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Showcasing rediscovered Jewish music and theatre

Showcasing rediscovered Jewish music and theatre

A rediscovered play written in a Second World War ghetto is given a highly unusual setting later this month as part of a major project to highlight lost or forgotten Jewish music and theatre.

The venue for the performance of The Smoke of Home – York’s Clifford’s Tower – is as historically bleak as the play’s origins.

In 1190 a royal castle on top of the distinctive earthen mound where Clifford’s Tower now stands was the refuge chosen by the city’s desperate estimated 150-strong Jewish population as they sought to escape a wave of anti-Semitic riots sweeping the country.

Besieged, most of the Jews chose to commit suicide – the survivors were killed by a murderous mob.

“It is especially appropriate that The Smoke of Home, a powerful historical drama, is being performed in York’s iconic Clifford’s Tower – the scene of such a dreadful episode in our history,” said Dr Stephen Muir from the University of Leeds, who is heading the Performing the Jewish Archive international project. 

The Smoke of Home (Dým domova), written by Czech Jews Zden?k Eliáš and Ji?í Stein in the Terezín ghetto near Prague in 1943, will be performed in York on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 April.

It is the first of a series of performances – some of them world premieres – in Leeds and York between now and June under the banner Out of the Shadows: rediscovering Jewish music and theatre.

“Out of the Shadows promises to be a poignant and uplifting programme of events celebrating the lives and achievements of Jewish artists in times of both adversity and freedom, with pieces once thought lost or languishing “in the shadows”, now brought back into the light,” said Dr Muir, a Senior Lecturer in Musicology and Performance in the University of Leeds’ School of Music.

Highlights include the Nash Ensemble, the Grammy-nominated New Budapest Orpheum Society, and other internationally-renowned performers.

The programme includes cabaret, theatre, a world premiere of a harp piece by Gideon Klein, piano music by 12-year-old prodigy Josima Feldshuh composed in the Warsaw ghetto, chamber music, song, and an exhibition of children’s drawings from the Terezín ghetto. 

For full event details, prices and bookings, visit www.ptja.leeds.ac.uk/festivals/leeds-york-2016 or call 0113 343 2574.

The Smoke of Home, an allegory set in the Thirty Years War, is a rare opportunity to see a live theatrical performance in Clifford’s Tower, which is managed by English Heritage.

It will be performed by University of York students, directed by alumnus Joe Lichtenstein. One of these performances will be live streamed from 7.30pm on 16 April via this page: http://ptja.leeds.ac.uk/events/the-smoke-of-home/

Dr Lisa Peschel, Lecturer in Theatre at the University of York, rediscovered the work in 2006 while doing research in the Czech Republic for her PhD thesis on the cultural life of the ghetto.

A Terezín survivor who remembered the play put her in touch with the widow of Zden?k Eliáš, Kate. Prompted by Dr Peschel, Mrs Eliáš found the script in her late husband’s safe, among his most important papers. 

Zden?k Eliáš survived the war and moved to America, where he died in Seattle in 2000. His co-author Ji?í Stein was deported from the ghetto to Auschwitz in 1944 and then to Dachau, where he perished in December that year.  

Dr Peschel said: “We’re very pleased and grateful to English Heritage to be able to present this event in Clifford’s Tower, not only because it’s fitting for the play as the original setting is a prison tower, but because of the significant history of the site for the Jewish population of York.”

“The play’s two young authors confront a question their fellow Terezín prisoners could not bear to face: ‘if we survive, will we have a home to return to?” said Dr Muir.

Performing the Jewish Archive is a three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project to explore hidden archives, uncover and perform lost works and create a legacy for the future.

The project encompasses five international performance festivals: Madison USA (May 2016), Leeds and York (April and June 2016), the Czech Republic (September 2016), Sydney (August 2017) and Cape Town (September 2017). Partners include the University of York, Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Further information

For interviews or further information, contact Gareth Dant, University of Leeds press officer, on 0113 343 3996 or email g.j.dant@leeds.ac.uk.

Dr Lisa Peschel is a Lecturer in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York. Out of the Shadows is supported by York Festival of Ideas.

For full event details, prices and bookings, visit www.ptja.leeds.ac.uk/festivals/leeds-york-2016 or call 0113 343 2574.

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