Yiddish Empire

The Vilna Troupe, Jewish Theater, and the Art of Itinerancy
Debra Caplan
Relates the untold story of a traveling Yiddish theater company and traces their far- reaching influence


Yiddish Empire tells the story of how a group of itinerant Jewish performers became the interwar equivalent of a viral sensation, providing a missing chapter in the history of the modern stage. During World War I, a motley group of teenaged amateurs, impoverished war refugees, and out- of- work Russian actors banded together to revolutionize the Yiddish stage. Achieving a most unlikely success through their productions, the Vilna Troupe (1915– 36) would eventually go on to earn the attention of theatergoers around the world. Advancements in modern transportation allowed Yiddish theater artists to reach global audiences, traversing not only cities and districts but also countries and continents. The Vilna Troupe routinely performed in major venues that had never before allowed Jews, let alone Yiddish, upon their stages, and operated across a vast territory, a strategy that enabled them to attract unusually diverse audiences to the Yiddish stage and a precursor to the organizational structures and travel patterns that we see now in contemporary theater. Debra Caplan’s history of the Troupe is rigorously researched, employing primary and secondary sources in multiple languages, and is engagingly written.

“Marvelously ambitious in scope, consolidating in one volume the vast and diverse elements of the Vilna Troupe’s history. Caplan is an excellent storyteller, and clearly conveys the energy and excitement that characterized the Vilna Troupe at its best.”
—Henry Bial, University of Kansas

“A highly enjoyable book that will be of interest to aficionados of Yiddish theater and others with an interest in the history of Yiddish culture. The Vilna Troupe’s story is a great one, and Caplan tells is with verve and enthusiasm.”
—Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan

Debra Caplan is Assistant Professor of Theater at Baruch College, City University of New York.

Praise / Awards

  • "Superbly written. The narrative is compelling, and the story of the actors and troupe is sympathetically told."
    --The Russian Review?
  • "This book shows how wrong [the] sidelining of Yiddish theater is, and how theater history of the twentieth century needs to pay more attention to not only the Yiddish stage, but in particular to the Vilner. The troupe may have only shone for a decade, but its resonance across the world cannot be underestimated."
    --In Geveb
  • "Yiddish Empire is a meticulously researched history, captivating in its details, which sheds light on the remarkable achievements of the Yiddish art theater."
    ---The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory
  • "Yiddish Empire: The Vilna Troupe, Jewish Theatre, and the Art of Itinerancy... provides a comprehensive view on the essence, accomplishments, and influences of the Vilna Troupe that traces its name back to its founding in the vicinity of Vilna (now Vilnius, Lithuania) in 1915." - Heidi Stern, The Year's Work in Modern Language Studies
  • "This is truly an innovative and creative use of new digital technology, which opens up new possibilities for Jewish research."
    --Yiddish Forward

  • Winner: Modern Language Association (MLA) 10th Fenia and Yaakov Leviant Memorial Prize in Yiddish Studies

Look Inside

Supplemental Materials

Additional images, videos, and audio recordings can be found on Fulcrum.org

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Article on Yiddish Theater from CUNY Link | 11/12/2018
Listen: Debra Caplan interviewed on Indoor Voices Podcast Link | 11/12/2018

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 342pp.
  • 13 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2018
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-13077-1

Add to Cart
  • $94.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2018
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03725-4

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  • $39.95 U.S.

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