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Additional resources for Russian Culture and Theatrical Performance in America, 1891–1933

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Stimulated by an immigrant population’s psychological and emotional needs in its transition to and assimilation in America, the Yiddish theatre at the turn of the century served as a communal meeting place where Jewish immigrants could address the issues and needs brought on by their displacement. The theatres recreated familiar, if sentimentalized, versions of life in the old country and depicted romanticized or comedic representations of life in the new country. For the uneducated, Yiddish-speaking masses, the theatre provided them with a fanciful escape from the lives they spent in sweatshops or in tenements.

Russian companies had toured successfully in Western Europe, and because German, French, and Italian artists had been successful on American stages, it seemed reasonable to assume that Russian artists might also enjoy financial and artistic success. A successful tour in America would secure artists an international reputation that would bolster their success at home or lay the groundwork for their success as artists in America, should they choose to stay. As it turned out, American audiences generally lacked the necessary response mechanisms to connect with the Russian performers and the material they presented: they knew little about Russia and did not widely celebrate the types of modern plays the companies presented.

While his plays may not always achieve the ideals of Russian realism, many of them attempt to depict the everyday struggles of Russian and American Jews. The best of his dramas, and his translations and adaptations of Russian literature, attracted progressive audiences from uptown as well as from the Lower East Side. Gordin is often viewed as the initiator of serious drama in the Yiddish theatre, but he also fought hard to increase the standards of the Yiddish stage in general. He was especially interested in training actors in a more realistic style to suit his plays and those he translated, and, later in his career, even attempted to create a company that performed in an ensemble style in the fashion of the Moscow Art Theatre.

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