrent problems frankly, without guilt or recrimination, by constructing a comprehensive plan that does not return to business as usual, we have an opportunity to become a sustainable company.

What follows
addresses the most frequently asked questions we've been hearing. If you have other questions, please post a comment on this blog (you’ll find a button at the bottom of this page), or if you prefer privacy, email us

How serious is the problem?

Critical. Traveling Jewish Theatre has worked to operate on a budget of around $700,000 per year. TJT dependably raises 30% of that figure through ticket sales and other earnings; the other 70% comes from gifts from individuals, and grants from foundations and government agencies. Thousands of individuals support TJT through their gifts of time and money. For the past four years, rising expenses exceeded income, and we now face total debt approaching $400,000. This includes bank loans, vendor debt, back pay to our staff and personal loans. To survive, TJT must cut expenses from an already bare-bones budget and develop significant new sources of income. We’ve created a new strategic plan and accompanying budgets that we believe will help us accomplish this.

What expenses are rising?

Just about every cost of TJT’s operation rises each year. Increased gas costs means that local touring; both main stage and via our Educational, Touring and Outreach Program has become more expensive. Increased lumber prices mean more expensive sets. By far the biggest single culprit in knocking TJT out of balance has been huge increases in health and workers compensation insurance cost. Between 2001 and 2008, the cost of workers compensation insurance coverage has increased 100%. One set of costs that has not increased at TJT in the past five years has been the low wages we pay our actors and staff.

Can’t TJT charge more for tickets?

The top price for a TJT ticket is now $34. We have increased our prices over the past few years and we are now in line with what other local theatres charge for tickets. If we were to charge an even higher price, we would price ourselves out of the market and make our productions inaccessible for many.

What about grants? Can’t the foundations help out?

Grants do help, and TJT has been fortunate over the years in enlisting some large foundations to support out work. TJT receives support from many local and national funders including the Jewish Community Federation, Grants for the Arts - the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, Hewlett Foundation, Haas Fund, Koret Foundation, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, among others. With the help of some foundation staff members, a meeting was called at which we presented the details of the current situation, our plan to transform our organization into one that can be truly sustainable while remaining true to out core mission, and a request for a one-time collective grant in addition to their usual annual support. While we won’t receive an official decisions until later in the summer, we have heard that our presentation was very well received and that a positive response is likely but will be contingent on a demonstration by the community of their need and desire for Traveling Jewish Theatre to continue. This is why your donations and subscriptions will are more important than ever and will really determine whether TJT has a 30th season and continues for another thirty.

Has TJT been mismanaged?

TJT has always een frugal. We reuse every paper clip, and watch every penny. Every dollar can be explained and accounted for. We produce professional level productions for a fraction of what other theatres spend. Every dollar from every donor has been used appropriately as that donor intended, and we have produced every production to which we have sold tickets and we have been responsible when we have been forced to cancel a show.

In terms of accurately predicting future income, we could have done a better job. There were always voices on our Board, from our auditors, in our Ensemble and on our management team that tried to point out warning signs of potential revenue shortfalls. In an ever-optimistic atmosphere of “it’ll turn out al right,” such voices can find themselves frustrated. This is especially true when things regularly “turned out all right.” In any business, if you ignore warning signs you place your business in peril.

The first step in our new business plan requires that every budget be based on the most conservative projections, that every budget show a substantial surplus, and every shortfall be dealt with immediately. Other changes are described below.

What has TJT done so far in the face of this crisis?

  • TJT has pared our Administrative Staff to cut payroll expense. We are getting by now with only one full-time and one part-time person on payroll.
  • TJT has scaled back projects, spending no more than we are certain to bring in. Our last production of Dead Mother was a good example of this as the box office met it’s projection.
  • TJT has ceased all programming until we get the situation under control.
  • TJT has met with its foundation funders to fully disclose the situation and ask for help.
  • TJT has ended its commitment to providing guaranteed, year-round work for anyone other than the Artistic Director and the Executive Director. Other staff will be part-time and production positions, including actors, will be on a contract basis. This includes founding members, Corey Fischer and Naomi Newman and represents the most difficult change in TJT’s operation, particularly in light of the lack of any form of pension or other material recognition of 30 years of continuous work building the company and a large part of its repertoire. We hope to remedy this in the future, if and when a sustainable and secure TJT comes to be.
  • TJT is appealing to you to help, right now.

In the future, what will be the same at TJT?

We --Sara Aaron, Corey and Naomi -- will still be involved.

TJT has built a international reputation for creating and presenting invigorating and relevant, critically acclaimed, original, company-created works and new plays drawn from Jewish culture.

We intend to continue building on that record. We will remain committed to young people, through our Educational, Touring and Outreach Program, and our Accessibility Program. We will continue to build bridges between cultures through our work. We will create original plays (as funds are available), and we will continue to contribute to the Bay Area’s reputation as a center for leading-edge art and innovative expressions of Jewish culture.

In the future, what will be different at TJT?

  • We will secure new partnerships with other area organizations, such as the San Francisco JCC as well as theatres of all sizes to strengthen our profile, reach new audiences and to enhance our income potential.
  • TJT will eliminate its debt, and then operate in such a way as to create no new debt.
  • TJT will build a “Cash Reserve,” a substantial cushion that must be constantly replenished.
  • We will cut expenses, and that means for the foreseeable future a smaller staff and artists working only on contract.
  • We will work with a play selection committee that will include artists and representatives of our audience to help ensure seasons that reflect the diversity of our Bay Area community.

What if TJT does have to close its doors?

None of us want this to happen, but if we do close our doors, we will do so honorably. We would hold an event to celebrate the company’s achievements. We would sell our assets with the hope that the sale of our theatre would pay off our accumulated debts (because we have a unique ownership arrangement in a co-op building it is hard to determine an exact selling price at this time). And the Ensemble would go their separate ways, with heads held high for a 29-year job well done, and an ethical end to this institution.

How can I help keep Traveling Jewish Theatre going?

The immediate goal is to meet a $100,000 goal in contributed income by June 30, 2008. And another $50,000 by September 1, 2008.

The best thing you can do right now is to write a check and send it today.

If you’re uncomfortable making a contribution to TJT knowing that the prospect of closure does exist, we’ll be glad to hold your check (not deposit it) until we meet our contribution goal. If we don’t make our goal we’ll return your check. Just let us know if that’s the case.

If things turn around as hoped, what can I expect next season?

  • A No-Holds-Barred Celebration of 30 amazing years of creativity hosted by the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco at Kanbar Hall.

  • A revival of one of our best-loved original works, The Last Yiddish Poet by Corey Fischer, Albert Greenberg and Naomi Newman, (1980) performed by Aaron Davidman and Corey Fischer, Directed by Naomi Newman

The works of two brilliant Jewish playwrights:

The Model Apartment by Pulitzer Prize winner, Donald Margulies (Bay Area Premiere)

The Floating Light Bulb by Woody Allen

A Festival of Play Readings by Jewish Women Playwrights

We want to hear what TJT means to you, the changes you would like to suggest, your responses to our work and to this posting. We invite you to post your responses here as part of an ongoing community conversation or, if you prefer a more private medium, just send emails to sara@atjt.com. We would also like you to consider about joining our Board or volunteering to serve on a committee. If this stirs your interest, please get in touch!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

a look at what's cooking

a hand made poster from our first production in 1979

(Left: a hand made poster from our first production in 1979)

Hi. It's Corey posting again. I want to give you an inside look at several projects that we’re currently developing. But first, I want to tell you about an event that Sara Schwartz, our executive director, and I participated in just a few days ago. Along with several other colleagues, we were invited to make a presentation about ensemble theatre to the Arts Loan Fund. ALF is a consortium of the major arts funders in the area including the Irvine Foundation, the Haas Fund and the City’s Grants for the Arts program. This invitation is a clear signal that the work we’ve been doing with our sister companies in the Network of Ensemble Theatres to raise the profile of companies like TJT and the other 73 member theatres of the NET (TJT was one of the seven original founding companies in 1995) is working! The fact that some of the largest arts funders in California wanted to know about the history, the creative processes and the special challenges of ensemble theatre is a very significant development.

While the definition of ensemble theatre is naturally fluid, it almost always embraces the idea that primary decision-making power rests in the hands of the artists who, ideally, have been working together over extended periods of time in some version of a collaborative process. That’s what TJT has been doing, in ever-evolving ways, for nearly three decades.

Right now we have four projects that are all still in very early stages of development. We’re a long way from announcing any of these publicly. It’s certainly possible that not all of them will end up as mainstage productions.

First, we’ve commissioned the unusually gifted young playwright Marcus Gardley to write a play based on the story of civil rights activists Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney who were murdered by Ku Klux Klan members in 1964 in Mississippi. The names of these two young Jews and one young African-American have become emblems of the civil rights movement itself. We feel that theirs is the kind of story that needs to be told if our country is ever going to heal its wounded racial history. [see the works of the brilliant historian and activist, Manning Marable for more; as well as the latest from China Galland (yes, my wife) Love Cemetery]

In the early nineties, co-founder Naomi Newman collaborated on a piece with African-American actor/writer/director John O’Neal, from New Orleans, that examined African-American/Jewish relations (Crossing the Broken Bridge). It took nearly three years to complete but went on to tour, for several years, back and forth across America, often bringing black and Jewish communities together, sometimes for the first time.

Marcus Gardley collaborated with TJT artistic director, Aaron Davidman, on last year’s award-winning Happiness is a Dreamhouse in Lorin for Shotgun Players in Berkeley. Together they created a piece of heart-rending, yet ultimately hopeful theatre that galvanized an entire, largely African-American, community who had never had a chance to see themselves and their place represented on stage before.

Aaron had dreamed of working with the Schwerner-Goodman-Chaney story for years. When he first mentioned it to me, I marveled that someone who hadn’t yet been born when the tragic events took place understood the necessity of not allowing the story to be forgotten. I was nineteen, acting in a college drama festival when I heard that news and wondered why I wasn’t in Mississippi myself.

A few years after Aaron first mentioned the idea, he met and worked with Marcus. Last November we both saw a reading of one of Marcus’s plays at the Public Theatre in New York. I recognized in this young black writer who’d grown up in Oakland a kindred spirit. Though he often uses history as a source, he’s anything but dry or didactic. He has a kind of x-ray vision that lets him see through the shell of the historical record into the pulsing heart of myth and story that we can all recognize.

For the record, Marcus received his MFA from Yale, and has received commissions from the Yale Repertory Theatre, Playwright’s Horizon, South Coast Repertory among others.

As a member of the TJT ensemble, I’m very excited about the idea of Marcus being in residence with us to develop this project even though, at this point, I have no idea what my role will be in it. In an ensemble, anyone’s experience winds up influencing and affecting everyone’s. I love how porous our boundaries have become. In the early days we did everything in-house, but somewhere in the mid-eighties we started working with directors, actors, writers, designers from outside TJT and discovered that our center was strong and flexible and, more often than not, our sense of the ensemble stretched to include the so-called “guest-artists.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been taking a break from performing this fall in order to complete the “architecture” of a new, original TJT piece inspired by the history of The Group Theatre (1931-1941). In their ten years of life, this hugely influential company can be said to have invented the American theatre. Much of what we take for granted about theatre and the work of the actor and much of what still seems experimental and risky was first attempted, in this country, by the Group. Interestingly the most famous, eloquent and controversial of its founding members happened to be Jewish. These included Stella Adler and her brother Luther Adler, whose father Jacob Adler was the reigning star of the New York Yiddish theatre for most of its existence; Harold Clurman, the Sorbonne-educated visionary whose mesmerizing discourses galvanized the dozens of actors who formed the first Group Theatre acting ensemble; Lee Strasberg, passionate iconoclast who wound up creating the approach to acting known as “The Method.” I think there’s more than an arbitrary relationship between the Group’s commitment to a vision of a permanent community of actors creating a theatre that would enliven and astonish Americans from all walks of life and mirror back their deepest struggles, dreams and shadows and the Jewish identity of its leaders. In any place besides America, any time before the 30s, Jews like Clurman, the Adlers, Strasberg, Morris Carnovsky and Clifford Odets, would have been rabbis or scholars, scribes or cantors. Eastern European Jews had only emerged from the isolation of shtetl and ghetto a few decades earlier. The generation these people belonged to was still infused with all the pent-up energy that was finally being allowed to run free in the larger, American, secular world. At the same time, they had access to a long and rich tradition of study, of the sanctity and power of language, of the necessity to speak truth to power. So I’m developing characters – both contemporary and historical – and exercises on which to base improvisations. I’m compiling collections of quotes from the Group Theatre members, scenes and fragments from plays by Odets and others that were premiered by the Group and questions that contemporary ensemble theatre makers might ask of our artistic ancestors. All of this material will be explored by a group of TJT and guest actors in a workshop in early summer 2008 that will be sponsored by Theatreworks (the South Bay’s largest resident theatre) New Play Program.

At the same time, our artistic director Aaron Davidman has been researching, writing and workshopping a solo piece on the Middle-East based on a series of shattering interviews he conducted in the U.S., the U.K., Israel and the occupied territories last summer, often with “people on the ground” who are less concerned with ideology than survival. The initial workshop performances of this piece happened at Theatre J in D.C. with artistic director Ari Roth acting as Aaron’s dramaturg. Aaron will continue to develop this piece in front of audiences in periodic in-progress showings. There may well be some other workshop performances and readings as well, so keep watching this blog or sign up for email updates on our website.

I've already written about the Prayer Project, our long-term collaboration with Liz Lerman and the Dance Exchange and there's nothing more to say about it right now.

Monday, August 20, 2007

2 X Malamud is a hit in Mountain View

We’re about to begin our last week of Malamud in Mountain View. The rave from the Mercury News is appended below. It’s been just as satisfying as I’d hoped to put together The Magic Barrel with The Jewbird., though some of my earlier assumptions have been challenged. See, I’d always seen Saltzman the Marriage Broker and Schwartz the Jewbird as essentially the same character – or at least the same archetype – the trickster/clown/holy fool that pops up in Jewish writing in the legends about the prophet Elijah, Hasidic tales, Jewish jokes and stand-up comedy (think Lenny Bruce). Now there may be some truth in that, but Aaron Davidman said, after seeing an early rehearsal that he saw an even stronger connection between the characters of Leo Finkle in Barrel and Schwartz in Jewbird. Both longing for love and acceptance. Thoughts?

Stay tuned for announcement of new Season!

`2 x Malamud' takes a magical journey


By Karen D'Souza
Mercury News

Article Launched: 08/16/2007 01:50:19 AM PDT

To mark its 29th anniversary, San Francisco's Traveling Jewish Theatre has reclaimed its nomadic roots and launched its new season on the road.

The acclaimed troupe opened its homage to Bernard Malamud, "2 x Malamud," over the past weekend at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. The company has staged "The Magic Barrel" and "The Jewbird" before, and its depth of commitment to the material has paid off handsomely. Both these one-acts have been burnished to the point of perfection, from their dreamlike tone to their whimsical props. Directed by Joel Mullennix and Sheila Balter, the exquisitely etched revivals show off the artistry of the acting company, as well as the richness of writer's palette.

Staged in the style of the Word for Word company, "2 x Malamud" transposes these short stories verbatim from page to stage. The cast embodies every element in the text, from protagonists to passing clouds, as if each word, each pause, each punctuation were central to the theme. The technique forges an intimacy between the actors and the text, a magical sense of ritual incantation that casts a spell over the audience.

Jeri Lynn Cohen, Max Gordon Moore and Traveling Jewish Theatre founder Corey Fischer etch the key characters in each story. Watching them metamorphose from piece to piece is part of the evening's theatrical alchemy. The scope and depth of the acting gives us a glimpse into the breadth of Malamud's art.

In "The Magic Barrel," Moore plays the twitchy rabbinical student Leo Finkle, desperately searching for a wife but scared to death of women. Enter the marriage broker, Pinye Salzman (the sublimely funny Fischer), who's eager to make any match that will put a few pennies in his threadbare pockets. They eye each other warily across a dank New York hovel, bargaining over potential brides like so many baseball trading cards.

The rapport of the actors with their characters cuts so deep that the play bristles with life and breathtaking eccentricity. The physical specificity of the performances is as acute as the cadence of the language.

Finkle cowers under the covers of his bed, terrified of life. Salzman sucks the flesh off a tiny white fish like a starving alley cat. As the lonely Lily Hirschorn, Cohen radiates the brittle enthusiasm of a woman out to snatch a husband, driven by the fear that life is passing her by.

It comes as a revelation to see these actors so utterly transformed in "The Jewbird," a dark little parable about assimilation. If the characters in "The Magic Barrel" are steeped in the past, the figures in "The Jewbird" are hellbent on casting off the old ways.

Respect for tradition is not in Harry Cohen's (Moore) genes. A frozen-food salesman who pairs long black socks with khaki shorts and a fat cigar, Harry has an ego as large as his belly. Moore puffs himself up with the bluster and pomposity of a man who would deny someone else their right to their ethnicity.

In this instance, Harry takes on the black crow who flies into his Bronx apartment on threadbare wings. His name is Schwartz (Fischer), and he's a herring-eating, prayer-chanting black bird seeking asylum for a world with no refuge for those who want to keep the old customs.

The bird says he's on the run from anti-Semites, which earns him the pity and kindness of Harry's wife, Edie (a graceful turn by Cohen), and their son, Morrie (Tamar Cohn). But not Harry. He responds to Schwartz's neediness with, first, disdain and, then, brutality.

Huddled in the corner, fearful of both Harry and the ravenous family cat, Fischer's bird is as ornery as he is wretched. The actor turns him into a tragicomic figure, a cross between an old vaudeville ham and a latter-day Lear, yearning for shelter from the storm but unwilling to sacrifice his integrity until the end. The gravitas the actor brings to this role elevates the fantastical fable into a melancholy meditation on identity.

The upshot: A Traveling Jewish Theater cast a literary spell on its audience with a magical evening of Malamud.

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays

Through: Aug. 26

Tickets: $15-$44; (650) 903-6000, www.atjt.com

Contact Karen D'Souza at kdsouza@mercurynews.com or (408) 271-3772. See her theater blog at blogs.mercextra.com/aei.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

TJT's 29th Season Begins

We’re about to begin our 29th season with an experimental three-week summer run in Mountain View in which we’re bringing together parts of two previous “hits.” From 2000, Malamud’s The Jewbird and from last year, his The Magic Barrel will be paired in 2 X Malamud. These two masterful short-stories will be performed in the verbatim style pioneeered and developed by San Francisco’s Word for Word Performing Arts Company. Below, you’ll find the history of our collaboration followed by reviews of Barrel and Jewbird and, at the end of this post, quotes from other writers about Bernard Malamud. Read on. (For more info on the August 9 – 26 run in Mt. View, click away)

Founded in 1993 by Susan Harloe and JoAnne Winter, Word for Word is a professional theatre company that stages short stories, performing every word the author has written. Their goals are to excite people about the written word, to inspire them to read more, to create new audiences for the theatre, and to share the world's diverse cultures and stories.

"Their brilliant inventiveness in performance, choreography, and staging, has created a new art form, and a deeply affecting experience."
-- Tobias Wolff

The collaboration between Traveling Jewish Theatre and the Word for Word Performing Arts Company (a project of the Z Space Studio) began in 2000 as a natural outgrowth of the many values the two companies share.

Since TJT’s own esthetic has always drawn on the vital tradition of Jewish storytelling and places the act of “telling” at the heart of the theatrical experience, it seemed bashert (Yiddish; adj: destined, fated) that the two companies would work together. Add the attraction of the short-story for Jewish – and especially American Jewish – writers, several of whom are considered masters of the form, and the partnership becomes irresistible.

Our collaboration started with two of those American masters, Grace Paley and Bernard Malamud,Goodbye and Good luck and The Jewbird directed by Word for Word Charter Group member Wendy Radford and long-time W4W collaborator, David Dower (the former artistic director of the Z Space Studio and current artistic associate at Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage). The response from audience and critics was so thoroughly positive that the two companies continued to look for more opportunities to work together.

That opportunity came three years later. This time, the unabashedly post-modern celebration of narrative, Finkelstein’s Fingers, by the stunning gen-x German Jewish writer, Maxim Biller (directed by David Dower) was balanced by two mordant and moving stories by Paley, Wants and Conversations with my Father, and one of Malamud’s earliest stories, Spring Rain (all directed by Joanne Winter, co-founder of W4W). Windows and Mirrors, as the evening was titled, was another unqualified success.

In 2006, the companies returned to Paley (Mother and The Story Hearer) and Malamud (The Magic Barrel). Directed by Joel Mullennix, a frequent W4W collaborator, the evening was titled Family Alchemy and once again both companies’ audiences showed their enthusiasm for the continuing collaboration and once again The Chronicle’s “Little Man” was airborne.

Realizing that The Jewbird could be read as a set of variations on the themes of The Magic Barrel, we decided to bring the two stories together in an all-Malamud evening for our growing Mountain View community. In spring, 2008, 2 X Malamud will travel to Toronto for a three-week residency.

The Word for Word Perfuming Arts Company and Traveling Jewish Theatre plan to continue their productive and mutually satisfying collaboration in years to come. Stay tuned. In the meantime, be sure to see Word for Word’s latest offering: Cornell Woolrich’s Noir thriller, Angel Face, opening in San Francisco August 10.

Reviews of last year’s The Magic Barrel

"The evening's best match of text and mise-en-scène comes with Malamud's 1956 piece The Magic Barrel, the title story from his National Book Award–winning collection. The clever comic story of a lonely young yeshiva student (Max Gordon Moore) who reluctantly employs the services of a threadbare matchmaker (Fischer) to find him a bride, Malamud's sly narrative has unexpected turns and depths that give full rein to the agility and imagination of performers and director alike (as well as some cunning work by props master Adriane Sherburn-Zimmer), and is pretty well a hoot from start to finish. Every gesture of Fischer's marriage broker seems both larger-than-life and inescapably human, while newcomer Moore delivers a priceless performance as the easily exasperated, spiritually doubting protagonist, thus holding his own in the midst of an expert ensemble, which includes more fine work from Cohen and Newman in a variety of supporting roles. Moreover, The Magic Barrel excels in the Word for Word style, a form bound to — but also independent of — the page, where the strong and inventive staging becomes its own (albeit integral) delight, a kind of harmonic line appearing above the principal voice, offering audiences the thrill of following simultaneously the written word and the theatrical invention illuminating and responding to it."

-Robert Avila, SF Bay Guardian

"The Magic Barrel introduces San Francisco newcomer Max Gordon Moore, burning with joyous intensity as Leo, a young rabbi in training who hires a marriage broker (a transformed and hollow-faced Fischer) to find him a wife, and in the hilarious process finds his faith. Short story as theater is a risky endeavor, but TJT never drops the ball, and the result is pure storytelling -- simplified, thrilling, and vigorously reinvented, a slap in the face to anyone who has ever said theater is dead.”

-Nathaniel Eaton, SF Weekly

“Played with magnetic youthful seriousness by [Max G.] Moore, Finkle is a scholarly recluse who's decided that a wife will help him land a better congregation when he becomes a rabbi.

"Not knowing any other way to go about it, Finkle contacts a matchmaker -- who turns out to be the terribly down-on-his-luck, infirm, clumsily but slyly manipulative Pinye Salzman (a brilliantly comic but lovingly conceived portrait by Fischer as what's left of the old shtetl profession in 1940s New York).

"[Jeri-Lynn] Cohen adds luminous grace notes as two of Salzman's hopeful clients. Fischer is a continual delight in his shabby suit, peeling and consuming sardines with consummate care. Moore embodies Finkle's pursuit with carefully calibrated degrees of frustration, resignation, determination and growing self-knowledge.

"The barrel of the title -- Salzman's claimed repository of marital prospects -- doesn't really exist. Malamud and the company leave it somewhat open to doubt whether Finkle succeeds in his romantic quest. But he, and we, are enriched by the pursuit."

-Rob Hurwitt, SF Chronicle

Reviews of The Jewbird, 2000

“Fischer brilliantly reaffirms his standing as one of the Bay Area's acting treasures.

"In Jewbird, he's Schwartz, the bird itself, a magnificently bedraggled old specimen with the comic gravity of a raven, wheedling tone of a sly old beggar and Yiddish inflections and sentence construction of a first-generation immigrant. His tattered scarf alone is a thing of wonder, a prayer shawl one moment, a bird hand puppet the next -- more often, spread over his fluttering hands above his shoulders, it's a pair of remarkably expressive wings. It's a performance to savor and store in the memory.”

-Rob Hurwitt, SF Examiner

“Like all Word for Word productions, this one renders every line of the text. Dower makes the most of it, turning the frozen food salesman Cohen (Albert Greenberg), his pneumatic '50s wife Edie (Jeri Lynn Cohen) and their dim adenoidal son Maurie (Sheila Balter) into a yammering chorus at the top of the narrative.

“Fischer's delicate, ``dissipated crow'' cuts through with his strangled squawks, gawky slow flights around the room and patient gaze framed by wire- rim spectacles. Edie takes pity and feeds him herring and rye bread. Maurie takes him on as a tutor and sees his grades and even his screechy violin-playing improve. Even the skeptical Cohen softens a little. The bird reveals his name: Schwartz.

“Peace is short-lived. A cat (the twitchy, self-possessed Balter) arrives. Cohen picks a fight. Schwartz, with his vibrant prayer shawl, exacts some blood. But the Jewbird is expelled. The story ends with an eerie final image, of Fischer holding his own crumpled life in his hands. Some people smell because they don't bathe or because of what they eat, we remem ber Schwartz saying. Others smell because of what they think.”

-Steven Winn, SF Chronicle

Writers on Malamud

Richard Gilman, writing in The New Republic:

“[Malamud was] a storyteller in an era when most of our best writers have been suspicious of straightforward narrative. He was both a realist and a fantasist. I don’t mean he alternated between reality and fantasy, but that at his best the line between the two was obliterated. Observation gave way to imagining…a story like the Jewbird (to my mind perhaps his finest), a piece that appears all whimsy and allegorical effort, is anchored in pebbly actuality.”

Cynthia Ozick: “Is he an American Master? Of course. He not only wrote in the American language, he augmented it with fresh placticity, he shaped our English into startling new configurations…He wrote about suffering Jews, about poor Jews, about grocers and fixers and birds and horses and angels in Harlem and matchmakers and salesmen and rabbis and landlords and tenants and egg candlers and writers and chimpanzees; he wrote about the plentitude and unity of the world.”

Daniel Stern: “[Malamud] came as close to making a religion of art as is possible; a religion of suffering and comedy, taking the Jew as his starting point for what was most human in humankind. All men are Jews – perhaps his most famous and most mysterious line.”

From Saul Bellow's eulogy, given at a memorial tribute to Malamud, 1986:

“Well, we were here, first-generation Americans, our language was English and a language is a spiritual mansion from which no one can evict us. Malamud in his novels and stories discovered a sort of communicative genius in the impoverished, harsh jargon of immigrant New York. He was a myth maker, a fabulist, a writer of exquisite parables.”

Walter Goodman, reviewing The Complete Stories in The New York Times, September 28, 1997:

“He burst fully into allegory in the 1950's with ''The Magic Barrel,'' probably the most famous of his shorter works and the title story of his first collection, which brought him the first of two National Book Awards. Here Malamud's strengths came together: the feelings for the outsider Jews; the joy in Second Avenue vaudeville shticks; the direct, unadorned yet flavorsome storytelling; the skeptic's fascination with Hasidic mysteries; the ruminations on the meaning of love. If you're looking for influences, try Isaac Bashevis Singer.

“This fable about the business doings between Leo Finkle, a lonely rabbinical student, and Pinye Salzman, a matchmaker, is still as funny and sad and searching as it was at first reading… The story's final, unsettled lines remain powerfully unsettling. As another Malamud character, in ''The Girl of My Dreams,'' says of a piece of fiction he happens across, 'The story socked in the belly.’''