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For whom the manager of the Yiddish Actors' Union Traveled to Europe.

by Chaim Ehrenreich

January 25, 1935

When the news that Reuben Guskin's trip to Europe for three weeks suddenly became known, anyone who was interested in Yiddish theatre started looking for an explanation about the quiet, not-so-secret travel; people, not even in the theatre, understood it, just because of how infrequently the manager of the Actors' Union did this. Somehow a mission was there.

The first question that the representative of the "Forward" put to Guskin when he returned last Tuesday from Europe, was:

"What was the takeaway from your trip?"

To tell the truth, the writer believed that Guskin would not give a clear, open answer; his travel was so "unprofessional", so quiet.

"I am traveling," Guskin said, "due to two reasons: Firstly, Jacob Kalich, the stage director, and


M. Saks, the director of the Second Avenue Theatre, asked me to try to engage Ludwig Satz for the coming season in the Second Avenue Theatre. At the same time, I received a letter from the Artists' Union in Warsaw, that Samuel Goldinburg lies in a hospital and cannot travel back by himself, without a companion. I found that I was needed to be the companion. I mean that Goldinburg deserves it from all of us.

"To tell you the truth, I also had a third intention -- to get acquainted with the situation of Yiddish theatre in Poland, and you can easily establish relationships with the Artists' Union due to future work among our organizations."

Guskin raised one part of his mission. In Antwerp he happened upon Ludwig Satz, who played there with great success, and Satz will play in the coming season in the Second Avenue Theatre.

"He will play roles that he has played before in the first years of his career, when he made his great name as a character-comic," according to Guskin.

That said, that Satz will ... this coming season in the Second Avenue Theatre, meanwhile he sends a greeting to everyone of his friends here; he will return here in the summertime.

From Antwerp Guskin traveled to Warsaw to take Goldinburg and travel with him back home. Upon arrival, he realized that the patient had recovered so much that he was able to recover on his own.

"I am of course pleased that Goldinburg is no longer sick," said Guskin.

"And what about the intention you had of making connections with the Artists' Union about unitary work?" -- asked the "Forward" contributor.

"It is difficult to answer this question," said Guskin. "Unfortunately the two leaders of the Artists' Union, who I happened upon in Warsaw, would not show the relationships that would encourage what it is being negotiated. Their hospitality was very strange. I could not come together with the broader membership, so unfortunately all of my plans did not come to fruition."

Guskin knew the situation of the Yiddish Theatre in Poland, though not as thoroughly as he would have liked. He spent only a few days there.

According to Guskin, there now exists four union theatres [in Warsaw] and an amateur troupe with Dr. Weichert as the stage director. The theatres are the Kaminski, an outspoken theatre; Nowości, Smocza, Yung-Theatre and the Skala. The one that is most successful is the Nowości, where the "Ararat" appears. The other theatres, however, according to the remaining theatres and circumstances are also struggling.

However they are "members' troupes," which play, that is, as cooperatives, according to the mark system. Only in Lodz, where Tselmeister is the director, are actors organized wage-wise as we are in America.

"In my opinion," says Guskin, "the field of Yiddish theatre in Poland is vast. Despite the bitter poverty, the audience arrives at the Yiddish theatre in the middle of the week, as well as on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And don't forget that they don't have any benefits like we do. They come to the box office.

"In addition, they have a considerable province, with stars who are not far from each other. With us, you know, the strengths among the cities are great, and the stars, where one can play Yiddish theatre are only getzelte, still great. In Poland, a city of two-thousand Jewish inhabitants, is a manageable field for Yiddish theatre. It is packed."

Guskin believes that the Yiddish theatre there helps under the expensive prices that they charge in the movies, as well as the national feeling of a large part of the Jewish youth.

If the field for Yiddish theatre is in such favor there, why is there a lack of private entrepreneurs? Why must actors have to direct theatres and also act in members' troupes?

Guskin did not want to answer the question after a short visit. He pointed to this in passing, that the form of the management in the Artists' Union is not healthy and must not appeal well to the theatre profession. The large membership of the Artists' Union can never speak, unless harshly criticized, if necessary, by the leadership.

"Leadership?," Guskin explained: "In New York, at least once a month every actor who is in New York can come and negotiate the business of his organization. If he is not happy, he gets up at a meeting and speaks. He can come to the Executive Board, which has meetings every week, and have a word there.

"In Poland it is different. Once a year in Warsaw they hold a meeting of the delegates of the special troupes. The great majority of the actors cannot express themselves. The delegates inherit a management of five people who must guide the important works for an entire year until the next meeting. The fact is that two or three members of the management often are traveling around the province, leaving the entire management of the union in the hands of two people.

"I want to stress that the 'think and fail,' the broad membership, does not have the possibility to come to speak out and have a direct effect on the work of their organization. This, in my opinion, is not a healthy condition. He cannot effect for the good on the business side of the Yiddish theatre.

This is how it is possible for all actors to be employed, to play. But they have no earnings, neither do they make a living. And earning a living is not for those who play for "Jews" in a members' troupe.

About the repertoire that is played in the Yiddish theatres, Guskin did not want to speak about this after his short visit. His impression is that they feed themselves with the plays from America. Often they change the name of a play. Then, when the American guest comes there, unfortunately, they often come there dispirited because the plays have already been played. If social relations with the Artists' Union had been established, the regulation of repertoire could also have been established between the two countries.

In Belgium there exists one Yiddish theatre, according to Guskin, and it has not only fine actors, but also a very beautiful audience. When times were better, Antwerp and Brussels would be prosperous cities for Yiddish theatre. Now Ludwig Satz is playing there, and the theatre is constantly packed.

The situation in France is difficult for the actor, according to Guskin. The earnings are from thirteen to twenty dollars a week. Playing theatre there is associated with large taxes. Twelve percent of the take goes to the government, twelve -- to the author. Even if the author had received his, however, he seldom sees a penny. Two-thirds of his twelve percent goes to the manager of the business.

Recently the situation became worse due to the persecution of foreigners; two to three times a week "raids" occur on the streets and in the cafés. The public sits at home because they fear going out somewhere. From this the theatre is not healthy. Lately the number of unemployed in Paris has grown strongly.

The acting family in Paris, Guskin tells, received him with a rare warmth. He brings a greeting from Ola Lilith and Willy Godik, who have played there for a couple of years. She plays now on the Polish stage as a star, and Godik took an important position in "Ararat."

Guskin visited the Medem Sanatorium in Otwock, with Comrade Sh. Mendelson as his guide. The sanatorium made a rare impression on him.

"It was said here that you were in danger of bringing in new talent from Poland," the writer told Guskin.

"I only brought Satz and Goldinburg," Guskin immediately replied. "In Poland quite good actors are found, but the number of the young talents is very small. I do not know what is being said here, but what I am telling you is the true truth of my vision of Europe. I have no secrets."





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