Adam came to the DC after spending almost 10 years in Princeton, NJ. He left his role as the Associate Artistic Director at McCarter Theatre Center to join Theater J as their new Director. Adam and I were able to sit down and chat about what is in store for Theater J, how he is adjusting to DC and why someone in their 20s and 30s should come see the next Theater J show!
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Jackie: How did you first get into theater?
Adam: I pretty much grew up in the theater. When I was young, my mother was a modern dance teacher at Swarthmore College, and she was just starting her own theater company. And my father (who taught at Villanova) was close friends with the head of the theater program there. So I was in shows at Villanova as a child actor, and hanging out around theaters and dance studios in Swarthmore. It always seemed like the most obvious way for me to express myself.
Jackie: What is the stage production you are most proud of?
Adam: As a producer, I’m immensely proud of Fiasco’s INTO THE WOODS, which I produced at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre when I was the Associate Artistic Director there. It’s an inventive, 10-actor and one-piano version of Sondheim’s classic musical, and our production went on to The Old Globe (in San Diego), the Roundabout (in NYC), and now it’s playing on the West End in London and preparing for a national tour–including a stop at the Kennedy Center! As a director, I’m most proud of a production of THE CONVERT that I directed at Almasi Collaborative Arts in Harare, Zimbabwe. It was extraordinary to work with a group of Zimbabwean actors, designers, and producers to tell a story together–and the production was incredibly well-received and nominated for the national arts medal award in Zimbabwe.
Jackie: Did you always dream of being the artistic director of a Jewish theater?
Adam: Ha! Wait was that a joke? I never in a million years would have imagined that I would end up leading a Jewish theater. But when Theater J was looking for their next leader, they hired one of the top search consultants in the field, so of course I took his call. I basically said I wasn’t very interested during the first few conversations, but as I got to know the theater better, and got to think about what kind of programming I could do here, I realized what an extraordinary opportunity it was. Theater J has a unique role in the Jewish life and culture of this city, but we also are a critical part of the nation’s theatrical ecology. As the country’s largest and most prominent Jewish theater, we have an opportunity to preserve and champion a rich theatrical heritage, whether it is revivals of little-known Jewish-American classics like Arthur Miller’s BROKEN GLASS (which we’re doing this year), or newer plays like THE LAST SCHWARTZ (our season-opener). I realized that in programming through this lens, I could have an incredibly rich conversation with D.C.’s audience, do a broad range of really vital work, and I didn’t want to pass up the chance!
Jackie: As the new director of Theater J what was the first thing you wanted to tackle?
Adam: So much! One of the advantages of a theatrical season is that I get to pick multiple plays that are programmed throughout the year (September-July). I was eager to expand the notion of what kind of work could happen in a Jewish theater, so I was thrilled to get my hands on the rights to THE CHRISTIANS, a searing new play about how religion can tear us apart or bring us together–set inside a church. We’re recruiting a different church choir to perform live onstage with us at each show! But I also wanted Theater J to be a place of joy and laughter, so I was eager to start the season with Deborah Zoe Laufer’s stupidly funny THE LAST SCHWARTZ, all about the things we pass on from one generation to another. Theater J has always been a place of rich intellectual dialogue, so THE HOW AND THE WHY (about elevation, feminism, and generational divides), and COPENHAGEN (about the creation of the atomic bomb) seemed like perfect fits. And of course because we’re in the heart of the gay community of D.C., I had to bring back D.C.’s favorite all-male, dragapella beauty-shop quartet, the Kinsey Sicks. These “chicks with schticks” will be performing their delightfully salacious OY VEY IN A MANGER during Chanukah season, in perfect four-part harmony.
Jackie: What perspective are you bringing to Theater J as a millennial/next generation Jew?
Adam: I think that my generation has different ideas about what theater can be. Our culture is becoming more participatory, more on-demand, and more customized–but theater has lagged behind. I’m working on some ways to make Theater J a more communal place to be, and to open up opportunities for arts participation beyond just attending a play and staying for a talkback. For instance, we’re engaging an entire interfaith community by inviting live choirs to perform with us in THE CHRISTIANS–and sharing the stage between professionals and community members. It should be really exciting, and I look forward to figuring out how we continue to expand our notions of how a professional theater works with its audience. But I also think that as we look toward making Theater J a cooler place for millennial/next generation Jews to congregate–it helps to have someone whose taste is shaped by similar influences. I curate art differently than many in the generation above me. I can’t help but have the programming that I’m attracted to be the product of my generation.
Jackie: One of Theater J’s production is THE CHRISTIANS. How do you decide what plays fit into the scope of Theater J?
Adam: It’s a very smart question. At one time, the rule at Theater J was that either the playwright or one of the characters must be Jewish. That felt to me both limiting and small, and I wanted to expand the notion of what Jewish theater can be. The rubric I’ve been using is that the plays we do should fit into at least one of three categories: legibly Jewish plays (which directly struggle with and celebrate Jewish life and culture); thematically Jewish plays (that tell stories that parallel our own); and Jewish values plays (big plays that engage with the major issues of our time). So that means that not all of our work is by Jewish artists, or even has any Jewish characters on the stage–but all of it connects with Judaism and resonates with the Jewish experience in a meaningful way.
Jackie: THE LAST SCHWARTZ is about to start its run, what would you say to a young professional who hasn’t come to Theater J before to encourage them to see the show?
Adam: It’ll be a really really fun night out. THE LAST SCHWARTZ is a stupidly funny play with a whole lot of heart. It’s about a family who gather together for a yahrzeit that goes perfectly wrong when one of them (a Hollywood director) brings a sexy wannabe starlet to the family home–and everything goes awry. It’s surprising, it’s got some side-splitting laughs, and it’s less than two hours long. We’re right between Dupont Circle and 14th Street, so you can go grab a bite and then have a good time. Plus–our ushers will let you buy a drink and take it into the theater with you, and tickets for those under 35 are only $17 on weekdays or $30 on weekends. So it’s a great deal!
Jackie: How have you been acclimating yourself to a new city?
Adam: I really have been enjoying D.C. I ditched my car and get everywhere with my bike. The theater community has been incredibly welcoming, and so has the community around the group “Nice Jewish Boys.” I am eager to get to explore the city more, especially the food scene–I just discovered Union Market which is terrific!
Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?
Adam: Right now, I’ve been thinking a lot about Fyvush Finkel, the great actor who just passed away. By all accounts, a terrific man–but if you’ve never seen him perform you’ve missed one of the most ebullient and charismatic artists of our time.
Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…we have fun!