Books &Commentary &Layout & Design &Theater 05 Jun 2011 07:08 am

Boris Aronson & the Yiddish Theater

Back in 2007, Eddie Fitzgerald had an excellent piece on his site about the Yiddish Theater. This encouraged me, at the time, to write a post built on the back of some of the set designs of Boris Aronson, one of the greatest of all set designers for Broadway. I’ve added to it and recap it here.

Most people have forgotten the theatrical heritage that came out of the Yiddish Theater. The immigrants to America brought a theatrical treasure with them. In New York, Second Avenue housed dozens of theaters that entertained a very large audience with hundreds of plays. The shows, of course, were all performed in Yiddish. These shows were not only in Manhattan but in the outer boroughs as well.

Many performers stepped out of Yiddish Theater into stardom, but there were also many directors, writers, composers and designers that emerged as well to create the history of the mainstream theater.

Boris Aronson, a Russian immigrant, designed for the Yiddish Unser Theater in the Bronx. He took his position as an opportunity to introduce Constructivist designs to audiences. New art was entering America at the popular level, and it was accepted.

Aronson did quite a number of set pieces and costume designs before moving over to the mainstream, English-speaking theater. He became the foremost designer on Broadway designing the original productions of many shows such as Cabin In The Sky, Bus Stop, The Crucible, and Awake and Sing. His later work included Cabaret, Fiddler On The Roof, Company, Follies and Zorba.

Here are a few examples of the work he did for the Yiddish Theater.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

The above three images are from Aronson’s first production.
The Constructivist designs were for Ansky’s production of Day and Night (1924).

The allegorical plays of the Yiddish theater often featured Heaven and Hell.
Here, Aronson designed a “a concert hall in the skies of hell.”
The show was Maurice Schwartz’ production of “Angels on Earth”
for the Yiddish Theater in 1929.

Here is his depiction of “Hell” in model form.

Here is the actual production of the “Hell” set.

The show “The Bronx Express” required a subway car (left) with advertising cards.
A tired buttonmaker on his way home from work dreams that these ads come to life. (right)

In the same show, the buttonmaker dreams of a beach resort boardwalk.
Aronson keeps the ceiling of the subway car intact for this set.

Designs for costumes for Joseph Buloff and Maurice Schwartz.

Schwartz (dressed as a woman) & Buloff

Costume designs for some of the Male Chorus.

6 Responses to “Boris Aronson & the Yiddish Theater”

  1. on 05 Jun 2011 at 8:25 am 1.marc aronson said …

    thank you for featuring my father’s work. An exhibition of his Yiddish Theater sets and costumes opens in Moscow this week — after having been shown in Paris and Tel Aviv. We are hoping to bring it to America as well.

  2. on 05 Jun 2011 at 8:45 am 2.Michael said …

    Marc, your father was a brilliant artist. Seeing his later sets in the earliest days of my theater going experiences has shaped my world (albeit an animation one.) I love and frequently revisit the Knopf book of his work by Frank Rich & Lisa Aronson.

  3. on 05 Jun 2011 at 1:36 pm 3.Marc said …

    These images are most likely from th great book “The Theater Art of Boris Aronson” by Frank Rich. Grab it if you can.

  4. on 05 Jun 2011 at 6:29 pm 4.Eddie Fitzgerald said …

    Very nice! i wonder if the exhibition reconstructed any of those sets, at least as models? I’m curious to see how they’d look in real life.

    That blog post I put up in 2007 was a memorable event for me. I was so mad at my readers for not responding that I almost closed the blog down for good. There was some pretty useful information about story construction there and my readers seemed completely uninterested.

    I did keep the blog going though, partly because John K gave me a nice drawing to boost my morale, and partly because I realized that most people (me included) require more than one hearing to assimilate an unfamiliar idea.

  5. on 07 Jun 2011 at 7:59 pm 5.Robert Schaad said …

    What a great post! Also, that it points the way back to Eddie’s post and further back still. Love these set designs, and would certainly look forward to an exhibition in NYC.

  6. on 08 Jun 2011 at 1:01 am 6.Eric Noble said …

    These are absolutely beautiful! I will have to search out his work and work in the Yiddish theater. Thank you for posting these.

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