Ari Roth, longtime artistic director and ambitious shepherd of the DC Jewish Community Center’s Theater J, has been fired.
Roth, who’s led the theater company for 18 years, was asked to step down, the Washington Post reports, after his unauthorized commenting to the media was deemed insubordinate.
Roth and the DCJCC administration, led by Carole R. Zawatsky since 2011, have clashed on numerous occasions during his tenure, which has been marked by a commitment to diverse viewpoints and programming that’s challenged simplified or comfortable narratives of Israel’s past and present. Earlier this year, a Theater J production of The Admission, a play about a disputed Israeli massacre in an Arab village, was demoted from a full show run to a workshop after a coalition of local right-wing Jews protested its depiction of Israel.
Most recently, the DCJCC canceled elements of Theater J’s Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival, an annual exploration of Israel that Roth has, in the past, programmed to include some critical perspectives. After the Jewish Daily Forward reported the news, Roth sent in a statement, which drew claims of insubordination from Zawatsky.
A statement from the DCJCC positions Roth’s departure as voluntary, but Roth tells the Post that he declined to sign a resignation letter. He and the DCJCC were in the midst of planning his exit for months from now, but those plans were cut short yesterday when, Roth says, Zawatsky informed him that his employment was terminated. For now, Associate Artistic Director Shirley Serotsky will take the reins.
Roth intends to launch a new project, the Mosaic Theater Company, at H Street NE’s Atlas Performing Arts Center, next fall. The Voices festival will continue under the auspices of this new company.
“Ari leaves us with a vibrant theater that will continue to thrive. Theater J has a reputation for producing groundbreaking art that engages, informs, and challenges us to think about the world. We are committed to continuing the legacy of artistic excellence established by Ari Roth,” said Zawatsky in a statement. Championing that kind of groundbreaking, challenging art in an environment that muffles dissenting voices, however, seems a futile pursuit.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery