MONTREAL — Bryna Wasserman is leaving the helm of the Segal Centre for Performing Arts after 13 years to become executive director of the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre in New York.
Wasserman, who is the Segal’s artistic director, and was previously also its executive director, is leaving in July, she announced.
“This just seemed like the right time,” Wasserman said, who prefers to exit the scene without fanfare. She spent many years in New York from the time she was in college, and her children live there.
Her departure comes at a time when the Segal is on firm footing, with strong programming and a solid reputation in the Montreal cultural community.
The Folksbiene is the only professional Yiddish theatre in the United States, and one of a handful in the world. Founded in 1915, it also lays claim to being the oldest theatre – Yiddish or English – in New York.
Wasserman will be working with its artistic director, Zalmen Mlotek.
She returned to Montreal from New York in 1996 to take over the artistic direction of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (DWYT), when her late mother, its founder, became ill.
Two years later, she also took on the direction of the then-Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts. In recent years, she oversaw its transformation into the Segal Centre and its greatly expanded and diversified programming.
Wasserman emphasized that her connection with Montreal and the DWYT will remain strong as its honorary artistic director. She will, for example, direct next season’s production, that classic of the Israeli Hebrew-language stage, Kazablan, which opens in June 2012.
One of her last major projects is organizing the second Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival this June, which will bring together Yiddish performers and scholars from around the world. The first in 2009, which she initiated, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the founding of the DWYT.
In a statement, Alvin Segal, president and chairman of the Segal board, said, “Following in the footsteps of her mother Dora, Bryna will take on this new challenge in New York to help build bridges within the North American Yiddish theatre community.
“Bryna’s devotion and leadership have greatly contributed to the growth and success of the Segal… We wish to express our most sincere gratitude.”
As for the DWYT’s long-term future, Segal said a “strategic revisioning” is underway and a three-year development plan will be unveiled during the Yiddish Theatre Festival, June 13 to 22.
The DWYT has played an important role in the preservation of Yiddish culture in Montreal and beyond over its long history.
The Segal’s English and increasingly French programming will be directed by artistic producer Paul Flicker, chief executive officer Manon Gauthier and an artistic committee.
“The Segal Centre is continuing its growth, and the future looks brighter than ever,” said Segal. “Built by the community, for the community, now open to the world, our centre stands as a proud ambassador of the Montreal Jewish community.”
A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of Fine Arts, Wasserman previously worked for four seasons at the Folksbiene, as well as at English theatres in the United States and Canada.
For the Saidye/Segal, she has directed more than 20 different Yiddish plays, both those originally in that language such as Mirele Efros and The Dybbuk, and translations like The Threepenny Opera and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.
Wasserman toured DWYT four times in Europe, as well as Toronto and Florida.
She has earned a reputation for mentoring new talent and is known for including promising theatre professionals in all her productions. Wasserman also directs YAYA (Young Actors for Young Audiences), the DWYT’s youth wing which has toured extensively.
Wasserman has won the Montreal English Critics Circle Award for her contribution to the development of theatre in Montreal, and the Segal’s English plays have won numerous Masque Awards from the Quebec theatre community.