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Hayley Finn, a longtime director and producer of new plays in Minneapolis, has been chosen as the new artistic director of DC’s Theater J, one of the nation’s most influential Jewish theater companies.

The 48-year-old Finn has lived for a decade and a half in Minnesota’s largest city, where she serves as associate artistic director of the Playwrights’ Center, a popular outlet for game development. undergraduate and graduate theater degrees from Brown University, has conducted nearly 1,000 workshops for new plays.

“My artistic work as a director has largely focused on plays around Jewish identity or plays that really resonate with the mission of the J Theater,” Finn said, in a Zoom interview. “So there was this great alignment and it feels like a great opportunity to create this next generation of work for theater and the DC community, but hopefully beyond DC”

Finn, who was born and raised in New York, succeeds Adam Immerwahr, who joined the company in 2015 and left last year to run Seattle’s Village Theatre. She starts part-time on February 1 and assumes the full-time position on April 10.

This is both an interesting and challenging time to lead a theater dedicated, as the J-Theater mission statement describes, to the “ethical issues of our time, cross-cultural experiences paralleling our own, and the changing landscape of Jewish identities.” “. Founded in 1990, the society is a branch of the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington on 16th Street NW. He frequently deals head-on with Jewish topics, as evidenced by his current offering, “Two Jews Go to War.” But over the years it has also produced works by non-Jewish artists on related themes, as it did last year with a cover of Anna Deavere’s “Fires in the Mirror,” the investigation Smith on the riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, sparked by a clash between Orthodox Jews and blacks.

An audit released last April by the Anti-Defamation League found that 2021 saw the highest number of anti-Semitic acts in the United States since the ADL began keeping statistics in 1979. Data like this is of course in the minds of security-conscious Jewish organizations. like the JCC, which this month also welcomed a new Executive Director, Jennifer Zwilling. Finn observed that a theater embedded in a Jewish institution should be engaged in a discussion of the turmoil of American society.

“It’s what you put on stage, and I think it’s the programming you do around it,” she said. “One of the things I loved most about the J Theater was that there was a sense that the conversation is important. And that’s the kind of theater I love: how can we having conversations around the work, putting it into context, allowing multiple communities and perspectives to come and engage with the work – I think that’s all really important.

Howard Menaker, who sits on the J Theater’s 29-person advisory board and chaired the search committee, said Finn was the “clear and unanimous choice” among the seven finalists.

“She had this combination of everything we were looking for,” Menaker said in an interview. “Leadership position in good theater, producing experience. We were also looking for directing experience – and someone who understands partnerships not only with other theaters, but with the community in which they thrive. Finn, he added, “led a fundraising campaign. Not all art directors have a solid background in fundraising.”

As a program within a larger non-profit organization, the J Theater has enviable advantages, such as the use of a 236-seat theater that is essentially free and certain expenses such as utilities covered. But it faces some of the same challenges as other theater companies, including rebounding from pandemic-related declines. present and encourage people to return to public spaces.

According to David Lloyd Olson, general manager of Theater J, the company has had a small but welcome surge in subscribers lately: The theater, which has an annual budget of more than $2 million, had 982 subscribers at the time of closing in March 2020. It has 989 today. It comes at a time when some synagogues are seeing growth in their congregations — perhaps a reflection of Jews seeking community at a time of growing threat.

Finn traces the beginning of her birthing journey of plays with New York experimentalist playwright Mac Wellman, whose work she was invited to direct at the Playwrights’ Center. “Mac is the person who got me to become his director and we worked on parts,” she said. “I fell in love with the Playwrights’ Center because, you know, it’s all about new work, and then I stayed and became the associate artistic director… It’s built a much more national platform for itself over the of my mandate.”

The belief in evolving work will certainly guide his new assignment. “It’s critical, I think, for the vitality of theater that we invest in writers,” Finn said. “I see that as very, very important.”

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