Ari Roth’s second act

Ari Roth in 2008
Ari Roth is raising money, has hired staff and looks to launch Mosaic’s first season in October. File photo

Four months after being fired as artistic director of Theater J, the lights are coming up on Ari Roth’s new project, the independent Mosaic Theater Company.

Is that Mosaic, as in “variety” and “many views?” Or Mosaic as in “Moses” and “the Jews?”

“It’s an intentional double entendre,” says Roth, 54, who led the DC Jewish Community Center’s theater for 18 years. “But the doubleness is not of equal value. This is not a Jewish theater in name as Theater J is. It’s a multi-cultural theater with a deep Jewish origin story.”

Roth is raising money, has hired staff and looks to launch Mosaic’s first season in October. Performances will be in the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street near Union Station and Capitol Hill.

He has received a $250,000 challenge grant from the Reva and David Logan Foundation. With that and $10,000-or-more grants from The Share Fund, The Eugene Lang Foundation, George and Trish Vradenburg and others, Roth and his board of directors will be considering a $1.3 million budget.

Mosaic’s professional staff includes Serge Selden in the role of producing director. A 25-year veteran of Washington’s Studio Theatre, Selden directed last year’s Bad Jews. Jennifer Nelson, an actor, playwright, administrator, professor and director, is Mosaic’s resident director of artistic development. Lorna Mulvaney, most recently of Studio Theatre, is general manager and assistant producer.

Roth’s exit last December from Theater J was itself dramatic. On Dec. 18, he was escorted out of the DCJCC by security officials after refusing to sign a separation agreement. Sources close to the DCJCC  said that Roth had been insuborindate, badmouthing his employer in the media.

Long known for producing plays about Israel that generated controversy in the Washington Jewish community, Roth said at the time that the DCJCC canceled his “Voices from a Changing Middle East” series after the title of a play he was interested in, I Shall Not Hate, which was produced in Israel, “became a red flag” to the DCJCC’s administration.

Roth vowed to stage the series in another venue.

While there are a lot of “unconfirmed plans” for Mosaic’s first season, Roth said “Voices from a Changing Middle East” will be somewhere on the schedule.

Asked if he will have a smoother time operating outside of the Jewish community, Roth said, “Smooth is relative. I don’t expect it will be smoother financially. The enabling of work will be simpler here.”

While he has staff and funding, there remain two mysteries, he said. “We don’t have a subscriber base and we don’t have an audience. The challenges are formidable to bring an audience to the work.”

What that work will be hasn’t been formalized. But Roth said his goal is “a theater season that makes an impact.”

“Some advice I’ve gotten from some wonderful theater people is start big and start with a bang. So we’re going to start big and with a bang. And we won’t be starting with the Middle East.”

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