Rebekah Scallet

In 1997, the Jewish Community Center launched a professional theatrical company to share programming that reflects the Jewish experience. After more than 25 years, New Jewish Theatre continues to offer St. Louis meaningful experiences that enrich lives, build community and promote inclusivity. T&S spoke with the company’s new artistic director, Rebekah Scallet, to learn more.

What is New Jewish Theatre’s mission?
For me, the core of the mission is to present universal stories through a Jewish lens. That can manifest in a lot of ways. We celebrate works by Jewish authors and playwrights, focus on stories about notable Jewish people and put on plays centered on Jewish themes and values. Our products aren’t just for Jewish audiences, but the entire community. Everyone can get something from watching a show. They get the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes and have an empathetic experience.

How has it grown in its 25-year history?
The founding artistic director was Kathleen Sitzer. When she was hired, The Jewish Community Center already had a community theater, but she had the idea of taking the space and doing professional productions. Thus, the New Jewish Theatre was born. The first season there were three productions. Now, we do five, and our productions are bigger. We’re closing this season with Into the Woods, which will be the biggest musical we’ve ever done. We’re always growing and looking for ways we can resonate with audiences.

What does New Jewish Theatre bring to the community?
The J started as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association more than 100 years ago. Part of its bylaws state that the organization always needs to have a theatrical component. At the beginning, it was to help immigrants learn more about American life and give Jewish members of the community a chance to see themselves on stage. We live in very different times now, but a lot of that remains the same. New Jewish Theatre is a place where everyone can celebrate the history and culture of Judaism and the richness and diversity of the community.

Tell me about your first season with the company.
I started this past August. It’s a really interesting time as we come out of the pandemic. My background is in classical theater, specifically Shakespeare, but I’m excited to get to celebrate my Jewish heritage, especially in St. Louis where my family is from. Right now, I’m working on planning my first season for 2024. It’s a fun challenge to find the right balance between familiar works and new productions. I’m looking forward to bringing some fresh playwrights and stories. The whole idea is to put together a five-play season that gives you a little bit of everything. Each production should take you on a different journey and offer a unique experience.

How can people support New Jewish Theatre?
First and foremost, we love for people to see a production. Getting more people in the door helps spread the word of the work we’re doing. Our next show is Gloria: A Life, which is about the life of feminist icon Gloria Steinem. It’s a great example of a play that fulfills our mission by telling the story of an amazing Jewish woman. The production has an all-woman cast and design team. It’s a celebration of women working in theater. Gloria: A Life will run June 1 through 18.

Pictured at top: New Jewish Theatre’s 2023 production of Broadway Bound; Rebekah Scallet
Photos courtesy of New Jewish Theatre