The Spectacular Failures of Y.L. Peretz on the Yiddish Stage

A lunchtime lecture with Debra Caplan, Assistant Professor of Theatre, Baruch College, CUNY

Date: Wednesday, September 28

Time: 12:00pm

Location: 617 Kent Hall, Columbia University

For more details or to RSVP, email iijs@columbia.edu. RSVPs are appreciated at a light kosher lunch will be served.

What is the impact of theater that flops? Can a failed production have an afterlife beyond its historical moment? Y. L. Peretz is a writer known for his many achievements: the literary sophistication of his poetry and short stories, his seminal influence on Yiddish literature, and his accomplishments as a champion of Yiddish culture. Less well known are Peretz’s failures — most of which happened in the theater. This talk considers Peretz's many failed attempts to create a high art Yiddish stage in the Russian Empire between 1905 and the onset of the First World War. Peretz's tortured love affair with the Yiddish stage offers fascinating insight into his vision for the future of modern Jewish culture. Theater, he believed, was the final frontier for Yiddish. Yet Peretz was perhaps the least successful playwright, director, and producer in the history of the Yiddish stage. In the last decade of his life, Peretz became obsessed with reforming the Yiddish theater to meet his goals, embarking on an ambitious "theater campaign" to revolutionize the Yiddish stage. The result was a series of spectacular failures that started an important new conversation about the role of theater in modern Jewish life. Like any good spectacle, these flops made audiences take a closer look.