The Folksy Avant-garde?: Moyshe Broderzon and the Ararat Cabaret Theatre
“Our Ararat […] our theatre of small forms has great ambitions […] and it strives for Yiddish theatrical truth and earnestness. We’re going to bind ourselves with the golden thread (goldenem fodem) of Goldfadn’s adorable folksy theatre, that got unravelled and entangled in the skein of Shund horrors,” writes Broderzon in a leaflet celebrating Ararat theatre’s fourth anniversary (1931). The word “folksy” (folkstimlekh) denotes here a positive quality relating to Goldfadn’s golden thread, which leads to truth and earnestness, values Broderzon advocated ever since his art manifestos in the first volume of the Yung yidish (1919) art journal. Folk and folklore were indeed a salient notion in Ararat’s first programs, which included numbers described as “folksy-primitive,” or a “folk dance,” and engaged with figures such as klezmer musicians or a maggid (traditional itinerant preacher). Moyshe Broderzon and the cultural circle around him, including graphic artists such as Yankl Adler, Marek Szwarc and Victor Broyner, and musicians such as Henekh Kon, were clearly inspired by Y. L. Peretz’s secular revolution and his ”folklore renaissance,” yet their understanding of folklore and its role in modern Jewish culture often differed, I argue, from that of Peretz. Examining Moyshe Broderzon’s lyrical dramas and the Ararat “kleynkunst” (miniature) theatre he led, I would like to address questions such as: what was Broderzon’s vision of folk art? How were notions such as folksy or primitive theatre meant to serve as a bridge between high and low culture? What are the similarities and differences between Broderzon’s stance and Y.L. Peretz’s vision in this regard? What characterizes Broderzon’s particular form of cultural translation of traditional culture to the Yiddish stage? And finally, in what ways did the unique environment of interwar Łódź shape Broderzon’s folkloristic fascination?