Five new laptop computers click away in the offices of the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET),…
Changes At JET
The Jewish Ensemble Theatre is staging its 26th season with new roles for administrative staff and volunteers, a changed lineup of mainstage productions and a reconfiguration of business practices.
The goal is to bolster community attention and finances that began falling short during rough winter weather, when otherwise regular attendees stayed away as the 25th season played out.
The Value of Names, a comedic father-adult daughter production written by New York playwright Jeffrey Sweet (see related story on page 60), will have the opening spotlight as members of the young adult community are being asked to give their input for JET’s future.
Christopher Bremer, former managing director, has accepted the newly established position of executive director after the resignation of David Magidson, who served as artistic director for five years.
“David is a talented director and wonderful teacher, and we hope we’ll be able to bring that talent back to our theater in the near future,” Bremer says.
In a July 13, 2013, article published in the JN, 2013-2014 JET President Gail Mayer of West Bloomfield celebrated JET as the longest, continually performing, professional Jewish theater in North America.
Now, JET is working in an environment that has seen the closing and reopening of the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, the winding down of the Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company in Detroit and the dissolution of the Michigan Equity Theatre Alliance, which promoted joint ventures to save money for nonprofit production companies.
Still, “we are optimistic about JET’s future,” Bremer says. “We will be working hard at reinventing ourselves and analyzing what we can provide for a wider community. In a difficult time for theaters, we are upbeat about making connections with projected audiences, including contacts with NEXTGen members at Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.
“Besides getting NEXTGen input and hopefully other young-adult participation, we are in touch with Hillel organizations at local universities to make arrangements for special programs that would include their members. Timing conflicts prevented that from happening last season,” Bremer says.
The goal of “productions for children and [finding] more sponsors, corporate and individual,” put forth by the JET board in last summer’s JN article, also apparently has fallen short of stated desires.
In a new restructuring of the JET board, longtime members Mary Lou Zieve and Elaine Sturman, both of Bloomfield Hills, and Elizabeth “Betty” Pernick of West Bloomfield are serving as 2014-15 co-presidents, seeking new funding sources and making decisions — including play choice in consultation with the Play Reading Advisory Committee — that would have been assumed by an artistic director.
Lewis Tann of Bingham Farms, who joined the board in the 2012-2013 season, became treasurer for 2013-2014 and is firming up his role after reviewing the long-term history of JET finances.
While Sturman explains that the 2013-2014 season got off to a sound start because of a generous bequest, Tann is trying to establish ways to keep finances stable.
“This is my first experience in the nonprofit world, and I’ve been observing operations,” says Tann, whose business experience contrasts with the entertainment experience of administrators and volunteers.
“Over JET’s years of existence, I’ve found, there have been times of narrow profits and times of narrow losses with no reserves. While fluctuations have been met with support that ‘fills in the holes,’ that did not happen last season when the deficit reached from mid- to low-five-figure numbers.” Tann declined to provide an exact figure.
“I want to put more focus on cash flow and running JET as a business, and I’m sensing an excitement about that approach. I will be calling attention to numbers critical to operations and projecting where we have funds to operate,” adds Tann.
It was decided that ticket prices would not go up, but in a cost-saving measure, The Value of Names, a play with a small number of characters, was chosen to start the season in place of the originally scheduled Old Jews Telling Jokes, which has been moved to November.
It is also hoped that finances will be enhanced with a fall fundraiser honoring Drs. Phoebe and Harris Mainster, who have supported JET for many years as part of their commitment to the community and public-service projects that have taken them to underdeveloped areas around the world.
The annual gala, which includes dinner and piano entertainment, will be held Monday, Oct. 20, at the Glen Oaks Country Club in Farmington Hills. Ticket prices start at $150.
“I am pleased that JET is continuing its effort toward trying new approaches,” says Magidson, who will not be directing any plays at JET in the upcoming season but will be devoting his time to responsibilities as a theater professor at Wayne State University.
“So many theaters are looking for ways to draw audiences and gain financial support. I’ve learned, for example, that the Stratford Festival in Canada is lowering prices for children this season.
“I think people will enjoy the selection of productions planned for 2014-15 by JET, which I believe is an important cultural institution that builds the community.”
The idea for the co-presidency was Sturman’s.
“There are opportunities for JET that keep me very excited,” says Sturman, whose idea was based on arrangements she had noted while serving in officer capacities with Hadassah.
“We work as a team and are trying to think out of the box. We are continuing to look for ways to attract younger audiences as we remain proud of the productions we market toward children and teens, including The Diary of Anne Frank.”
The issue of bullying is addressed with three productions: Mean Girls, I Was Just Kidding and Word.
Pernick explains that the co-presidents are mindful of maintaining the quality of productions as they pursue business initiatives.
“We were not able to raise the funds we had hoped to raise with the setup we had,” says Zieve, who helped found JET, which will remain a professional equity theater and is completely independent of the organizational framework of the Detroit Jewish community (JET pays rent to the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield for the space it uses).
“We’re trying to find funding in very difficult times for theaters, and we’re looking for volunteer help from people who enjoy live productions. While it’s tough to compete with other forms of hi-tech entertainment in today’s market, we are looking to comedy.
“These productions have been especially well-received with our audiences so I think the play Enter Laughing (replacing the character-heavy Barefoot in the Park) will be among those having wide appeal for young and old. I am confident that we are going to make this season work.”
JET will hold its fall fundraiser annual gala, which includes dinner and piano entertainment, on Monday, Oct. 20, at the Glen Oaks Country Club in Farmington Hills. Ticket prices start at $150. Info and tickets: (248) 788-2900; www.jettheatre.org.
Young Adults Wanted
As part of its plan to re-envision and restructure the Jewish Ensemble Theatre, members of the JET board, along with Executive Director Christopher Bremer, have decided to create another board and/or committee solely for young adults who are interested in theater and helping JET to continue to grow and thrive.
“JET is looking to provide stimulating, entertaining, provocative and educational plays and events that will have a special appeal to members of this group, and their input is very important to us,” Bremer says. “As emerging leaders of the Jewish community, their ideas impact what we do, and we are inviting the Jewish community’s young adults to join in the planning stages.”
Please call (248) 788-2900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to participate in this new opportunity to shape one of our community’s cultural jewels.