Winnipeg Jewish Theatre
By Ari Weinberg, Artistic & Managing Director
There is a guiding principle in Judaism called Tikkun Olam – it means repairing the world – and I look for it in every undertaking we do at Winnipeg Jewish Theatre: How does the work we are doing make the world a better place?
Winnipeg Jewish Theatre is an exciting, unique organization. It serves a very specific community but it’s starting to expand its reach beyond just the Winnipeg Jewish population.
I love the delicate process of assembling a season
Leading a company whose mandate is to produce work with Jewish themes and content has its limitations. When it comes to programming options, plays with Jewish content are a pretty small slice of the play pie. One of the most fulfilling parts of my job is searching for a variety of plays in different styles and genres that hold true to the company’s mandate while expanding the size and scope of WJT’s practice. I love the delicate process of assembling a season, all the care that goes into matching three plays together and matching artists to each one.
With only three plays on the bill each season, I have placed the following criteria on myself for season planning:
- at least one Canadian work
- at least one work by a female playwright
- a tonal balance amongst the works (not too serious a season, the Jewish community has expressed they like seeing comedies, so at least one of the plays should have substantial humour)
- gender parity combined between the casting and creative teams across the season
- one play can have little Jewish content if it explores a very large Jewish concept or idea at its core (Tribes by Nina Raine, had one line about being Jewish, and yet, it was a very Jewish play in its exploration of identity.)
It’s a lot to try and balance, but we’re seeing the pay-off as the company continues to grow.
We are also receiving strong feedback from our audiences as we try to expand our horizons and make concentrated efforts to explore works that focus on the intersections of cultures and marginalized communities. Reading, reading, reading, scripts that investigate other cultures is something that makes me incredibly excited and we have started to see the success of expanding our audience through programming more diverse works.
On October 27, 2018, the same day as the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, WJT opened its 31st season with Becoming Dr. Ruth by Mark St Germain, a play about iconic sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Her inspiring life story, as an orphan of the Holocaust who escaped on the Kindertransport, is filled with recurring instances of overcoming adversity. As I stood in front of a packed house and acknowledged the horrors of the day’s tragic events I read the following words of Dr. Ruth’s before the show started to pay our respects:
“Our way is not soft grass, it’s a mountain path with lots of rocks. But it goes upward, forward, toward the sun.”
The show started, the audience laughed at Dr Ruth’s frank sexual advice and it listened with great sympathy to her life struggles, it was true theatrical catharsis; it had been an impossibly hard day, but the search for Tikkun Olam continued.