The performer, puppeteer, and former sound archivist turns YIVO upside-down.
By LEAH FALK
Jenny Romaine has been spending a lot of time at YIVO lately. This summer, she co-led, with Shane Baker, the theater workshop for the Uriel Weinreich Summer Program in Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture, introducing students to troll costumes, nigunim and sheydim (demons). This fall, she returns not once, but twice, to remind us of the ghostly roots of sukkes and to help revive one of the most celebrated pair of Yiddish puppets on the Lower East Side.
Romaine’s first stint for YIVO, “The Haunted Sukke,” her immersive-theater brain-child created with street theater troupe The Sukkes Mob, premiered at KlezCanada this summer to great acclaim. Among other things, it’s an effort to get Jews reacquainted with that most pagan and party-friendly of Jewish holidays, the feast of booths. In Hasidic communities, Romaine notes, sukkes is a time for serious celebration: get off the subway at 18th Avenue in the middle of the festival week and witness bounce castles, costumes, dancing, and food. Transmitting this sense of glee to other Jews should be easy, but Romaine also wants it to be rooted in the ancient history of the holiday: namely, the tradition of inviting ushpizin – honored guests and influences – into the sukke. Traditional ushpizin include Moyshe Rabeynu, Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov, Rokhl, Rivke, and Leah. A former YIVO sound archivist, Romaine’s ushpizin might range from Max Weinreich to Adrienne Cooper to Avraham Sutzkever, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and beyond.