Home > Newspaper Archive > At the Yiddish Theatre > Glickman's Yiddish Theatre in Chicago


from an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune, dated May 2, 1902

Once at a Saturday matinee performance, one of the actors in Glickman's Yiddish Stock company struck a match and lit a cigar on the stage.

The other actors had advised and warmed him not to do it; they told him that the ancient law, which forbids the striking of a match on the Jewish Sabbath, should be observed on the stage so long as he was playing in Yiddish to a Hebrew audience, and that if he broke it he would certainly displease the people out front.

"It's a part of the regular stage business to light a cigar," said the actor, persistently, "and I'm going to do it."

He did, and the moment he struck the match the audience began to hiss and broke out into cries of disapproval, and the actor who had so grossly offended against the law of Sabbath observance according to the strict rule of the orthodox code was finally forced to leave the stage without going further.

The incident throws light on both the methods and the purposes of the Yiddish Theater, now located in the old Lyceum on Desplaines street just off West Madison. It is not intended more as a place of amusement and recreation than as a place of education, where the children of the Ghetto can see enacted on the stage the tragic history of their race in past generations and in other countries.

Two performances are given on the Jewish Sabbath, but every rule of the strictest orthodox code is followed on the stage, and the first effort of everybody is to do nothing which shall in any way offend any of the religious scruples of the audience.

A majority of the patrons of the Yiddish theatre come from the crowded Ghetto, many families attending several evenings a week, the bill being changed almost every night. As it is the only Yiddish theatre in  America outside of New York. It draws patronage from the Jewish colonies of all the surrounding country and hardly a night passes but parties are present from Milwaukee, Elgin, and other nearby towns, while occasionally people come from as far away as St. Louis or St. Paul.

The patrons of the Yiddish theater demand strong meat. During the last year Manager Glickman put on translations of several of the well-known light operas, such as the "Chimes of Normandy," but they were not successful. His audiences were not at all familiar with the life depicted, and they did not seem to appreciate either the humor of the lines or the melody of the music. Almost everything which is presented on the Yiddish stage has first to be specially adapted to the understanding and the liking of the people. Thus it happens even with the works of Shakespeare. After Glickman had put on "King Lear" and "Hamlet" in literal  translations without making much impression, he had both plays worked over, retaining practically every detail of the plot, but making many changes in the text and making the time of the action the present day and the surroundings entirely modern. Then the "Yiddish King Lear," for instance, was put on with the greatest success, and the great audience, made up largely of children, was taught how sad a thing it is to have a thankless child.

Now Manager Glickman  is at work on an even more daring project. Early in next season he expects to put on a Yiddish version of "The Merchant of Venice," with the object of showing that the Shylock of Shakespeare is a poor and persecuted old man, continually robbed and persecuted and asking only bare justice at the hands of his enemies.

 The scale of  prices at Glickman's theater is as unique a everything else about the house. Seats range from 15 cents to $1.50 each. The balcony and the two galleries are held at low prices, while for downstairs seats 75 cents, $1, and $1.50 are charged. But the most astonishing thing is that the lower-priced seats are not sold to people who can afford to pay more. A successful effort is made to reserve the 15 and 25 cent seats for people who are not able to pay more, so that if a prosperous-looking man should attempt to buy a seat for 15 or 20 cents, he would be likely to be refused and offered something at $1.50. If he should decline to pay so much, he would be allowed to go without buying anything at all.

Performances are given every evening in the week of Glickman's, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. In the arrangement of these performances, another entirely unique feature is developed. Manager Glickman is financially interested only in the performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, the matinees and performances on the holidays. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, he gives up his theatre and his company to a long series of benefit performances, various philanthropic societies taking entire charge of the work and reaping the profits after the expenses of the theater have been paid. Mr. Glickman stands ready to give up the use of his house and company in this way to any charitable organization or in the interest of any good cause, whether Jewish or otherwise.

It should not be understood that he poses as a philanthropist in adopting this plan. His primary object in running the theater is to make it profitable for himself, and he accordingly reserves the best days of the week for himself, but in more than a hundred instances during the last year various charities and philanthropic societies have made from one or two to three hundred dollars, each out of their benefits at the house. Mr. Glickman is also indirectly benefited by these benefit performances in that many people who might otherwise ever come to the house are attracted in this way and, becoming interested, at some future time.

At any rate, as a result of this policy the theatre has come to be looked upon by its regular constituents as a sort of center for philanthropic work, as well as for amusement and instruction.

Manager Glickman has a regular stock company of eighteen performers and a chorus of twelve. The chorus is necessary not only from the fact that a large number of ambitious operas are put on, but because nearly every Yiddish drama is full of set music, requiring a chorus for its production.

The fact that the same company is expected to put on one night a comedy, the next night a comedy, the next night an opera, the third night a tragedy, and so on gives an idea of the amount of versatility which is required in every member of a Yiddish stock company. The actor, no mater how good, who cannot sing, and the singer, no matter how sweet, who cannot act are not wanted. The leading lady must be able to play the whole round, from Lady Macbeth to Yum Yum, and the leading man must be able to jump from King Lear on a Friday evening to Ko Ko on Saturday.

There are present only four Yiddish theatres in America, three in New York and the house on the West Side. Next season there are to be at least one, and probably two more, in the East. But the supply of competent actors is by no means large enough even now, and this scarcity has resulted in a somewhat keen rivalry between New York and Chicago. As a further result it has made the Yiddish stars as difficult and as whimsical as grand opera prima donnas, and the manager who keeps peace in his official family and steers an even keel through a whole season needs no further credentials as a diplomat.

For six years Mr. Glickman has been managing Yiddish actors in Chicago. One year ago he reached a point where he thought a permanent Yiddish theater might be established and, backing his faith with his works, leased the old Lyceum Theatre Building for a long term. That he was right in do believing is shown by the enthusiasm which marks the celebration of the first anniversary of the founding of the theater.




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