Aaron Henne: Judaism Unbound Episode 156 - Creating Jewish Theatre


Aaron Henne, Artistic Director of Theatre Dybbuk, [1] joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation blurring the lines between art, education, politics, preservation, and creativity. This episode is the first in a series, brought to you in partnership with the Council of American Jewish Museums. [2]

Image Credit: Taso Papadakis

Image Credit: Taso Papadakis

(0:01 - 16:15): To begin the episode, Henne provides an overview of Theatre Dybbuk’s work. In doing so, he argues that too often we treat the realms of education, and art, and ritual as entirely separate from one another, when they actually can and should be seen as deeply intertwined. He calls back to ancient Greek tragedies, noting the ways in which they were actual in and of themselves serving a kind of religious, ritual function. He cites a recent work by Theatre Dybbuk, called Exagoge, [3] which draws from ancient Greek texts and styles, to flesh out what the genre-blurring he calls for can look like in practice.

(16:16 - 31:40): Henne considers the ways in which many perceive art as only instrumentally valuable. He claims that we should see art as inherently valuable, not as worthwhile only when it serves some other element of human experience. At the same time, he considers how artists can learn to focus more deeply on the idea of impact, without thinking that doing so is artistically inauthentic. He also pushes back on a dichotomy that many sometimes draw (and which, candidly, Judaism Unbound has occasionally drawn) between preservation, on the one hand, and creativity. Then, riffing off an analogy Dan draws regarding the different ways people can experience a museum, Henne explores how the experience of a good theatrical production can look very different from audience member to audience member.

(31:41 - 49:59): Looking back on a production called Assemble, [4] Henne considers how art can be a successful modality for taking lost rituals from the Jewish past and recovering them in our present. [5] In Assemble, the ritual was associated with Sukkot (called Hakhel). Continuing with the theme of “lost Jewish traditions,” Henne also names a recent production called Lost Tribes, which explicitly looked at the theme of hidden narratives — through an ancient deep-dive into the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel — and examines how one might elevate those voices that have been marginalized or silenced. [6] To close the episode, Henne talks about why artists shouldn’t be afraid of the political, and encourages us to understand audience members (and community members in a synagogue) not as “recipients” of art or worship, but as active participants in it.

Image Credits: Taso Papadakis

Image Credits: Taso Papadakis

[1] Learn more about Aaron Henne by checking out his website. Explore Theatre Dybbuk’s work more broadly by visiting TheatreDybbuk.org.

[2] Head to CAJM.net to learn more about the Council of American Jewish Museums, and visit this link to hear more about the 2019 CAJM conference in Los Angeles, in which Judaism Unbound will be featured.

[3] For more information about Exagoge, click here.

[4] Henne briefly mentions the Leichtag Foundation, and a Sukkah Building competition that they sponsored. Click here to learn more about it! Check out some photos of the 2015 Harvest Festival, at which Assemble was featured, here. This link includes images of a Sukkah built in partnership with the NewSchool of Architecture and Design.

[5] Learn more about Assemble here.

[6] For more details regarding Lost Tribes, check out this link.