Current JTGR Board Member, Judy Subar is one of the founding members of Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids. She tells the story of how Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids came to be.
The four of them (Judy Subar, Linda Albert, Don Herman, and Judy Krell) met in Don Herman's living room... and that is how it all began. They decided to hold the plays at Congregation Ahavas Israel, since they had a stage and a curtain.
Judy Subar began her love of theatre as a teenager, participating in numerous Community theatre organizations. Years ago, when both the Ahavas Israel Sisterhood and Grand Rapids Hadassah chapter were active, Judy was very involved in writing and producing (short) plays and skits for the Jewish community.
As an adult, she was an avid reader of both the monthly Hadassah Magazine and the weekly newspaper The Forward (an American newspaper published in NYC for a Jewish American audience which began publishing in 1897 in Yiddish under the name Forverts.) In these publications she read about the professional Jewish plays that were being written and performed in New York (some on Broadway), and other cities. For many years she collected these news articles.
One day in 1992 she bumped into Don Herman, who inquired what she had been up to. Judy told him about how she had been collecting all this information about Jewish plays being performed throughout the U.S. and was thinking about doing something similar in Grand Rapids. Don was intrigued; so they decided to get together and brainstorm, which they did over coffee at Arnie's Restaurant in Breton Village. Judy brought all her clippings.
Moving forward they brought in Judy Krell (Judy Subar's sister-in-law), known for her organizational skills, and Linda Albert, a good friend of Judy's who had helped to direct a play at EGR High School and was known for her expertise in communication.
Judy Subar has been keeping Scrapbooks about JTGR since 1992. They reside at the Jewish Community Archives at Temple Emanuel.
The four of them met in Don Herman's living room... and that is how it all began. They decided to hold the plays at Congregation Ahavas Israel, since they had a stage and a curtain. One of the first plays performed during the inaugural 1994-95 season was a Reader's Theatre production The World of Sholom Aleichem, adapted by Linda Albert. Judy remembers, "We stood in front of the curtains. We stood in front of music stands with our scripts in front of us...and we told some of the stories of Sholom Aleichem. We had a nice crowd for an audience. It was an evening performance with dessert. Things went well for what it was." Four shows are listed on the roster for JTGR's first season.
Some of the early productions were also performed at Temple Emanuel on their Bema. One of the early plays, performed in the third season (1996-97) was "This Reminds Me of a Story (What Jewish Humor Says About the Jews)," written by Don Herman. Due to difficulties scheduling shows around Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Jewish holiday schedules, it was around this time that Don spoke with Fred Sebulske about renting space at Spectrum Theater. No one had ever done that before. But Fred said "yes" and so JTGR's relationship with Spectrum Theater began. Now JTGR had access to more powerful lighting, a sound system, and many other things not available at the Synagogue or Temple. It was the beginning of JTGR becoming a REAL theatrical company.
A Board of Directors was formed. Don Herman was the first President. He served in that role for many years and was instrumental in helping to mold JTGR into what it is today. Cheryl Currier was our first Administrative Director. After Don stepped down, other community members have served as JTGR Presidents, adding their knowledge and expertise and helping the organization continue to grow. These include Dr. Jeffrey Frank, Lori Jacobs, Leonard Robinson, and current JTGR Board President, Paul Arnold.
Many more have donated their time and energy to Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids, serving on the board, selecting the plays that will be presented, helping with productions. Being Jewish is not a requirement to volunteer! We have many volunteers from other faiths. There is always room for more people! Visit our Volunteer page if you would like join the fun.
Jewish Theatre has had many growing pains over the years. But we have come a long way in the last 30+ years. We should be proud of ourselves that in a community the size of Grand Rapids we have been able to continue to present shows with a Jewish connection that appeal to people of ALL faiths. (Remember - You don't have to be Jewish to love Jewish Theatre). Many Jewish Theatres across the country are struggling or have folded. Grand Rapids is truly blessed.
Please help to ensure that JTGR keeps the lights on...attend a performance, subscribe, and support JTGR in any way you can.