Natalie Madgy and Doris Rubenstein
Natalie Madgy and Doris Rubenstein

106 pages cover the years from the turn of the 20th century to today.

You can take the girl — or in this case, the girls — out of Detroit, but you can’t take Detroit out of the girls. Shared experiences that go back over 60 years made for a powerful team effort to create Setting the Stage: Jewish Theater in the Upper Midwest from Its Origin to the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company (Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, Minneapolis, 2020).

Natalie Madgy and I have known each other since third grade at MacDowell School in Detroit. Our common love of theater first showed itself in the third grade when we “shared” the role of the King Mouse in the school’s Christmas production of The Nutcracker. We both give credit to the Detroit Public Schools in the 1950s and ’60s for our strong grounding in theater.

It’s 1984. Natalie is living in the Twin Cities for several years after graduating from Michigan State University. After 12 peripatetic years following graduation from the University of Michigan, I move to the same area and reunite with my old classmate, then working for the Minnesota State Arts Board.

When it dawned upon me that the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company (MJTC) — then and now the longest, continuously-producing professional Jewish theater company in the U.S. — would soon be celebrating its 25th anniversary, I proposed to the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest that a history of Jewish theater in our area be written. They approved. With Natalie’s background with the Arts Board, I knew she’d be competent partner to share the work or organizing and researching the subject.

Two years of work resulted in Setting the Stage: Jewish Theater in the Upper Midwest from Its Origin to the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company: 106 pages that cover the years from the turn of the 20th century to today. Ironically, the MJTC has had to shorten its 2020 season and will be performing outdoors to small audiences as its 26th season opens.

Many groups chronicled in this publication have their counterparts in Michigan: Synagogues that present Purim shpiels and youth group productions; shows produced at the Jewish Community Center; the Jewish Ensemble Theater, etc. Might the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan undertake a similar project?

The ties that were woven in Detroit — a love of Judaism and of theater — between two Jewish girls have proved strong enough to create something that reflects those interests far away from their origins.

Setting the Stage: Jewish Theater in the Upper Midwest from Its Origin to the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company can be bought through www.jhsum.org/shop.

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