- Yiddish theatre, which emerged in Europe in the early 18th century, flourished in European capitals and in America, particularly New York City, from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. Focused on dramas by Jews written and performed in Yiddish, the language of the Eastern European Ashkenazic Jewish community, Yiddish theatre was remarkably diverse, including plays in every genre as well as operetta and musicals, revues, and variety entertainments. In America, Yiddish theatre also included a vast array of classic and contemporary plays from other cultures translated into the Yiddish language and cultural idiom.Avrom Goldfadn is generally regarded as the founder of the first professional Yiddish theatre troupe in Romania, after which he moved it to Bucharest and ultimately performed in New York. Initially an all-male company, Goldfadn's troupe eventually included women, sometimes in male roles, as when Molly Picon became popular in the stock comedy role of Shmendrick, a type that was one of many stereotypical roles featured in every early Yiddish play. Although Goldfaden and others had long careers in Eastern Europe, the Russian ban on Yiddish theatre of 1883 pushed the entire industry to Western Europe and the United States.Remarkably, in the years between 1890 and 1940, over 200 Yiddish theatres or touring troupes were operating in the United States. As many as a dozen companies functioned in New York at any given time during this period. In 1903, the Grand Theatre, built on Second Avenue as the first edifice constructed with the specific purpose of presenting Yiddish theatre, opened and the greatest era of American Yiddish theatre reached its pinnacle. Dramatists including Jacob Gordin, who adapted Shakespeare's King Lear and works by Leo Tolstoy, Solomon Libin (1872-1955), David Pinski, and Leon Kobrin (1872-1946) supplied the theatres and actors with dramatic vehicles.This was also an era of great Yiddish theatre actors. Foremost among them was Jacob Adler, who sought to elevate Yiddish theatre through an emphasis on the classics and important new plays. Adler's influence was also felt through his children, Celia, Stella, and Luther, all of whom became noted actors (and moved between the Yiddish theatre and Broadway) and, in Stella's case, one of the most important acting teachers of the mid-20th century. Adler was one of the first to take Yiddish theatre to Broadway, after which other actors, including Bertha Kalish, Boris Thomashefsky, and Maurice Schwartz, did the same. Yiddish theatre began a slow decline in the 1930s, its demise hastened by the Holocaust in Europe and the assimilation of Jewish culture into mainstream American life.See also Yiddish Art Theatre.
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.
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