From the late 19th century a large influx of Jewish immigrants settled in the East End of London, bringing with them a wide variety of customs and activities. This included the very popular establishment of Yiddish theatre, whose use of the home dialect and relatable themes such as assimilation and poverty provided new immigrants with a great sense of community from both sides of the curtain.
Moustaches – While Yiddish theatre was extremely popular within the developing Jewish community, their limited disposable income meant that budgets were small, and most props and sets were handmade, sometimes by the actors themselves. The Jewish Museum stages a large number of these props, including moustaches and head pieces. These ensured that actors could play numerous parts in the same production, reducing costs and providing further entertainment for the audience.
Advertisements – Budget restrictions also meant that only very limited marketing could be used, particularly because plays often had a short run. Many promotional signs were painted by hand, and pictures on posters were created using specially-designed printing blocks consisting of wooden blocks with imprinted metal plates.
Programmes – As the Jewish community became more established, higher production values allowed for detailed theatre programmes and souvenirs. These objects are particularly fascinating, as they showcase popular Yiddish theatre actors and productions, as well as numerous advertisements for theatre sponsors.
With the second generation of Jewish immigrants came the adoption of English as a first language, and in turn the decline in Yiddish theatre. Today, while London’s West End continues to offer visitors world-renowned theatre productions, the Jewish Museum is able to ensure the legacy of London Yiddish theatre a final curtain call for generations to come.
Click here to learn more about Yiddish Theatre with our online exhibition.