Theater J program aims to diversify depictions of Jewishness onstage

Seven $10,000 commissions available to racially and ethnically diverse Jewish playwrights to expand the canon.

Theater J has announced a new program that will commission seven extraordinary racially and ethnically diverse Jewish writers to create new full-length plays that thematically and visually center non-white Jewish narratives. The program, called Expanding the Canon, is for Jews of Color, Multi Racial/Multi Ethnic Jews, and Mizrachi (Middle Eastern and North African) and Sephardic (Iberian) Jews who seek to correct and broaden the historically limited portrayals of Jewishness on stages in the U.S. and around the world.

Each writer will receive a $10,000 commission to create a new play over two and a half years; each will also have access to a $5,000 developmental budget that can be used for readings, workshops, research, and travel.

Playwrights will be identified through both a search process and a submission process, which can be found on Theater J’s website. Expanding the Canon is made possible in large part by funds granted by The Covenant Foundation.

The program will kick off in August 2022 with a three-day intensive “Beit Midrash” (house of study) led by Rosh Beit Sabrina Sojourner,Shaliakh Tzibur (community chaplain) and nationally recognized Jewish leader. Sojourner will convene an exceptional faculty who will guide the cohort of commissioned writers through a curriculum covering Jewish life, thought, history, and literature. This intensive learning process will give playwrights access to texts and understandings of Jewish thought and tradition that will inspire them as they begin to craft their plays. Throughout the commission, writers will meet monthly to continue to learn, share additional resources, and workshop written material.

“I’m thrilled to be part of Expanding the Canon,” says Sojourner, “to be part of an organization committed to supporting, nurturing, and enhancing connections between Jewish artists of color. Most importantly, we are all looking forward to the stories they will bring to the larger Jewish community and the world.”

Excerpts of the finished scripts will be shared in a final gathering in December 2024. All commissioned scripts will be strongly considered for Theater J mainstage productions.

This new initiative is spearheaded by Theater J Artistic Director Adam Immerwahr, who adds: “Jewish theater is thriving all over this country. And yet so much of that theater continues to center the stories of white Ashkenazi Jews, instead of presenting the true image of Jewishness in all of its multiethnic, multicultural diversity. Expanding the Canon seeks to remedy that by commissioning seven amazing playwrights to create a new canon of Jewish theater for our century.”

“I am beyond excited about this project!” states Edlavitch DC JCC CEO Dava Schub. “As the JCC in our nation’s capital, and with the support of the Covenant Foundation, we are poised to expand the narrative of Jewish stories being told on stages across the country and create space for new extraordinary storytellers to be seen, celebrated, and supported through this three-year commission process.”

Theater J Managing Director David Lloyd Olson adds, “Being from a mixed family of Ashkenazi and Mexican Syrian Jewish descent, I have always understood the Jewish experience to be more vibrant and diverse than the majority of Jewish playwriting. We are grateful for the support of the Covenant Foundation, whose funding will help us add layers to the portrait of Jewishness by commissioning plays that center the multiracial and multiethnic stories that have always been and will continue to be a part of the Jewish experience.”

Applications are due March 15, 2022. For more information about the Expanding the Canon initiative and for details on how to apply, visit theaterj.org/expandingthecanon/

Theater J, a program of the Edlavitch DCJCC, performs at the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater, located at 1529 Sixteenth Street NW, Washington, DC, four blocks east of Dupont Circle. For more information about Theater J, contact their ticket office at (202) 777-3210 or go to their website at theaterj.org.

About Theater J

Theater J is a nationally renowned professional theater that celebrates, explores, and struggles with the complexities and nuances of both the Jewish experience and the universal human condition. Our work illuminates and examines ethical questions of our time, intercultural experiences that parallel our own, and the changing landscape of Jewish identities. As the nation’s largest and most prominent Jewish theater, we aim to preserve and expand a rich Jewish theatrical tradition and to create community and commonality through theatergoing experiences.

About the Edlavitch DCJCC

Theater J is a proud program of the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center (EDCJCC). Guided by Jewish values and heritage, the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center engages individuals and families through its cultural, recreational, educational, and social justice programs by welcoming people of all backgrounds to connect, learn, serve, and be entertained together in ways that reflect the unique role of the Center in the nation’s capital.

The Edlavitch DCJCC embraces inclusion in all its programs and activities. We welcome and encourage the participation of all people, regardless of their background, sexual orientation, abilities, or religion, including interfaith couples and families.

About the Covenant Foundation

The Covenant Foundation recognizes the diversity of strengths within the field of Jewish education in North America, across all denominations and settings. By honoring outstanding Jewish educators and supporting creative approaches to programming, the Foundation works to strengthen educational endeavors that perpetuate the identity, continuity, and heritage of the Jewish people. The Foundation believes those with the creativity and passion to be catalysts for change and innovation in Jewish education are worthy of recognition and support. The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies.

1 COMMENT

  1. What a wonderful program! It’s about time that Jewish theatre groups realized that the Ashkenazic experience is only one part of the story.

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