The Digital Yiddish Theatre Project (DYTP), a collaboration of scholars, librarians and archivists who study and preserve the art form, will gather at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee March 27-29 for a series of planning workshops and public events.
Two evening events will be free and open to the public. On Thursday, March 27, 7:30 p.m. in the Golda Meir Library conference center, each DYTP member will give a five-minute talk on some aspect of Yiddish theatre, with a panel discussion and Q&A following all the talks.
On Saturday, March 29, at 8 p.m. in the UWM Arts Lecture Hall, klezmer pioneer Hankus Netsky and his band, Hebrew National Salvage, will perform selections of Yiddish theatre music.
Yiddish theatre was developed by Jews in central and eastern Europe beginning in the Middle Ages, and ultimately spread to the Americas, Israel, western Europe, and such outposts as South Africa and Australia.
“I want to showcase both the talent and expertise of some of the key people working in the field, and give the audience a sense of the richness and variety found within the world of Yiddish theatre,” says Joel Berkowitz, director of UWM’s Sam & Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies and a historian of Yiddish theatre.
The Digital Yiddish Theatre Project (DYTP) grew out of conversations Berkowitz had with Debra Caplan, assistant professor of theatre at Baruch College in New York, about how digital humanities technology might be applied to Yiddish theatre studies. They decided to put together a group of scholars in the area who had complementary skills.
Given how and where Yiddish theatre developed, this starts with languages, according to Berkowitz. Collectively, the 14 members of the research team command not only Yiddish, but other languages essential to the study of Yiddish theatre: particularly Hebrew, Russian and Polish, but also such languages as German, Dutch, Spanish and French.
Because one of the group’s goals is to archive and preserve the music and the scripts, the group also includes four professional librarians.
“It’s a fantastic constellation of people. Many have long-time interest, and others are newer to the field,” says Berkowitz. While the group has been meeting and communicating online, this is the first time that the majority have gotten together to brainstorm and plan for the future.
Key ideas they’ll be discussing, says Berkowitz, including such issues as digitizing and organizing texts, music and images; mapping the movements of actors and troupes; and crowdsourcing knowledge of a phenomenon that developed over several centuries and spanned six continents.
“We want to enhance our understanding and preserve materials,” he adds.
The workshop also includes several sessions on digital humanities, in collaboration with the Golda Meir Library, which will be open to the UWM community.
The workshop and public events are made possible with the generous support from the Baye Foundation, and additional support from a number of UWM and community partners.