Ari Roth Let Go From Theater J

The longtime artistic director has been let go from Theater J, due to programming conflicts between the theatre and the DC Jewish Community Center.

Ari Roth
Ari Roth

WASHINGTON, D.C.: In a piece of news that shook the D.C.-area theatre world on Thursday night, Ari Roth, longtime artistic director of Theater J, has been let go. Roth told the Washington Post that he was “terminated abruptly” for refusing to sign a severance agreement. This would have allowed the theatre to characterize Roth’s departure as a resignation.

Theater J, which specializes in Jewish theatre, is housed within the DCJCC. Roth’s firing after 18 years of leadership seems to be a case of artistic freedom versus institutional pressures. In November, DCJCC announced that it would cancel future iterations of Theater J’s Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival, which programs new plays about Israel.

In past years, previous festival productions have come under fire. A group calling itself Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art protested Return to Haifa in 2011 and The Admission in early 2014.

The decision was met by some in the DC community as tantamount to censorship (with one board member resigning in protest). In an internal document obtained by the Jewish Daily Forward, Roth wrote, “Increasingly, Theater J is being kept from programming as freely, as fiercely, and expressing itself as fully as it needs…. We find the culture of open discourse and dissent within our Jewish Community Center to be evaporating.”

A search is currently underway at Theater J for Roth’s replacement. In the interim, the theatre will operate under managing director Rebecca Ende and associate artistic director Shirley Serotsky. In a statement released by the DCJCC, chief executive officer Carole R. Zawatsky said, “Ari Roth has had an incredible 18-year tenure leading Theater J, and we know there will be great opportunities ahead for him. Ari leaves us with a vibrant thatre that will continue to thrive.”

But this is not the end for Roth. In fall 2015, he will launch the inaugural season of a new theatre company, Mosaic Theater Company, which will be housed at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. The season will include the Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival.

American Theatre has reached out to Roth for a comment.

  • Ari Roth

    reach out to me here, at or on facebok – thought it’s drinking from a fire hose of support and unfolding urgencies at the moment. happy to talk.

    • Andy in VA

      I am sorry for the turn of events, but I support the action taken by the JCC. In fairness to all, it should have happened sooner. This is not a case of “freedom of expression”. Mr. Roth is free to find another venue and to put on any play that he desires — but he is not free to use someone else’s facilities against their will. If the microphones that he was using belong to the JCC, the JCC and its members are free to tell Mr. Roth to get his own microphone — they should not be compelled to implicitly support, by use of the JCC facilities, plays which they find objectionable. If Mr. Roth decided to put on “Springtime for Hitler”, don’t the members of the JCC have any rights at all? Or must they sit back and take it while their facilities are used to support a point of view that they find unsupportable? This is not a case of censorship — its just a matter of the board, acting on behalf of the JCC’s members — telling Mr. Roth that they are tired of being compelled to implicitly support his plays, and that he should find another venue.