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A History of The Folksbiene


The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene is the longest, consecutively producing Yiddish theatre company in the world. To date, it has been presenting wonderful Yiddish-language productions to the adoring public for 107 years. It is also the longest, consecutively producing performing arts institution in the United States.

Nowadays the Folksbiene presents plays, concerts, literary events and workshops in English and Yiddish, with English and Russian supertitles accompanying all performances. Their events reach over 100,000 individuals -- this number grows year over year -- and with its educational outreach initiatives it brings the performing arts to over an additional 18,000 individuals. The Folksbiene strives to bring diverse communities through multicultural programming and partners with various organizations and schools.

In recent years the Folksbiene has staged a number of excellent productions, such as "The Golden Bride" and "The Megile of Itzik Manger."

Several years ago the Folksbiene staged the classical musical, "Fiddler on the Roof," which was directed by the Oscar and Tony Award®-winner Joel Grey. It was performed in Yiddish, with English and Russian supertitles. It won a number of awards in 2019, including a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award.

The Folksbiene continues to produce high-quality productions on stage, and it also it has entertained its online audience with delightful videos, which constantly reminds all of us of the Folksbiene's never-ending dedication to keeping not only Yiddish theatre alive, but the Yiddish language as well.

Long live Folksbiene!

As an introduction to this exhibition, the Museum presents to you a short video by its Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek.




In this exhibition the Museum of the Yiddish Theatre presents you with a history of the Folksbiene, from 1915 (when it was known as the "Fraye Idishe Folks Bine") and operated under the auspices of the Arbeter Ring as its Branch 555, a semi-professional company, up to the present. This marvelous exhibition includes a history of the organization that was included in the third volume (1939) of Zalmen Zylbercweig's "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre." It has been translated from its original Yiddish into English. This historical biography traces the early days of the Folksbiene and is interspersed with information and display advertisements that refer to many of the plays and programs that it had staged during this time.

You will also be able to see many of the photographs (production stills) that were taken of these plays. You can stare at any of these photos and imagine being there during a performance!

You will be able to familiarize yourself with the content of these plays by reading a review of the play, which is included for many of the plays mentioned here, as well as the many play synopses, which summarize the action of the play. It is hoped that this exhibition will educate and aid the research of those of you who are interested in Yiddish theatre, and the Folksbiene in particular.

You will also have access to the cast listings, and thus you will have the opportunity to learn which actors and actresses were most often cast in roles, such as the actors Joshua Zeldis and Morris Adler, as well as the actress Zypora Spaisman and Sara Stabin.

This exhibition will also give you not only a chronological history of the Folksbiene's activity, but it will demonstrate to you the Folksbiene's ongoing dedication to providing the mostly Yiddish-speaking public with highly entertaining, and often thought-provoking productions of well-acted plays that were written by some of our most well-known Yiddish playwrights.

The Museum of the Yiddish Theatre wishes to acknowledge the Folksbiene, especially Sabina Brukner and Zalmen Mlotek, for their cooperation in the construction of this online exhibition.

This exhibition would not have been possible if not for the collection of Zypora Spaisman, who often starred in Folksbiene productions, and YIVO, which graciously allowed me to use the material from the collection for this exhibition.

My thanks also goes to the estate of Zalmen Zylbercweig z"l, who edited the Folksbiene history in his "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre."  Zalmen Zylbercweig spent so much of his life striving to honor and preserve the history of the Yiddish theatre and its participants for both his and future generations. May his memory be a blessing!

I hope you will enjoy this multimedia exhibition as much as I did in curating it ...

Steven Lasky
     Founder and Director, Museum of the Yiddish Theatre

And now, we begin a journey of many decades ...


You may choose to navigate this exhibition by using its table of contents page (with this link), or you may use the "next" links at the bottom of each page to follow the entire exhibition.

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