On a newish Jewish farm at a historical Jewish property, with our partners the Manchester Jewish Museum and JW3, we brought together twenty-one UK-based Jewish theater artists for Intermission: Nurturing a Jewish Performance Community. We picked blackberries and herbs and walked through the soccer field now growing vines around the goalpost. And through laughter, we wove together the key works of British Jewish theater, built a Post-It history of antisemitism, and dove into the current state of the theater community in Britain.
We began our retreat sharing personal stories and motivations, exploring how each participant engages with their Jewishness, both personally and on stage. Our group spanned a large range of those who were private about their Jewish identity on a professional level and those who were creating Jewish work that pushed and challenged. We then created a space for each participant to anonymously share their own stories of bias and antisemitism in the theater world, and we quietly heard and supported each other. It was sobering to hear so many different ways that our group had dealt with challenges that spanned from micro-aggressions to overt antisemitism and language that evoked painful stereotypes. That evening the artists all shared their work with each other, and we got a sense of the complexity of the creators in the room – from those who created boundary-expanding Jewish drag to others who worked in community-based theater in low-income communities.
The next morning, we brought in Lev Taylor, an activist and rabbinical student who led us through an overview of antisemitism’s politics and tropes, with a focus on British history. As we created drawings and representations of the most horrific stereotypes, we unpacked where they came from, and how they build a larger story of “The Jews” that has been used and manipulated. That common grounding was helpful as we collectively unpacked a number of the incidents that had shaken the UK performance world over the past few years, trying to understand the various sides of each situation.
The following morning, we were pleased to welcome a group of twelve additional participants, to broaden our conversation. We workshopped and began thinking about possible strategies including building a peer network, a toolkit for responding to antisemitism, and educational and community-building initiatives.
Despite the challenging topic, we feel this retreat was a powerful moment to bring British Jewish performing artists together to tackle these issues of antisemitism and to create new connections with one another. We look forward to seeing what new projects and innovations will sprout from these wonderful and talented artists.
Photo Credit: Asya Gefter