WASHINGTON, D.C., and OKLAHOMA CITY: People often equate a year abroad in college with certain activities: partying, acquiring language skills, and engaging in romantic flings with foreign nationals. But for Kate Schecter and Ari Roth, the year they spent at Hebrew University in Jerusalem provided a solid foundation for a relationship that has taken them around the world and in and out of various personal transformations.
“It was my sophomore year abroad and Kate’s junior,” Roth recalls. “We were so young and still forming our identities. I was a political science major and Kate was [studying] anthropology.” Theatre was a far-off reality for Roth, who has since gone on to lead Theater J and become the founding artistic director of Mosaic Theater in Washington, D.C.
For Roth, getting to know Schecter’s parents, who were both professional writers, was deeply impactful. “They were the first professional writers I knew,” he says. “It was so influential for me and important for me in terms of charting my course.” Later that summer, after Roth had immersed himself in creative writing while in Israel, he announced to Schecter that he was a playwright. “She laughed out loud and said, ‘That’s not your identity!’”
It was the last time she would doubt him. “Kate has made it possible for me to have a career in the arts,” Roth is quick to say. “She has believed in what I do and made it possible to raise two kids. In 20 years, she’s almost never missed an opening night. Her presence and approval of what I do have made my career possible.”
“He has revealed himself to be a good theatre man!” Schecter says. Her support of Roth is matched by Roth’s reciprocal eagerness to be a part of her world. “When I transitioned to becoming the CEO of World Neighbors”—a community-based NGO that helps families and villages raise agricultural output, educate women and girls, and improve health—“Ari gave me incredible advice about how to raise money in the not-for-profit sector that applied to my development organization.”
In fact, both Schecter and Roth made major transitions in 2014 when Schecter left a large health NGO and began at World Neighbors and Roth left Theater J to found Mosaic. Roth and Schecter have also both dealt with parent companies. The JCC is the umbrella organization for Theater J, which Roth ultimately left, while World Neighbors used to be under the auspices of Feed the Children. Since Schecter has started at World Neighbors, she has steered the company out from Feed the Children and acted a key consultant to Roth in his decision to leave Theater J.
“We are both 50somethings who have gone out on a limb and started something new,” says Schecter. World Neighbors’ headquarters are in Oklahoma City, and this has benefitted Roth’s D.C.-based Mosaic. “Oklahoma University has a strong theatre department, and Mosaic has worked with interns that have come out of that program,” says Roth.
Schecter’s career in the NGO and development sector has impacted Roth in other ways as well. While she was completing her Ph.D., Roth joined her in Moscow before the fall of communism, taking care of their young baby while she did research. “That prompted my play Life in Refusal, about Jewish dissidents issues,” says Roth.
Though they are intrepid travelers—Schecter’s career has sent her to the Soviet Union and now with World Neighbors, she focuses on work in Asia, Africa, and South America—foreign stints aren’t always possible. When Roth was invited to Sarajevo during the wars that broke apart Yugoslavia, he didn’t go. “It was the right decision because we had a four-year-old and a newborn,” says Schecter. “I wasn’t brave,” Roth sighs. But then he adds: “We did Stephanie Zadravec’s Honey Brown Eyes. I have become braver as a producer because I am making up for regrets about things I wasn’t able to confront or achieve as a writer.”
Schecter allows, “There are only so many conflict zones you can be at the frontline of.” But for now, with their kids raised, the pair looks forward to bringing their art and activism wherever they can.