At 25, A Jewish Theater’s New Chapter
by Laura Davis
Changes are in store for Theater J as the prominent Washington, DC theater company enters its 25th year. After a rocky end to the tenure of its previous artistic director, Ari Roth, Theater J has a new leader: Adam Immerwahr. “I think Adam’s going to bring us a whole new host of playwrights, actors on our stage and a fresh perspective, and that’s really exciting,” said Rebecca Ende, managing director at Theater J.
Theater J is part of the DCJCC and a storied Jewish theater in Washington, DC, with a history of taking on challenging plays. Roth was both celebrated and excoriated for choosing plays that many saw as critical of Israel. He was dismissed from his position in December of 2014 and has since formed Mosaic Theater Company. “I think that Mosaic adds a rich voice and layer to the theater community and DC is lucky to have such a rich and robust theater community,” Ende said. “I definitely think there is room for both theaters and the new theaters popping up every day in DC.”
Immerwahr has been involved in theater from a very young age. His mother was a modern dancer and creator of theatrical pieces, and he spent many days watching her work. “I was one of those kids who grew up inhaling the stage dust, as they say,” he said. Throughout high school and college, Immerwahr was passionate about directing. Immerwahr joins Theater J after an extensive career as producer at McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, noting that both it and Theater J are “deeply wedded to important missions that are there to serve their communities and hopefully the larger theatrical community as well,” he said.
Although the 2015-16 season is already planned, Immerwahr is already reading scripts left and right to begin programming for the 2016-17 season. One subject that Immerwahr is particularly interested in is Yiddish theater, which he describes as “every bit as influential in the American mainstream popular entertainment” as more popular fare. “I’m interested in contributing to find forgotten or under-performed classics and introduce them into the theatrical world again as complex, vital pieces of American art.”
Immerwahr’s producing and directing has taken him all over the world, including to Harare, Zimbabwe to direct the African premiere of Danai Gurira’s play, The Convert, with Almasi Collaborative Arts in 2013. (Gurira is best known for her role as Michonne on AMC’S television show The Walking Dead.) Immerwahr’s role was to help interpret work about Zimbabwean culture and bring it to life. “It was a great learning experience and actually a life-changing opportunity,” he said.
As Immerwahr begins his work at Theater J he is looking forward to something new and exciting. “It offered a lot of tremendous potential for exciting programming,” he said. “It felt like a natural fit. Theater J is blessed with a phenomenal managing director. For an artistic director it is so much about the marriage between the artistic side and the management side.”
Ende emphasizes Immerwahr’s ability to reach out to up-and-coming talent. “He has amazing connections across the country and when you have an artistic director who can pick the phone up and call some of the best playwrights in the field, that’s really exciting particularly for a theater that has a mission with working with new playwrights,” Ende said. Ken Ludwig, another colleague of Immerwahr’s, said that the Washington theater scene is lucky to have him. “I can’t say enough good things about Adam,” he said. “To be that capable and in charge and still have people on your side and cheering for you is a feat.”
For the upcoming season, Immerwahr can’t reveal what he has in store, but promises to not disappoint. “It’s going to be full of plays that are delightful, that are hard, that engage audiences in every way, that celebrate Jewish culture as well as other cultures and challenge us to be better people, to live richer lives and to enjoy ourselves more fully,” he said.