A kitchen table. A pot of coffee. A plate of bagels. Three women came together in an ordinary way to realize the extraordinary dream of creating a new theatre to give voice to Jewish women. Their dream expanded into something even bigger and more impactful than anything they could have dreamt of.
The Braid started out as Jewish Women’s Theatre in spring 2007 with a group of women who knew what it means to be outsiders, to exist in the margins of culture, and to be stereotyped. Until then, no theater company in America had pledged to welcome and encourage contemporary stories by Jewish women and to adapt them theatrically, giving them life in front of a live audience.
We had no space. We had no money. But we had many talented women wanting to share their stories. And this gave us to the courage to create a new way of thinking about theatre. “We are a people of the book,” we reasoned. “What if we focused on the word, the text, the story? What if we revived the age-old tradition of salons: women hosting culture of the day in their homes?”
Sparing the expense of a theater, sets, costumes and props meant we could fully focus on presenting powerful stories in unexpected and convenient locations, reaching many more local neighborhoods across Los Angeles and beyond.
So we pioneered a new art form and cultural experience that debuted in the backyard of a home in Pacific Palisades, California, in fall 2008 and have grown exponentially since. We launched “Salon Theatre” our signature program creating original shows each with a theme presenting stories, poems, comedic monologues, songs performed by actors.
Our first season started with 3 shows with 3 performances each presented in private homes, reaching 482 patrons. Thirteen years later we have delighted more than 100,000 community members throughout Los Angeles, the South Bay, the San Francisco Bay Area, and beyond, including 15 states and off-Broadway. We have partnered with over 140 organizations to bring our unique brand of entertainment into the community in synagogues, museums, art galleries, universities, Jewish Community Centers, senior-serving facilities, and even prisons.
Hundreds of stories by writers ages 13-98 have been presented and over 60 original Salon shows, including seminal ones: Saffron & Rosewater—the Persian Jewish experience; Stories from The Fringe—the trailblazing stories of women rabbis; Chutzpah & Salsa— experiences of having a Latino heart and Jewish soul; True Colors—stories about identity from Jews of Color; and Mapping of the Mind-– exploring mental health in a new light.
Early on we became a project of Community Partners, the gold standard of non-profit fiscal sponsorship and then in 2015 became our own independent 501(c)3 non-profit supported through ticket sales, a wide patron and donor base, and generous public and private funders.
A BELOVED HOME OF OUR OWN
The Braid: Weaving Performance and Art
While continuing our salon performances in myriad community settings, we opened our own performance and arts space in November 2014 to present longer running shows, writer’s workshops, classes, community events and special Shabbat events that interweave performance. We also present art exhibits that tie thematically with performances at The Braid so patrons experience a theme visually and dramatically. This artful and innovative aspect of our work deepens engagement with a topic, setting it apart from other theatres and performance spaces. The Braid quickly became a beloved part of the community, repeatedly voted among best live theatres by The Argonaut and most loved business by the Santa Monica Daily Press.
THE BRAID TO OFF-BROADWAY
A rare and coveted path for LA Theater.
The Braid opened with an initial production of Not That Jewish, our commissioned one-woman show by Monica Piper, an artist-in-residence. The show played to sold-out audiences, 3-4 nights a week for sixteen months, earning a nomination from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle for the best solo performance in 2015. Due to its resounding success, Not That Jewish opened off-Broadway at New World Stages in October 2016 for 200 performances.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Living our values of equity, diversity and inclusion.
While Jewish Women’s Theatre began focusing on women’s stories, we evolved to include the stories of all Jews of diverse backgrounds regardless of gender or sexual orientation. So during our 13th season and Bat Mitzvah year, celebrating our coming of age as an organization and increased responsibility to Jewish values, we changed our name to The Braid. This name better reflects the entirety of our programming, who we are and what we are becoming – the nation’s go-to Jewish story company, braiding together performance, programming, art and conversation grounded in Jewish culture.
The Braid remains true to its founding commitment of giving voice to Jewish stories that haven’t been heard, whether those are stories by women, Jews of color, or Jews from other diverse backgrounds. Even as we have grown and continue to expand the scope and reach of our performances and programming, our goal continues to be to move previously unheard Jewish stories out of the margins and into the mainstream. We are thus expanding the notion of what it means to be Jewish and how being Jewish fits into the larger American cultural landscape.
OUR FUTURE LEGACY
The show ends. The audience is in tears. Inevitably a patron asks, “How can I share this story with someone not here tonight?” And so we go, from page to stage to the digital frontier!
We look forward to our second decade, giving voice and celebrating untold Jewish stories, giving all access to these contemporary treasures via digital formats, licensing and tours, and creating a lasting legacy for future generations.
During the pandemic, we have continued to build connection and community with live on Zoom performances, as well as a new streaming partnership with ChaiFlicks, attracting audiences worldwide