The JDY Theatre is a group of over 30 dedicated and talented actors, singers, dancers and crew members established in 2015 as part of J. Projects, the Russian-Jewish initiative at Schwartz/Reisman Centre.
Dan Petrenko, the group’s founder, director and producer, offers insight about the young adults who make up the JDY Theatre.
He is someone that is very involved in the Russian-Jewish community, who, on top of being a full-time student at the University of Toronto, is involved in Jewski, J. Academy, and other initiatives for Russian Jews.
He recently wrote and produced a play called Train for Two, a one-act play that follows a unique conversation between two strangers who are sharing a train cabin, and is based on a true story about a man named Misha who did some unthinkable things during the Holocaust in order to save his wife.
The show, funded by Genesis Philanthropy Group and UJA, was sold-out for all of its performances, and was later screened at several community events, including Limmud FSU Horizons.
Why did you decide to create the JDY Theatre?
From an early age, I always had a great interest in the performing arts, specifically theatre. I believe theatre unites the community in a way that not many art forms can, as it gives everyone an opportunity to participate in a unique experience, whether they are performers, families, or audience members.
In high school, I got an opportunity to direct two plays as part of the Sears Drama Festival and in my senior year, I even received an award for excellence in writing and directing. After leading a musical theatre specialty at J. Academy Camp, I shared with Dina Dryden (J. Academy Camp and J. Projects director) my dream of directing a musical that I had written called At The Copa.
With the support of Dina and J. Projects, we were able to bring JDY off the ground and put on two performances in May 2016. I see being part of JDY as a great way for me to give back to the Jewish community that gave so much to me and my family when we arrived to Canada.
Who else is part of this project? What is the group like?
The group is comprised of teenage and young adult actors, singers, dancers and crew members. Some have been a part of plays I’ve put on in high school while others joined after we’ve worked together at J. Academy Camp or after seeing one of our past plays.
The actors really support each other through rehearsals and performance preparations. Every person in the group is very different; our age groups range from 14-23, some are very active in student council, others are pursuing degrees in law or international development but every member of the group is passionate about theatre.
How do your Russian-Jewish backgrounds influence the project?
Our shared background has helped us bond as a group. Together we established group traditions during rehearsals like having Shabbat dinners on Friday nights before the play.
Many of us also jointly attend community events like Limmud FSU and get to work together at the J. Academy camp. The parents of the group have also played a crucial role in making the plays a success and making the group feel like a big family.
It was important for me to share my family’s story in our second production, Train for Two, and I hope to share more Jewish and Russian themes in the future plays.
What message do you have for other Russian-Jewish young adults?
Being a part of this developing community provides a great opportunity to be in charge of our own destiny in the context of the larger Jewish community. My dream was creating a theatre group and you can make your own dream a reality too! Join the community, volunteer and find something you’re passionate about!