Remembering Theodore Bikel: Ver vet blaybn, vos vet blaybn? (Who will remain, what will remain?)

Actors Ed Gero and Theodore Bikel in THE DISPUTATION.

                      Actors Ed Gero and Theodore Bikel in THE DISPUTATION.

Upon hearing of the death of legendary theater artist and musician Theodore Bikel yesterday, we’ve been moved to observe as many artists from the Theater J family reflected on the time they spent–on stage and off–with this incredible man.

Our own Associate Producer Delia Taylor worked closely on the production of THE DISPUTATION with Theo. She shares this memory:

In the Fall of 2005 I stage managed The Disputation, a Theater J production starring Theodore Bikel. Also in the cast were Edward Gero, John Lescault and Naomi Jacobson.  It was a once in a lifetime experience for all of us—working with Theo—he was one of a kind, a big man in every sense, to whom all superlatives applied. He played with us too; Naomi and John will never forget having him in their home, singing with the cast and crew, strumming his guitar until the wee hours following the show. He would return to the DCJCC again a number of times since then and every one of his performances will be remembered with delight by the many who attended—his memory is a true blessing.

We worked with Theo again in 2008, producing his own stunning adaptation of several Sholom Aleichem stories in the solo show SHOLOM ALEICHEM: LAUGHTER THROUGH TEARS.

Theodore Bikel in LAUGHTER THROUGH TEARS, directed by Derek Goldman.

Theodore Bikel in LAUGHTER THROUGH TEARS, directed by Derek Goldman.

Bikel’s script for Laughter through Tears opened with these questions:

Ver vet blaybn, vos vet blaybn? Who will remain, what will remain? Does anybody worry about legacy? People under sixty usually don’t. I started to worry about it in my thirties.

What will become of the memories of yesterday, of the shtetl, of Sheyne Sheyndl, of Tevye? Of the language they spoke and sang in?

Friends keep telling me ‘just live for today and work for tomorrow.’ But today and tomorrow are not worth all that much without the memory of yesterday. Poetry, songs, heated discussions of rabbis, we remember it all. Is this just nostalgia? No, we Jews are not a people of nostalgia, we are a people of memory.

Bikel burns brightly in our memory, and he always will. His legacy–that of an artist, a friend, a mentor, and an activist–will long endure. We at Theater J are honored to have spent time and artistic space with this great man.

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