The Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center has hired a new artistic director for its Theater J.
Adam Immerwahr, 33, will begin work on Dec. 1. He succeeds longtime artistic director Ari Roth, who was fired in December 2014. Immerwahr has been the associate artistic director at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J.
The new position “is a tremendous opportunity to present bold, provocative, delightful works” that explore issues, history, culture and families “through a Jewish lens,” Immerwahr said.
Immerwahr’s first full season will be 2016-17. He said he wants to explore the “national Jewish repertoire,” including the Yiddish theater canon, as well as big-name Jewish playwrights and contemporary works.
DCJCC CEO Carole Zawatsky said Immerwahr “has a record of superb direction, commitment to building community through theater, working hard to find new voices and producing groundbreaking dramatic pieces.”
Under Roth’s leadership, the center and Theater J came in for criticism for some of its productions that explored the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Before Roth’s firing, the agency cancelled Roth’s annual Voices from a Changing Middle East series, which often challenged long-held views of the Jewish state and its history.
Asked if he plans to mount productions about the conflict, Immerwahr said, “It’s important that we produce first-rate art. Israel will continue to be one” of the topics the theater will explore.
In 2014, a small group of community members urged a boycott of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, which provides funds to the DCJCC, because they considered a play being produced by Theater J to be anti-Israel.
“Donor pressure is a fact of life” in nonprofit theater, Immerwahr said. “And so is community pressure. I’m confident that I’ll listen to what people have to say, and in the end make decisions on what [Theater J’s staff, advisory board and DCJCC leadership] think will best serve the entire community.”
Israel and the Holocaust, another Jewish cultural focus, are important subjects for Jewish theater, he explained, “but to me, there’s a huge range of Jewish stories” to explore — “historical stories, everyday stories, myths that we hold onto.”
He also wants to bring to the stage stories about immigrants, language, culture and religion that are not by Jewish playwrights and do not have Jewish characters, but are viewed through a “Jewish lens” that shows “what it means to be a human and a moral, ethical person.”
After Roth’s departure, the DCJCC appointed Rebecca Ende as managing director and Shirley Serotsky as acting artistic director of Theater J.
One of Immerwahr’s current projects is a documentary theater piece based on interviews with Holocaust survivors in New Jersey. He said the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Central New Jersey had been sending survivors to schools to talk to students. But that won’t be possible indefinitely. So the agency approached him with the question: How could the survivors’ stories be preserved?
Immerwahr said he will create a theatrical work from his interviews. It is scheduled to be performed at Passage Theatre in Trenton, N.J., in the spring and can be performed indefinitely.
It’s a creative approach he said he’d like to bring to Washington.
“Hopefully,” he said, “we can involve communities in new ways of making theater.”