It wouldn’t be wrong to call Wayne Firestone a professional Jew. The one-time lawyer at big-box D.C. law firm Patton, Boggs has worked in executive positions at Hillel International where he was CEO, at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Genesis Prize Foundation, a $1 million annual award in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Earlier this year, the Takoma Park resident stepped away from his most recent position at the American-Israel Friendship League to work in a new but related niche. Throughout the 2022-23 season, he is the New York-based Jewish Play Project’s (JPP) inaugural 21st-century Jewish playwriting fellow.
Firestone, 58, has plans to work on a play drawing on legacy stories of Marrano Jews on Christopher Columbus’ ships during his travels, including his second voyage to the New World in 1493, when he landed on Puerto Rico.
This summer, his work “Higher” will be performed at the Capital Fringe Festival in Georgetown.
“It’s set in a hot air balloon and is about a couple escaping COVID in the only direction that they could go — up,” he explained. “The ride is over the Mason Dixon Line. The play talks about some of the many divides that exist in the country and with an eye toward the healing that needs to take place.”
The first play he wrote was while he was in college at University of Miami. An active Hillel student leader there, he spent a year abroad at Tel Aviv University. While in Israel, during the height of the Soviet Jewry movement, Firestone was shocked to meet a former Russian refusenik, who was arrested and punished for teaching Hebrew. That play, “Trial and Error,” went on to be performed at Hillels and Jewish college student organizations around the United States. “It really was an incredible experience of watching a play become a form of social theater and social justice,” Firestone reflected. And the inspiring refusenik he wrote about? It was Yuli Edelstein, who later became speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
But he didn’t return to seriously devoting himself to playwriting until he took a workshop at the Edlavitch D.C. Jewish Community Center after a nine-year stint in Israel and a return to the Washington area.
“The script writing led me to want to do it more and more. I participated in a London-based challenge to write a play a day for 28 days during the month of February. It was like running a marathon: You just have to keep going,” said Firestone, a member of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation. “I found that I had a lot of content I wanted to write about. At the end of the 28 days, I had all this new material, but I don’t feel like I am done.”
Some he’ll develop into longer pieces, he said, pointing out that new play gestation takes a long time — often years — from applying to various festivals and writers’ residencies, staged readings and revisions before the possibility of a full-blown production.
Theater, he said, is a way to forge relationships, build community, share stories and beliefs among people across a spectrum of identities, faiths, backgrounds and demographics. On theater he noted: “People don’t have to agree on anything …. They just have to agree to be civil toward one another and experience something together, even if what they take away from that experience is different.”
He added: “We need new ways to connect people to the Jewish story and Israel. Theater is a powerful platform to share our story, to invite others, to celebrate, to question and participate with us. … We need to dust off some of those old stories, remind ourselves what it means to act civilly and put ourselves in places where we’re with other people who may see things differently and may even disagree with us.
“These are opportunities to process together and to emote together and to do it in a way where we leave more enlightened and more informed. I believe we will see a renaissance of Jewish thought writing and creativity, not only in theater, in other realms of the arts as well.”
Correction May 31, 2002: This story was updated to correct the name of Firestone’s former law firm as well as the photo credit at the beginning of this article.