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JET perseveres, offering thought-provoking productions.

JET’s board of directors includes: (back row) Lewis Tann and Tom August; (center row) Elaine Sturman, Elizabeth “Betty” Pernick and Gail Mayer; and (front row) Mary Lou Zieve and Suzanne Curtis. Not pictured: Dr. Phoebe Mainster. (Photos by Jerry Zolynsky
JET’s board of directors includes: (back row) Lewis Tann and Tom August; (center row) Elaine Sturman, Elizabeth “Betty” Pernick and Gail Mayer; and (front row) Mary Lou Zieve and Suzanne Curtis. Not pictured: Dr. Phoebe Mainster. (Photos by Jerry Zolynsky

The Jewish Ensemble Theatre soon will be entering its 25th anniversary season, but longtime supporters won’t be spending a lot of time looking back.

They are interested in building toward the future, already selecting plays for the 26th year and working on programs that enlarge funding and audiences — collegial associations, special events and partnerships with community organizations not directly related to the stage.

JET, among a group of some 30 professional Jewish theaters in North America, has been energized by this summer’s announcement of company nominations for Wilde Awards recognizing theater excellence.

“We really had a pretty good season for 2012-2013, ending about $10,000 in the black, but we’re always looking for ways to enlarge our base,” says David Magidson, JET’s artistic director.

“Whether we end in the black or in the red varies from year to year, but it’s always close. We’ve been able to break even over all the time we’ve been in production.

“Our budget for the upcoming season is expected to be about $675,000. Ticket sales pay for about 50 percent of what it costs to run the theater. The rest comes from gifts and grants.”

During 2012-2013, individual donations ranged from $10 to $50,000. Contributing organizations include the Henry S. & Mala Dorfman Family Foundation; Max M. Fisher Jewish Community Foundation; Stephen, Nancy & Sam Grand Philanthropic Fund; Kresge Foundation; MASCO Corporation Foundation; MCACA-Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs; National Endowment for the Arts; Shubert Foundation; and the Ben N. Teitel Charitable Trust.

“As we seek finances, we have found that the money comes in spurts,” Magidson explains. “We get an influx of dollars with subscription sales at the beginning of each season, and there’s usually a bit of a crunch toward the end.

“We are able to maintain a small line of bank credit until the fundraising resources come through.”

An Equity Theater
JET, which complies with standards set by the Actors’ Equity Association, has begun selling tickets for the 2013-2014 year.

Among the featured productions will be The Sisters Rosensweig by Wendy Wasserstein (Sept. 25-Oct. 20), 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog (Nov. 6-Dec. 1), The Scullery Maid by Joseph Zettelmaier (Dec. 18-Jan. 12), Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting by Ed Schmidt (Jan. 29-Feb. 23) and Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz (April 23-May 18).

“The benefits of being an Equity theater have to do with getting the best people to work for us,” Magidson says

Besides JET, members of the Michigan Equity Theatre Alliance (META) include Meadow Brook Theatre in Rochester Hills, Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Plowshares Theatre Company in Detroit, Tipping Point Theatre in Northville and Williamston Theatre in Williamston, located in mid-Michigan’s Ingham County.

Christopher Bremer, JET managing director, is treasurer of the META board.

JET Artistic Director David Magidson
JET Artistic Director David Magidson

“While serving as treasurer requires a great deal of effort, I believe it is important to be part of an organization vital to the professional, nonprofit theater industry,” Bremer says.

“META exists to build awareness, appreciation and support for members while unifying and strengthening the nonprofit theater sector through collaborative marketing, development, resource sharing and advocacy.”

Two plays will be joint ventures for the upcoming season. Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting is being co-produced with Plowshares, and Other Desert Cities is being done with Performance Network. This means that each play will have two runs with the same cast and crew, one at each venue.

Although JET seeks to include plays with Jewish content or by Jewish writers, the company also wants to present productions exploring general issues of special interest to the Jewish community.

“As a professional theater that looks at the world through a Jewish lens, we want to reach out to a broader community, and we hope to do that by connecting with people from other Jewish organizations as well as non-Jewish organizations,” says Gail Mayer, the new president of JET’s board of directors.

“I think that JET is a unique cultural jewel, and I want to help it grow and thrive,” says Mayer, raised in a Canadian family filled with performance careerists, including writer-director-actress Marcia Kash, who has appeared at the Stratford Festival and on Broadway.

Reaching Out
Last year, Temple Israel booked a performance of My Name Is Asher Lev strictly for congregation members. During the upcoming season, the theater will be reaching out to Hillel organizations at Michigan universities to have special showings of 4000 Miles, which spotlights a young man returned from a cycling trip.

“We hope to do more productions for children and find more sponsors, corporate and individual,” says Mayer of West Bloomfield. “I hope we can install some younger people to participate with our board of directors (whose ages tend to be above the middle-50s).”

Serving as vice presidents on the board of directors for the upcoming season will be Elizabeth “Betty” Pernick of West Bloomfield, and Elaine Sturman and Mary Lou Zieve, both of Bloomfield Hills. Other members are Suzanne Curtis of West Bloomfield, recording secretary; Lewis Tann of Bingham Farms, treasurer; Dr. Phoebe Mainster of Bloomfield Hills, executive member at large; and Tom August of Bloomfield Hills, immediate past president.

JET is a completely independent entity and not part of the organizational framework of the Detroit Jewish community. The theater pays rent for the space it uses at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield.

“The last few years have been trying ones for nonprofits, but we’ve been suc“We really had a pretty good season for 2012-2013, ending about $10,000 in the black, but we’re always looking for ways to enlarge our base,” says David Magidson, JET’s artistic director.

“Whether we end in the black or in the red varies from year to year, but it’s always close. We’ve been able to break even over all the time we’ve been in production.

JET’s board of directors: (clockwise from top left) Treasurer Lewis Tann, President Gail Mayer, Immediate Past President Tom August, Vice President Elizabeth “Betty” Pernick, Recording Secretary Suzanne Curtis, Vice President Elaine Sturman and Vice President Mary Lou Zieve. Not pictured: Executive Member at Large Dr. Phoebe Mainster.
JET’s board of directors: (clockwise from top left) Treasurer Lewis Tann, President Gail Mayer, Immediate Past President Tom August, Vice President Elizabeth “Betty” Pernick, Recording Secretary Suzanne Curtis, Vice President Elaine Sturman and Vice President Mary Lou Zieve. Not pictured: Executive Member at Large Dr. Phoebe Mainster.

“Our budget for the upcoming season is expected to be about $675,000. Ticket sales pay for about 50 percent of what it costs to run the theater. The rest comes from gifts and grants.”

During 2012-2013, individual donations ranged from $10 to $50,000. Contributing organizations include the Henry S. & Mala Dorfman Family Foundation; Max M. Fisher Jewish Community Foundation; Stephen, Nancy & Sam Grand Philanthropic Fund; Kresge Foundation; Masco Corporation Foundation; MCACA-Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs; National Endowment for the Arts; Shubert Foundation; and the Ben N. Teitel Charitable Trust.

“As we seek finances, we have found that the money comes in spurts,” Magidson explains. “We get an influx of dollars with subscription sales at the beginning of each season, and there’s usually a bit of a crunch toward the end.

“We are able to maintain a small line of bank credit until the fundraising resources come through.”

“The last few years have been trying ones for nonprofits, but we’ve been successful,” says August, a commercial real estate attorney who volunteered for his high school stage crew.

“Surviving was an accomplishment when some theaters went down. People have been reallocating finances to social service organizations instead of the arts because of the economy.

“I hope we can develop more youth programs, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, which are affordable for schools.”

Last year, the Anne Frank production was seen by almost 25,000 students, who gained insight into the Holocaust. In order to keep tickets at minimal prices, JET raised $13,000 from donors.

Following Trends
David Chack is president of the Association for Jewish Theatre, a now-global community dedicated to helping members produce plays “relevant to Jewish life and values” that counts JET as a member.

“Over the last few years, we have seen at least four or five Jewish theaters close, but more have started to replace them so the number of about 30 Jewish theaters remains pretty constant,” says Chack.

“Some of the more popular productions in the last couple of years have been The Whipping Man, My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, The God of Isaac and Women’s Minyan. A lot of the newer plays deal with intermarriage and intercultural themes.

“There also are many performers doing solo, narrative Jewish theater pieces, such as Rebecca Joy Fletcher with Cities of Light, Antonia Lasser with The God Box and Belle Linda Halpern with Cravings: Songs of Hunger and Satisfaction.”

JET reflects these trends. It has presented three of the four cast productions listed by Chack and has included solo shows in recent seasons.

For the 2013-2014 lineup, Tim Newell will recall comedian Jack Benny in New Year’s Eve performances of Mr. Benny by Mark Humphrey, and Halpern’s show has been slated for March 22.

Susan and Dr. Joel Seidman of Bloomfield Hills do not describe themselves as observant, but they feel a strong connection to the subjects addressed by the non-musical JET productions and have held season tickets for some 20 years.

“Our connection to Judaism is emotional, and we feel that connection in the plays presented by JET,” says Susan Seidman, a retired school social worker. “We have taken our children to shows and meet friends as they attend.

“While themes are related to Judaism, they also are universal. I particularly think of Photograph 51, which had to do with issues faced by working women.”

Pursuing The Provocative
Mary Lou Zieve, who has been a broadcaster and appeared in JET productions, has been active with the company since it was founded. She worked closely with Evelyn Orbach, artistic director emeritus, who was at the helm for about 20 years as JET stabilized with Equity status.

Zieve will be honored, along with Doreen and the late David Hermelin, at the fall fundraiser co-chaired by Gina and Arthur Horwitz. The event will be held Oct. 14 at Glen Oaks Country Club in Farmington Hills.

“We want to bring provocative productions to JET, creating works that make people think and question,” Zieve says. “We also want to give experiences that let audiences get lost in something outside themselves, whether through drama or comedy.”

Zieve believes the JET board has realistic expectations about engaging younger people as regular members of the audience, which generally tend to include those over 55.

It is understood that work and family commitments, as well as budgeting and time constraints, make it hard to buy season subscriptions for those in their 20s to early 50s.

The annual “Festival of New Plays” invites audiences — at various times and places — to express their reactions to staged readings of emerging works.

Films, such as Joe Papp in Five Acts, will be presented three times on March 19 to draw attention to theater icons through the popular medium of cinema.

Suzanne Curtis, who has participated in amateur productions for Hadassah and Tam-O-Shanter Country Club in West Bloomfield, has served on the committee that picks the plays.

Hundreds are read before the final selections are made, and committee members want to include projects to attract those who cannot be in the audience for an entire season.

On an average, each audience consists of half subscription patrons and half individual ticket holders.

Elaine Sturman, former president of the Greater Detroit Chapter of Hadassah, is most proud of the productions that go out to the schools, informing and entertaining the very young.

“I believe these plays that take stands, whether about the Holocaust or bullying, help children grow up responsibly,” says Sturman, a longtime subscriber who has brought her own children to see JET productions.

“On a larger scale, I have especially appreciated JET because it is professional theater in my own neighborhood, and it gives the community a say in what is produced.

“What I have seen is relevant to my life — about the way we live or should live today.”

Chack remains mindful of the continuing impact of the Jewish stage.

“The longevity of Jewish theater today is a testament to the ways not only Jewish communities support the arts and culture but also how valuable Jewish ideas, culture and creativity are to the world at large,” he says.

“The creativity of the Jewish people is at the core of Jewish survival, and theater is one of the oldest art forms to which the Jewish people have contributed, going back to Jewish-Greek plays and reaching through modern Jewish dilemmas.”

For more information about JET programming, call (248) 788-2900 or visit www.jettheatre.org.

By Suzanne Chessler | Contributing Writer

 

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