The Uniqueness of JCompanyby Emily Gould November 28, 2018
As the only theater in town that is centered around the inclusion of Jewish youth in the arts, JCompany is a San Diego institution that encapsulates life through a Jewish filter in every production. While the theater does not exclusively cast Jewish actors, it keeps kosher and allows for Jewish kids and teens to participate by refraining from holding rehearsals or shows on Shabbat. Artistic Director Joey Landwehr explains that it’s important to “give opportunity to Jewish youth to be able to be a part of theater” because there are so few other places that cater to the needs as well as artistic desires of religious Jewish youth. Landwehr’s 13 seasons at JCompany have given him the experience and credentials to ensure that he is accommodating of both the needs of the children as well as the theater itself.
There are two main sets of players at JCompany: the main stage, which is occupied by actors from 7 to 19 years of age; and JCompany Jr., for 4, 5 and 6-year-olds who are able to create “mini shows” three to four times per year. “During season, we usually have the older kids’ show so that they can tackle more adult themes,” explains Landwehr, “while the younger children put on their own productions so that they can have the opportunity to be the leads in a show of their own.”
While “most everything in musical theater is written by a Jewish composer or playwright or originally produced by a Jewish team of people, it’s difficult to find good Jewish content,” says Landwehr. As JCompany’s mission is to “explore the Jewish experience through the arts,” this can sometimes make Landwehr’s job challenging. However, he manages to tackle this by choosing at least one expressly Jewish work every year, and producing more classic shows through a lens of Judaism. For example, the theatre has just finished putting on their rendition of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame;” the production is centered around the idea that “empathy is disappearing from our world, which is a huge piece of Judaism. We need to treat others well, and that’s what we try to infuse into the show.”
Landwehr and his team try to focus on themes that are not only relevant to Judaism, but also on track with current events. Since JCompany is a youth theater, Landwehr thinks it’s important to “keep kids up on everything that’s happening in the world,” which has led him to select “Disney’s Newsies” as their next show.
“Newsies” is inspired by the newspaper strike of 1899, when thousands of newsboys boycotted the selling of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst’s publications. Poor newsboys made a living by purchasing newspapers in a bundle of 100 papers for 50 cents, and selling each paper for 1 cent, earning a profit of half a cent per paper sold. Because the wealthy publishers increased the price of a bundle from 50 to 60 cents, newsboys boycotted for weeks in a (successful) attempt to force Pulitzer and Hearst to drop their prices back down.
The musical ‘Newsies’ however, uses the strike as a backdrop for the plot and focuses more specifically on the influence of a newsboy, Jack Kelly, and a young female reporter, Katherine, on the strike, as well as how the secrets of Jack’s past are manipulated by his employer to coerce him into doing what he wants. “It’s all about fake news,” says Landwehr, and in an age where facts are constantly misconstrued to reveal a convenient truth to bipartisan audiences, this musical is astoundingly relevant.
The company will also be performing a production of the musical “1776;” a work about our founding fathers. Historically a primarily male cast, JCompany is putting a modern spin on things and casting an all female cast. “It’s a play about our founding mothers, if you will,” jokes Landwehr. JCompany keeps its young players informed and privy to societal controversies by choosing thought provoking plays that brings such issues to light.
“Disney’s Newsies” will run from Jan. 11-27 and “1776” will run May 11-19 at the David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre. For tickets and Information go to sdcjc.org/jc/.