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DORA WASSERMAN, C.M.

Grande Dame of Montréal Theatre

The Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts proudly honoured Dora Wasserman at its 2002 Gala, a fitting event to celebrate the life and contribution that this exceptional visionary has made to the arts, to her community, to Montréal and to Canada. Her life is a testimony to courage, creativity and commitment.

Dora was born in the Ukraine in 1919. As a teenager, she was invited to study voice at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in Moscow. She soon transferred to the Moscow Yiddish Art Theatre (GOSET), where she studied drama under the guidance of legendary Russian actor and director Solomon Michoels. When World War II broke out, Dora was working as an actress at the Ukraine State Theatre. She fled to Kazakhstan and performed with the State Theatre in the Kazakh language. After the War, Dora ended up at the Displaced Persons Camps of Austria performing for the survivors in an attempt to raise their morale.

Dora’s story continues in Canada, where she arrived in 1950 with her husband, Sam, and their two young daughters, Ella and Bryna. She began teaching drama to children at the Jewish Public Library, the Abraham Reisen School and the Jewish People’s School (J.P.S.). Her charisma and leadership inspired her gifted young students, who eventually became the backbone of her theatre.

In 1956, she founded the Yiddish Drama Group, an adult ensemble whose members came primarily from the Jewish People’s School Graduate Society. She turned to Gratien Gélinas of the Comédie canadienne for help with her first productions aimed at an adult audience. Eleven years later, in 1967, this troupe was established as The Yiddish Theatre, the resident theatre company of the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts. It is now the only permanent resident Yiddish theatre in North America.

Dora has selected, produced and directed over 70 plays for the Yiddish Theatre of the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts. The Theatre is renowned for its Yiddish classics as well as translated plays from the international and Quebec repertoire, and it was the only troupe authorized to stage the works of Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer. Its production of Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles Soeurs is considered the best interpretation of this play in a language other than French. Dora’s productions have toured across Canada, the United States, Europe, the USSR and Israel, receiving critical acclaim usually reserved for professional companies.

For almost 50 years, this Grande Dame of Montréal Theatre has continued to work with children and teens, inspiring them, teaching the value of heritage and training them in acting and improvisation. She has developed and encouraged emerging artists, many of whom have gone on to major theatre careers. Dora’s “Young Actors for Young Audiences” (YAYA) program remains an invaluable part of the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts.

It was Dora Wasserman’s vision and courage that gave a voice to Yiddish theatre, which has emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust to thrive once again as a vibrant cultural force. She has transferred her love for Yiddish theatre to new generations of actors and audiences. Her contribution to the preservation and strengthening of Yiddish culture has been recognized by many prestigious awards.

The Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts is very fortunate to have had Dora Wasserman’s guiding vision, support and commitment to excellence for more than 30 years, and very grateful for the wonderful moments and international renown that her tireless work and dedication has brought.

Over the years, Dora has received the following honours:

1969 I.J. Segal Award
1972 Concert Society of Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools Award
1975 Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools Award
1976 Canadian Jewish Congress National Committee for Yiddish Award
1985 Participation in the Israeli Maccabiah Games
1985 Reflets de Femme Award
1986 Molson Pioneers’ Club Member
1987 Allied Jewish Community Services Award
1988 Canadian Technion Society Award
1992 The Order of Canada
1992 The Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada
1993 The Dora Wasserman, C.M. Prize – de la Bialik High School
1993 The Dora Wasserman, C.M. Prize – du département d’Études juives de l’Université McGill
1997 Honoured by dance troupe Les Sortileges
1998 Masque : Prix du Hommage : Académie Québécoise du Théâtre
1998 Espace Go : 100 Signatures en Témoignage
1999 La Presse’s Personality of the Week
2003 Order of Québec