Entering its 89th consecutive season, the Folksbiene* Yiddish Theatre is the oldest continuous venue for Yiddish theatre in the world. In 1915, while Yiddish theatre flourished bringing light, escapist fare to an immigrant
audience, a group of socially conscious Yiddish actors formed the Folksbiene to bring quality theatre to the public. With that in mind, they staged Ibsen‘s Enemy of the People in Yiddish as their very first production. Through a fruitful partnership with the Workmen‘s Circle, the Folksbiene not only survived, but also flourished. In 1925, they hired their first professional director. With the proliferation of great Yiddish authors such as I. L. Peretz, David Pinsky, and Peretz Hirshbein, they were able to form a repertoire of plays almost solely of Yiddish origin augmented with classic mainstream works by the likes of Maxim Corky, Eugene O‘Neill, and Upton Sinclair.
As the lights on Second Avenue darkened, the Folksbiene became the lone keeper of the flame of Yiddish theatre, performing new works and classics alike. In the 1960s, the Folksbiene began subsidizing the actors in order to support performers devoted to Yiddish theatre and to attract and train new talent. In the 1980s, the Folksbiene adapted once again by providing simultaneous translation in Russian and English, attracting broad new audiences.
With the klezmer revival and the explosion of recent interest in Yiddish language and culture, the Folksbiene is uniquely poised to serve as a living resource of this rich cultural legacy. More than just a link to the past, the Folksbiene has been an innovator in the 1990s by commissioning new works by young talent, such as The Maiden of Ludmir by Miriam Hoffman in 1997, and last season‘s production of the world premiere of Zise Khaloymes (Sweet Dreams) by Eleanor Reissa, with music by Zalmen Mlotek, and Frank London of The Klezmatics.
With the hiring of Zalmen Mlotek as its Executive Director and Mark Altman as its Associate Artistic Director, the Folksbiene is ready to re-imagine the world of Yiddish theatre and make it relevant to new generations.