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See New York Yiddish Theatre Becoming “slumming Center” for Broadway-minded Jews

January 9, 1930
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That the Yiddish theatre in New York is becoming a sort of “slumming center” for Broadway-minded Jews, who regard an invasion of the East Side White Light area with all the elan of a trip into Chinatown or any of the better-known Russian cafes, is the opinion that was recently expressed by several Yiddish theatrical managers. One of the inevitable outcomes of this state of mind, they say, is the appearance of the type of Yiddish play in which fifty percent of the lines are spoken in Yiddish, while fifty percent are spoken in English.

That the Broadway influence is also leading to the disintegration of the Yiddish stage, is another fear expressed by leaders in the New York Yiddish theatrical world. The Broadway musical comedy, they point out, has been tried out in Yiddish houses where years ago it might have been looked upon as a sacrilege. Yiddish playwrights, recognizing the trend, have been sure to fashion their drama with an eye toward the more glaring uptown section.

Speaking of the distress of the Yiddish theatrical managers, Maurice Schwartz, director of the Yiddish Art Theatre, has recently said:

“Our producers are desperate; expenses are three times higher than they used to be; people grow more and more Americanized and attend the English shows. To lure them back, 50 percent English is spoken in Jewish plays, English songs are sung, the music smacks of the same jazz rhythms that you hear on Broadway. Entering any of the playhouses on Second Avenue, you promptly feel yourself on a Jewish version of Broadway. Young girls, half dressed, wiggle around just as they do uptown. Everything is fine and everybody’s happy. But will the slumming audience stay? Being so consistently reminded of Broadway, won’t they eventually want Broadway itself? At a time when so many national organizations are striving to teach Jewish children their own language, the downtown stages feature more English than ever. Why don’t they speak Yiddish or some other language in the Broadway plays?”

Reflecting on the struggle the Yiddish Art Theatre has had to resist the “easy temptation of the Melting Pot,” Mr. Schwartz declares that his troupe has presented eight-five plays of world renown during the past twelve years, in which time they had refused to allow Broadway to affect them. “In fact,” observes Mr. Schwartz, “it might be said that Broadway has been beneficially influenced by the Yiddish Art Theatre. The troupe attracts a clientele 30 percent of whom are non-Jewish. The percentage is even higher now with the feature of ‘Jew Suss,’ because of the wide familiarity with Feuchtwanger’s novel, ‘Power’.”

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