Deborah Baer Mozes, Founder and Artistic Director from 1990-2022
1990: Theatre Ariel was Founded
1999: Partnership with National American Museum of Jewish History
2007: Theatre Ariel Returns to Mainstage
2022: Jesse Bernstein becomes Artistic Director
1830: The Jew Premiered
2011: Salon Ariel is launched
1992: TA Commissions its first outreach program
In 1990, Founding Artistic Director Deborah Baer Mozes created Theatre Ariel in response to a gap in the cultural mosaic of Philadelphia – the lack of a Jewish theatre.
This was not always the case. Richard Cumberland’s The Jew had its American debut in Philadelphia in the 1830. In the early 1900’s Philadelphia was a vibrant center of Yiddish theatre, with the names of Molly Picon (a native Philadelphian), Jacob Adler and all the greats of that era glittering on the marquees of Philadelphia’s theatres. With the diminishing light of Yiddish theatre, Jewish theatre lay dormant in the city -- until the birth of Theatre Ariel.
In its thirty years, Theatre Ariel has made an impact locally, nationally and internationally as a theatre committed to the development of new Jewish plays and emerging Jewish playwrights as well as celebrating published and established work.
New Play Development and Productions
Theatre Ariel has commissioned and produced 82 new works.
Theatre Ariel developed the FIRST ten-minute play festival dedicated to the Jewish experience. Theatre Ariel commissioned and produced 45 ten-minute plays, ten of which were published by Dramatic Publishing Company; Voices from Ariel: Ten Minute Plays Reflecting the Jewish Experience. Our ten-minute plays have seen professional and educational productions in Israel, New York, Arizona, Denver and Atlanta. We have been the model for other Jewish ten-minute play festival in the United States, Canada and Israel.
Theatre Ariel’s musical Aleph Bet Bop was produced by the American Hebrew Academy in North Carolina, Albert Einstein Academy (Wilmington, DE) and Germantown Jewish Center.
THEATRE LOVES CONVERSATION (TLC): Theatre Ariel’s commitment to new play development gave rise to an annual reading series of new works. Many of the works Theatre Ariel nurtured under TLC were added to Theatre Ariel’s touring repertoire while others have been produced by professional theatres in Los Angeles, Arizona and Jerusalem.
In 1992, Theatre Ariel commissioned its first outreach program OLD TALES/NEW SPARKS, an interactive story theatre production adapted from classic folk legends and Yiddish folktales, OLD TALES, was seen by over 10,000 children, parents and grandparents throughout the Delaware Valley, New Jersey and New York City.
In 1994, Theatre Ariel created ARIELPROV, an improv troupe that used improvisation and socio-drama to explore Jewish Identity & Values, and Jewish History. ARIELPROV had great success working with middle and high school students (and their parents). ARIELPROV was also commissions to create programs for community organizations leadership training conferences. ARIELPROV was disbanded in 2010.
The Theatre Ariel Touring Adult repertoire included performances of either short programs of ten-minute plays revolving around a theme (such as Women in Judaism, Ritual and Life, Jewish Identity and Contemporary Midrash), theatrical readings of Israeli and Jewish Literary works and full-length plays including 10 Imaginings of Sarah and Hagar, a biblical midrash. All performances are followed by a discussion thus breaking down the wall between artist and audience creating an atmosphere of empowerment and belonging.
In Partnership With the National Museum of American Jewish History:
Theatre Ariel brought its touring productions and staged readings to the National Museum of American Jewish History. In 1999, Theatre Ariel and NMAJH established a unique partnership with the creation of a site installation performance in the museum’s gallery. A MUSE in the MUSEum: Journeys in American Jewish History was an interactive performance in which the museum became the set, and its artifacts became the props for a theatrical journey through time and place. In addition to performances for hundreds of school groups A MUSE played for the citywide events such as Welcome America and the National Republican Convention. In 2004, A MUSE became a touring production to celebrate the 350th anniversary of American Jewish History.
In 2001, these two partners created a successful new work, HEART and HISTORY, which played alongside the museum’s exhibit A SOLDIERS STORY, Jewish soldiers during World War Two.
With Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS):
In 2003 the Jewish Children and Family Services of Greater Philadelphia commissioned Theatre Ariel to create an interactive performance exploring the challenges faced by interfaith families. 2 BECOME 1 was part of Theatre Ariel’s repertoire for many years. In 2008, JCFS commissioned a new ARIELPROV piece honoring the stories of women living with and surviving Breast Cancer as a Keynote Performance for a conference on Living with Breast Cancer. Today partnership continues, with Theatre & Nosh a lunch theatre programs for active seniors, workshops in theatre for their Adults with Disablities program and numerous other audience specific performances and workshops.
At Theatre Ariel’s inception, the company produced several seasons of Jewish Theatre productions at the Walnut Street Theatre Studio, Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, the Gershman Y and the Klein JCC. In 1997, the company became so busy with its touring repertoire it stopped producing Main Stage productions.
In the spring of 2007, Theatre Ariel returned to producing Mainstage work with the culmination of a two-year oral history arts project, A COMMUNITY REMEMBERS. This two-year oral history project, based at the Klein Branch Jewish Community Center, collected the stories of Jewish Northeast Philadelphia. The oral histories interviews were conducted by students from George Washington HS and Northeast HS. Drawn from 700 pages of oral history interview transcripts, Playwright Julianne Theodoropolos wrote BACK TO THE BOULEVARD. Directed by Aaron Oster, BACK TO THE BOULEVARD was a great success bringing over 400 audience members to the Polansky Theatre.
In 2009, Theatre Ariel performed a run of 10 IMAGININGS OF SARAH AND HAGAR at Theatre Three in Manhattan (NYC) for Theatre of Ideas’ International Jewish Theatre Festival. We remounted 10 for the Bucks County Jewish Theatre Festival produced in partnership with the Bristol Riverside Theatre.
In 1800’s Europe, the parlors in Jewish homes became the setting for Salons where reading plays aloud was a newly fashionable way to spend an evening. In spring 2011, Theatre Ariel revived this Jewish Tradition with SALON ARIEL evenings of dramatic concert style play readings and conversation in the intimate setting of beautiful homes.
For over a decade, Salon Ariel has presented primarily new work with occasional dips into the Jewish theatre repertoire.
At the end of the 2021 - 22 season, Founding Artistic Director Deborah Baer Mozes stepped down from her role to pursue a new chapter of life and work in Israel. At that time, new Artistic Director Jesse Bernstein stepped in.
The 2022 - 2023 season also saw the launch of a new five-year strategic plan, which is currently underway.