The emphasis is on the “new” for incoming New Jewish Theatre artistic director Edward Coffield.
In July, Coffield will take the reins from founder Kathleen Sitzer who launched the company 22 years ago.
Coffield plans to shake things up by including a family show every year, collaborating with other companies and working with themes that encompass issues well beyond the realm of Judaism.
After serving as Sitzer’s assistant for 16 years, Coffield acknowledges he’s building on the work of a St. Louis theater icon.
“They're incredibly big shoes to fill,” Coffield said. “I think it has been tremendously helpful that I've spent a lot of time with her and really understand what her vision for the theater was," Coffield said of Sitzer.
Family fare and world repair
New Jewish Theatre is housed and supported by the Jewish Community Center in Creve Coeur. Coffield wants to build on the larger organization’s tradition of serving families with yearly programming designed for a multi-generational crowd. One possibility is the stage adaptation of a children’s book called “Harry and the Hanukkah Goblin.”
“I thought, Well there's a great tradition we could start every December — and so the idea of grandparents bringing their grandchildren or parents bringing in their children or parents bringing their parents and their children,” Coffield said. “And I'd love to do that."
Another concept would focus one production each season on the idea of “tikkun olam,” a Hebrew phrase that means “repair the world.” It’s an idea Coffield and Sitzer talked about during his term as assistant artistic director. Now, he’s ready to implement it, perhaps starting with a adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play, focusing on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
“It's called ‘Enemy of the People: Flint, Michigan,’” Coffield said. “And that's what appeals to me because first of all it's a very good adaptation and secondly it can allow for a different discussion.”
Festival of perspectives?
A few weeks ago, New Jewish won three St. Louis Theatre Circle awards for its February 2017 production of “Intimate Apparel.” It’s the story of a Jewish tailor and an African-American seamstress set in 1905.
That production highlights the very core of New Jewish’s mission, Coffield said.
“That’s a perfect example of a play that is not specifically Jewish although it does have a sort of substantial Jewish character in it who is that sort of quasi-romantic interest of the leading lady and because he is an orthodox Jewish man,” he said. “So that’s going to be unrequited love. And that felt like a great story for us to tell.”
The success of “Intimate Apparel” provides a roadmap for telling a single story from several different perspectives, Coffield said.
“There's a scenario where there's a mini festival maybe it's the New Jewish and two other theaters in town — and we pick some sort of theme that's somewhat universal and maybe we tell it from the Jewish perspective — and other companies tell it from a different perspective," he said. "I think it's going to be an exciting time.”
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