An Important Letter From a Wonderful Friend and Artist (and Producer)

Actor, director, writer and producer Aaron Davidman is no stranger to Theater J audiences. He played the central role of Reuven Malter, the narrator, in Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, this past spring in our production at Arena Stage. And while in rehearsal for that show, he presented the latest installment of his solo performance piece, Wrestling Jerusalem, as part of this past winter’s “Voices From a Changing Middle East” festival, which appeared three seasons earlier under the title, Chasing Justice/Seeking Truth: Or It’s Just Not That Safe Anymore as part “Voices From a Changing Middle East, 2007.” Aaron’s been here performing in his theater company’s 2003 production of God’s Donkey: A Play On Moses, and that company, Traveling Jewish Theatre, which would go onto be renamed “The Jewish Theatre San Francisco” has been a stalwart and a beacon and a sister theater to ours for a very long time. So long, in fact, that TJT, as it remains affectionately called, has announced that this, its 34th season, will be its last. And that this season too will go forward without Aaron as its artistic director.

So, with his blessings and permission, I share with our community Aaron Davidman’s graceful letter of farewell to his community. And in it, he urges folks to come out and see an important new production inaugurating TJT’s final season. It’s a play we’ll be talking much more about. I’ll let Aaron introduce it herein.

Blessings to Aaron, a true brother and comrade in art.
-ari

From Aaron Davidman:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As many of you know I recently stepped down as Artistic Director of The Jewish Theatre San Francisco (formerly Traveling Jewish Theatre) after 9 years serving in that position and twelve years working with the company. The board, founders, and leadership of TJT decided that this current season, 2011-12, would be the company’s final season. Financial challenges, due in large part to the recession, prove to be too severe to continue.

I was blessed to call TJT my artistic home for more than a decade. I am grateful to Naomi Newman, Corey Fischer and Albert Greenberg for the vision they brought forward in 1978 to create a unique theatre that valued craft as much as content; that pushed the edge of form as much as sought diversity in subject matter; and that bravely pursued an inquiry into Jewish identity that has served public discourse and moved communities around the world to consider and re-consider what it means to be Jewish.

While there is sadness in the closing of TJT, the fact that the company had a 34 year run is something to be celebrated. The business model of the non-profit theatre company is a challenging one in the best of economic times, and TJT’s longevity—some might say tenacity—is a testament to the commitment of the artists and technicians and administrators and audiences who drove TJT for more than three decades.

I salute you all.

I am honored to have worked with each and every one of you; to have performed for, written for, directed for all of you. I remain moved by the enterprise. By the act of gathering in a darkened room to create something together that reminds us of our own humanity, that gives us the chance to laugh at our own shortcomings, that calls us to rise to our potential to create change. The art form of the theatre has been my greatest teacher.

The Jewish tradition and the theatre tradition share many things, but the deepest common link, to me, has always been the call to question.  Why? Deep inquiry pushes back against the hubris that dominates our airwaves, the hubris that blind-sides our politicians, the hubris that compromises our corporations. This inquiry has reminded me, time and again, that there is always more to learn. And while I am developing a career outside the theatre—very few of us these days can make a living solely in the field—I remain as committed as ever to the inquiry. I will continue to write plays and work on projects and wrestle with stories that feel vital and worthy of attention.

This week, TJT opens its final world-premiere, a play about The Group Theatre by Corey Fischer called In The Maze Of Our Own Lives. It feels like an auspicious moment to encounter the story of America’s first ensemble theatre. A cadre of idealists who came together to change the world through the art of theatre, and the achievements and challenges they faced along the way. This story has Jewish roots and theatre roots and couldn’t be a more fitting play for TJT’s final year.

As for you and me, I’m sure we’ll see each other around. If you’re interested, you can stay in touch with what I’m working on by stopping by my web site: www.aarondavidman.com.

I also started writing a blog last Spring when I rode the AIDS Life/Cycle Ride. The blog is called STORIES AND REFLECTIONS and I’ll be posting more material there when projects call for it: http://aarondavidman.wordpress.com/.

My email address is ad@aarondavidman.com.
Be well and stay in touch.

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On Israel Engagement, De-Legitimization and Our Community

The Washington DCJCC is proud to present professional and authentic examples of Israeli culture in film, theater, art and music. The artistic output of Israel is one of its great achievements, and we were privileged to host the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv’s production of RETURN TO HAIFA at Theater J. The sold-out run was hailed by audiences and critics alike and brought together individuals from all over our community to engage in serious conversations not just about the politics of the Israel, but about the underlying humanity of the men and women on all sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict. There was no single message to be derived from the play, nor were the reactions of any two theater-goers alike — well-wrought dramas can elicit complex and contradictory thoughts and emotions. It was gratifying that our audiences received the production in the spirit it was offered; that rather than shielding ourselves from difficult histories and complex questions, we can engage them with our intellect, our humanity and our capacity to see beyond political sloganeering. We feel that such programs constitute Israel-engagement in the very best sense of the term and make no apology for the art or the artists we present. Increasingly, there is an acknowledgment in the public square of the American Jewish community that fighting the de-legitimization of Israel is poorly served by attacking organizations and individuals within the Jewish community who present challenging portraits of the Jewish State. Implying that such Jewish organizations serve as Trojan horses for those bent on the destruction of Israel plays to our worst fears. While such campaigns may throttle funding to this program or that organization, its ultimate effect is only to narrow the boundaries of allowable conversations and alienate all members of the Jewish community who dare to think outside those strict confines. If we continue down this path, the result will be less Israel engagement, fewer advocates for its cause in the court of public opinion and a poisoning of the intellectual well of American Judaism. The Washington DCJCC will present nearly 100 programs this year that deal with some aspect of Israeli life: some will make you proud, some will make you laugh, some will make you cry and many will make you think. Occasionally one might make you angry. But that is okay, so long as the conversation continues and we express our love for Israel by our honest engagement, through wrestling and hugging and through our ability to disagree civilly.

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