The Museum of Family History
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Thinking Exercise

So You Want to Be an Actor?

Actor Joseph Buloff in the Yiddish play, "Yoshke the Musician", 1931
 Courtesy of the New York Public Library of the 
Performing Arts/Billy Rose Theatre Division.

Yoshke the Musician
Lives in the Yiddish Theatre, Joseph Buloff, Second floor

From the late nineteenth century until just before the Second World War, one could find Yiddish theatre being performed in many countries around the world. Actors would perform in the Yiddish language (their "mama loshen," or mother tongue), which was the language spoken by the majority of the Jews of Europe at the time. In both Eastern and Central Europe where there had been a very heavy Jewish population, this was especially true, though one could find Yiddish plays being produced in such major cities as London, Paris and New York. Many young Jewish men and women within these populations aspired to become actors and actresses during this time.

It is said that the first Yiddish play was called a Purimshpiele, a play traditionally performed during the religious Jewish holiday of Purim. For many decades, many Yiddish families enjoyed going to the Yiddish theatre, as it provided them with a pleasant experience, as well as an escape from their arduous daily lives. Yiddish theatre expanded even more so in the wake of what was called Haskalah, or Jewish enlightenment, which signaled a great increase in Jewish literary culture.

Look at the photograph on the left and ask yourself the following questions:

How can you tell that the character Yoshke is a musician?

What season of the year do you think the scene takes place in?

What do you think Yoshke is thinking?

Do you think he's going somewhere, and if so, where do you think he might be going?

Where do you think Yoshke plays his musical instrument?
What kind of music do you think he plays?

Do you think he plays by himself, or do you think he is part of a musical group? If he plays with a group, what other types of musical instruments might accompany him when he plays?

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