‘Folksbiene Live!’
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‘Folksbiene Live!’

Zalmen Mklotek’s National Yiddish Theatre creates Facebook performances to help people connect

Zalmen Mklotek
Zalmen Mklotek

The social distancing Covid-19 has demanded of us puts us all at home and at loose ends.

Some of us have jobs that we’ve brought home, with all the dislocations and convolutions that entails – but we know we’re lucky. We have jobs.

Other people – unemployed, retired, with the kinds of jobs you can’t take home (even if you could open a restaurant in your own home, you can’t) — are bored.

Writers can write, painters can paint, sculptors can sculpt, singers can sing to themselves – but performers crave audiences. It completes their art.

What to do?

Gia Pace, who is in charge of social media at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, had an idea (and to be fair, other people in other organizations have had similar ideas. It’s in the air). The museum that houses it, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in Manhattan’s southern tip, is closed. So why not perform online?

Zalmen Mlotek of Teaneck, the Folksbiene’s artistic director, thought it was a great idea. “Gia urged us to consider using this time to connect with our patrons. I’d already had the idea of reaching out and calling our longtime supporters. Who wouldn’t appreciate a phone call at this moment? No one.

“It’s what everyone is saying we should do anyway. It makes sense to reach out to your family members, and to your extended family. And we are like a family.”

To be clear, the family he’s talking about isn’t only longtime supporters.  They’re anyone who is at all interested in Yiddish culture. “It’s anyone who takes solace in the fact that we have a culture that we celebrate and are committed to – and that’s both those of us who are working in it and those of us who just enjoy it.

“So I said, ‘Let’s reach out to our performers, to our people, to see if they would be interested in doing short little concerts from their homes, to share with other people in their homes.’ This is basically people isolated at home reaching out to anyone who wants to click in and be part of it.”

That was the genesis of Folksbiene Live!

The first performance, with Mr. Mlotek singing both songs he’d planned to sing and others that people suggested during the concert, was on Tuesday. They stream live on Facebook and then they will be posted on Facebook; “how long they stay up is up to the performer. It can range from 48 hours to forever,” he said.

So far, he’s planned to have Joel Grey, the iconic actor who directed the Folksbiene’s Yiddish-language “Fiddler on the Roof” last year, and some of the play’s actors online for a talkback, where they describe what they’ve done since the show. Each one will be in a separate place, but Zoom technology will allow them to be onscreen together. So far, the performances are planned through the end of the week. (See box.)

The performances are about 30 minutes each, but because there’s no time slot to fill, they can go under or over. They’ll be at different times of the day (and it’s not as if many people will have many lunch or dinner dates to go to anyway).

Nobody knows how long social distancing will last, or whether even more drastic measures, like sheltering in place, will be imposed. As more performances happen, there will be more and more ideas for others, because creativity works like that. Ideas feed other ideas; art helps more art grow.

“I am getting emails from people saying that this is a wonderful idea,” Mr. Mlotek said. “We know that of course you can tune into the Metropolitan Opera or the Philharmonic, but we feel that it is important for us to do our part.

“It’s free to the public, of course, and at this point the performers are donating their time. Obviously we would want to compensate them at some point if it continues. Now, though, it feels good to connect and take some comfort in knowing that there are others listening, watching, and enjoying Yiddish and Jewish culture together.”


What: ‘Folksbiene Live!’

Where: On Facebook, at  facebook.com/folksbiene; you also can get there through the Folksbiene’s website,  nytf.org.

What’s next:

So far, plans include

Friday, March 20, at 5 p.m.; “Allan Sherman on a Friday Early Evening” with Ben Liebert and Blair Alexis Brown.

Monday, March 23, at 2 p.m.; “Love Duets Lunchtime Concert with Stephanie Lynn Mason and Drew Seigla; a Q & A will follow.

Tuesday, March 24, at 7 p.m.; “Lider un Mayses far Zise Khaloymes — Stories and Songs for Sweet Dreams — An Event for the Whole Family” with Dylan Seders Hoffman

More will be coming soon; keep checking the Folksbiene’s website, nytf.org.

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