Join poet Irena Klepfisz (NY) with renowned Bay Area playwright /actor Naomi Newman and director Bruce Bierman who will talk about translating poetry from “page to stage” for the upcoming production of Between Worlds. Moderated by Laura Sheppard, Producer and hosted by Mechanics’ Institute. Sign up on the Mechanics’ Institute webpage link below and you will receive the Zoom notification one day before the program. To Register »
Yiddish Theatre Ensemble produced Between Worlds based on the life and poetry of celebrated writer Irena Klepfisz on August 16-20, 2023 at the Live Oak Theatre in Berkeley, California. This production was inspired by Irena’s recently published book, Her Birth and Later Years: New and Collected Poems, 1971-2021 (Wesleyan University Press). The Jewish Book Council named Her Birth and Later Years a finalist for the Jewish Book Award in Poetry. Klepfisz was also honored by the Yiddish Book Center for the 2022 Year of Women in Yiddish.
Between Worlds was conceived and written by acclaimed actress Naomi Newman in collaboration with dramaturg Zack Rogow. This original theatre piece, directed and choregraphed by YTE co-artistic director Bruce Bierman, is created by an ensemble of four actors. Naomi Newman, founder of Traveling Jewish Theatre, brings her enormous talents to the stage portraying the courageous poet, Holocaust survivor and activist Irena Klepfisz. Collaborators also include renowned musicians percussionist Barbara Borden and Susanne DiVincenzo on cello and bass.
Weaving together a narrative storyline with Irena’s poetry, the play describes seminal moments in her life and her role as the “keeper of accounts” of a vanished world. The vignettes describe her escape from the Warsaw Ghetto and survival in war-torn Poland. After immigrating to New York, she tells of her struggles with a new language and the pull of the world she left in Eastern Europe. Irena reveals intimacies as she explores her passions as a lesbian, the pleasures of a life-long relationship, and the death of a loved one. Ever present are the haunting memories of her father—a martyr of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
The play travels between two worlds: the poet’s present reflections, and the past. The Poet sits at her desk with her beloved typewriter as she taps out her poems. Her study spills over with treasured books, old photos and manuscripts. She speaks directly to the audience, inviting us into her world and memories.
On stage the ghosts of Irena’s story come to life. The actors portray the characters through movement, gesture, and choral vocalization of the poems, accompanied by musicians performing an original score.
Made possible, in part, by a CA$H Grant from Theatre Bay Area.
[Triptych photo credits: Deep Rose/Laura Sheppard; Naomi Newman/Marcia Liberman; Irena Klepfisz/ family photo.]