The Canadian Jewish News - May 01, 2007

Jewish Theater Troupe Gathers in Vienna

By Myron Love
Prairies Correspondent

WINNIPEG – For the first time in its 20-year history, the Association for Jewish Theater (AJT) held its annual conference outside North America. The venue this year was Vienna.

The annual conference, which ran from March 18 to 26, is hosted each year in a different city by one of its member theaters, explained Kayla Gordon, the AJT’s executive director for the past three years.

Founded in 1987, the AJT is dedicated to the development and production of plays that are relevant to Jewish life and values. Gordon became involved with the AJT through her association with the Winnipeg Jewish Theater, where she was artistic director for 11 years until about 18 months ago. Gordon served as president of the AJT for three years before assuming the role of executive director.

“We chose Vienna this year. We felt that it was important to support Warren Rosenzweig in his effort to revive Jewish theater and keep it alive in Austria,” Gordon said.

Rosenzweig, a New York-born playwright, founded the Jewish Theater of Austria in 1999. It was the first professional theater of its kind to open in Austria, and one of the first in Europe, in more than 60 years.

An additional reason for the AJT choosing Vienna this year was to lend its weight to Rosenzweig’s campaign to relocate his company to the Nestroyhof, a building that once housed Vienna’s principal Jewish theater, which was disbanded in 1940.

The initiative to restore the building has the support of many prominent Austrians, including the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn; Nobel Prize laureate playwright and novelist Elfriede Jelinek; and Georg Springer, Austria’s director of federal theaters.

Gordon said she was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who attended the conference, which was held in conjunction with the International Jewish Theater Festival.

“We were expecting maybe 30 to 40 members to attend the conference in Vienna,” she says. “In fact, we had about 100 people from six continents. There were Jewish theater companies and artists from North America, Israel, the European Union, Russia, Africa and Brazil. It was amazing.”

Conference participants – playwrights, producers, performers and others – discussed numerous issues relating to Jewish theater in meetings and workshops and heard from different speakers.

As well, a dozen playwrights (including Sharon Feder of Vancouver) read from their new plays, and there were tours of sites of Jewish interest in Vienna.

“It was invigorating and exhausting,” Gordon said.

In addition to her duties with the AJT, Gordon teaches musical theater and acting at the University of Winnipeg. She has produced some theater work for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and has directed plays in Detroit and Phoenix.

She has also formed a new theater company, called Winnipeg Studio Theater, which has two projects currently on the go. One is a new musical that is in development.

“Sharon Bajer is writing the script with original music by Sally Fingerett, a composer and musician from the States that I met through my AJT connections,” Gordon said. “It’s called Hersteria and we are planning a workshop performance in the early fall.”

She also hopes to direct some Winnipeg Jewish Theater productions in the future.

Copyright © 2007 The Canadian Jewish News