The National Yiddish Theatre - Folksbiene is America’s preeminent Yiddish theatre. It is the longest continuously producing Yiddish theatre company in the world and one of only four international Yiddish theatre companies in operation today. Founded in 1915, the Folksbiene (the “People’s Stage”) continues its mission to preserve, promote and develop Yiddish theatre for current and future generations and to enhance the understanding of Yiddish culture as a vital component of Jewish Life.
The Folksbiene is the sole survivor of fifteen Yiddish companies that played to enthusiastic audiences on the Lower East Side in the Golden Age of Yiddish Theatre in the early 20th century. Founded under the aegis of the Workmen’s Circle, the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre became an independent nonprofit in 1998, with a commitment to make the world of Yiddish theatre accessible, enjoyable and relevant to new generations and audiences beyond its core Yiddish-speaking constituency. In recognition of its role in the Jewish immigrant experience, the theatre has been renamed The National Yiddish Theatre - Folksbiene. Today, English and Russian supertitles accompany each performance.
Each season, the Folksbiene presents more than 100 programs and performances to a combined audience of over 20,000 individuals. The company’s mainstage productions, outreach programs and its bilingual Kids & Yiddish children’s show portray the history and traditions of an immigrant people in a contemporary venue. In the past four seasons alone, its audience has more than tripled, as more and more theatergoers flock to our stage to sample the excitement. They cheer new generations of artists working in Yiddish who are reinforcing Jewish identity, renewal and pride within a multicultural world.
The Folksbiene’s acclaimed repertoire encompasses plays of Yiddish origin, works by mainstream authors and significant new works in Yiddish, including the 2002 world premiere of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yentl in Yiddish and a series of popular Yiddish music theatre productions that includes On Second Avenue (2006), Di Yam Gazlonim! (Pirates of Penzance, 2007), the U.S. premiere of I.B. Singer’s beloved Gimpel Tam (2008), and the sold-out Adventures of Hershele Ostropolyer (2010), featuring international TV and stage star Mike Burstyn with direction by Tony-nominee Eleanor Reissa. Hershele returns by audience demand to the Folksbiene stage in spring 2011. Upcoming productions include the riotous Shlemiel the First and the buoyant and heartwarming Golden Land.
Productions and programs are open to all who wish to gain a deeper appreciation of Yiddish language and culture. The Folksbiene’s core audience draws from among the two million Jewish Americans in the tri-state region, but critical success, awards and audience enthusiasm are winning the attention of a broader theatergoing public from across the country and around the world.
Yiddish has embodied the hearts and minds of the Jewish people for centuries. It speaks with humor and passion of the human condition, our strengths and frailties, our hopes, fears and longings. The Folksbiene is uniquely positioned to serve as a living resource of this rich cultural legacy. In celebration of its enduring vitality, the National Yiddish Theatre - Folksbiene was presented a 2007 Drama Desk lifetime achievement award for “for preserving for 92 consecutive seasons the cultural legacy of Yiddish-speaking theatre in America.”