Yiddish Theater Playbills

Playbill from show at the Douglas Park Theatre, 1939 or 1940
Playbill from show at the Douglas Park Theatre, 1939 or 1940

The daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Lithuania, my grandmother grew up in Humboldt Park on Chicago’s West Side. Like many of the neighborhood’s Eastern European Jews, my great-grandparents owned a store, and they often struggled to make ends meet.  My grandmother, whose first language was Yiddish, enjoyed acting, and as a child, she took part in local Yiddish theater productions to help her family pay the bills. She saved some of the programs from the shows, and years later, she passed them down to my aunt. These two playbills come from productions that my grandmother acted in in the late 1930s or early 1940s, when she was in elementary school. One of the shows, The Eternal Dance, starred Lucy and Misha German, a married couple prominent in the Yiddish theater circuit; my grandmother played one of their children. Another show took place at the Douglas Park Theatre, one of the many Yiddish theaters on Chicago’s West Side, and the last one operating in the city; it closed in 1951. These playbills include both English and Yiddish, listing the cast of characters in English alongside Yiddish advertisements.  These playbills embody the two worlds my grandmother straddled as she grew up in an immigrant community and sought to please her parents while succeeding on her own terms. My grandmother quickly learned English in school and went on to become the valedictorian of her Roosevelt High School class and to attend university despite her father’s doubts, but through the Yiddish theater, she maintained a strong connection to her parents’ roots. 

Place(s): Chicago, Poland, Lithuania

– Sara Newman

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more