Gail Prensky — Creator, Executive Producer, and Project Director
As creator and director of The Jüdische Kulturbund Project, Gail brings to this project a deep and first-hand understanding of the Kulturbund’s spirit and recognizes that their issues of living under tyranny continue with artists around the world today. Her interviews with the Kulturbund survivors and current-day artists form the basis of her passion and vision for this project, which is rooted in the Kulturbund’s strong regard for music and the performing arts. In 2001 Gail started researching and gathering material about the Kulturbund. Several years later she has brought together select talent, partners, and like-minded supporters to make this project possible and then interviewed artists living under oppression in various countries. Her hope and dream is that the project will serve as a beacon of inspiration to all people.
For the last 25 years, Gail has written, produced, and directed a broad range of media projects in film, multimedia, books, and exhibitions for clients such as the Banner Health’s Alzheimer’s Registry, the New America Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trust, Discovery Communications, National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution, Time-Life Books, and Glaxo-Wellcome. Through her Meteopa Productions, Gail produces independent projects focusing on advocacy, art, human rights, international, and music themes. Gail also works with the Cheick Hamala Diabaté Foundation whose primary initiative is to build a music and performing arts institute in Kita, Mali. She is on the advisory board of the Breaking Barriers Institute to develop films about those who made an impact on civil rights in the United States. Between 2013 and 2016, Gail served on the board of The Welders, the DC-based playwrights’ collective and winner of the Helen Hayes-John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company (2016).
Mark Haney — Associate Producer and Associate Project Director
Mark brings organizational, financial, and administrative expertise to our project’s team. He is an international trade economist with over 25 years of experience advising companies, foreign governments, and trade associations on issues relating to international trade and economic and business trends. Among other things, Mark served as senior executive for a number of companies, including as President and CEO of the International Business and Economic Research Corporation (IBERC).
In the course of his work and life, Mark developed a strong interest in global issues focused on human economic rights, art, and music. Among other endeavors, he is currently Executive Director of the Cheick Hamala Diabaté Foundation, which is dedicated to building an institute for performing arts in Mali and strengthening cultural ties between Mali and the Western world through education, interaction, and art. Mark is also an avid craftsman and sailor and amateur musician and filmmaker.
Cecili Thompson Williams — Chief Strategist
Cecili has nearly two decades of experience leading mission-driven campaigns with organizations including Amnesty International USA, RESULTS Educational Fund, and the National Partnership for Women & Families. She loves to help smart and passionate changemakers build strategic and effective campaigns. A strong believer in continually building power and capacity, Cecili has trained thousands of campaigners on how to maximize their impact within their organizations and in the world at large. When she’s not strategizing, she can be found freezing at an ice rink with her skating daughters or running slowly in a forest.
Ane Powers — Outreach Coordinator
Ane draws on her business and governance expertise to assist organizations in strengthening culture, processes, and program integrity. The benefits of rich opportunities — human resource executive, Citizen Development Corps volunteer, talk show host, entrepreneur/business owner, career coach, non-profit board director — and partnerships with smart and motivated visionaries have allowed her to focus her talents and values on creating a more civil and compassionate world.
Natalie Rice — Summer Intern, 2018
Natalie comes from a long background in the performing arts and most recently worked in film production in Los Angeles. She is currently a graduate student at American University pursuing her Masters in International Development. Natalie has spent quite a bit of time in East Africa, primarily Kenya, where she worked in an Internally Displaced Persons camp and helped to get the local NGO, Marafiki International, off the ground. Her career goals include working in humanitarian aid in ongoing conflict zones. When she isn’t working or studying, you can find her in Rock Creek Park with her mischievous husky, Scout.
“Singer” — The Dramatic Feature Film
Harry Winer — Executive Producer
Harry is a director, producer,and writer with over 30 years of experience in film and television. He directed the motion pictures SPACECAMP, RIOT and DAMAGED CARE. In addition he has directed, produced, and/or written over 25 films, miniseries and television pilots and created over 60 hours of series television. He has worked with some of the leading talents in motion picture industry such as Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Joaquin Phoenix, Jamie Lee Curtis, Patrick Dempsey, Michelle Williams, Jim Carrey, and Laura Dern.
One of Harry’s goals as a producer is to help groom emerging talent. In 2013 he signed on to head the Masters of Fine Arts Directing Program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where he mentored directing candidates for the MFA program in motion pictures and television. He designed a directing program for their online Motion Picture and Television department that became the template for their onsite curriculum.
In addition, Harry created a scholarship fund to honor his parents at his alma mater, the University of Michigan Screen Arts and Culture Department, to provide opportunities for aspiring filmmakers.
In the Fall of 2015 Harry came to New York University as an Arts Professor in the Undergraduate Film and Television Department where he intended to continue his goal of paying it forward —sharing his experience with the next generation of storytellers and filmmakers.
Winer is President of SMASH MEDIA, INC., which produces motion pictures and films for television. In 2013 Harry’s company produced the international co-production THE EXPATRIATE (aka ERASED), starring Aaron Eckhart and Olga Kurylenko. In 2015 Harry produced through Smash Media the television film, PERFECT MATCH for Hallmark. In 2017 Winer is producing the motion picture THE DOORMAN to be directed by renowned Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura as well as a movie for television based on the novel A BRAMBLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS. In addition to several theatrical and television films in development, Harry is directing and producing THE RECKONING — a feature length documentary on climate change and climate justice.
Harry’s work has garnered Emmy Awards, Golden Globes and a Christopher Award. His films have premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and Shanghai International Film Festival. He is affiliated with DGA and WGA, was a national delegate to DGA conventions and served on the DGA Creative Rights committee. He is on the Executive Board of the Student Voice Project, the Liberty Hill Foundation, Justice Action Mobilization Network, and NOJO (New Orleans Jazz Orchestra).
Harry received his MFA at the University of Southern California School of Cinema and an AFI Director’s Internship Scholarship. He is married to Shelley Hack. Their daughter, Devon Rose Winer, is a recent graduate of Columbia University in the field of sustainable development. She works for the Clinton Global Initiative.
Graham Townsley — Screenwriter
Over the last 15 years, Graham has established himself in Washington DC as one of the country’s foremost makers of high-end documentaries. His films have been shown on PBS, National Geographic TV, the BBC, Channel 4, ARTE and the Discovery Channel. He has also written screenplays for a number of historical dramas. He is twice Emmy-nominated.
In 2016, his multiple award-winning feature documentary, LANDFILL HARMONIC, about kids from a slum in Paraguay who made an orchestra out of trash, was released in theaters across the USA. Also in 2016, his PBS film about famed biologist E.O Wilson, “Of Ants and Men”, garnered awards and critical acclaim at numerous festivals across the country.
His 2015 film for National Geographic and NOVA PBS, DAWN OF HUMANITY, about the discovery of new fossil human ancestors in South Africa, was named by the New York Times as one of the ten best documentaries of 2015 and nominated for an Emmy award.
With a Ph.D in Anthropology from the University of Cambridge, Graham started his career working on ethnographic films for the BBC. Films like THE SHAMAN AND HIS APPRENTICE based on his own fieldwork with a tribe of the Peruvian Amazon and FROM THE HEART OF THE WORLD, about the Kogi Indians of the Sierra Nevada, Colombia, established him in the documentary world. He went on to make films both about other living indigenous peoples and ancient cultures such as the Inca, Maya, Aztecs, and ancient Rome.
In the early 2000’s he was series producer of THE GLORY THAT WAS ROME for the Discovery Channel and “Treasure Seekers”, a 13-part series about explorers of the ancient world, for National Geographic.
Graham has produced, written, and directed films such as BECOMING HUMAN, a 3-part series on human evolution for NOVA PBS, DAWN OF THE MAYA for National Geographic TV, THE GREAT INCA REBELLION, KING SOLOMON’S MINES, MAGIC MOUNTAIN, MAYA APOCALYPSE, and many more. In 2008, he established his own company, SHINING RED PRODUCTIONS.
Graham speaks four languages and has made a number of Spanish-language films. He is currently developing a number of drama series: one about the Easter Uprising in Ireland and another about the Mexican Revolution.
“The Opus” — A Play with Music
Andy Truschinski — Playwright
Andy Truschinski is a New York City based artist. He started his career as an actor on stage (Ex: WAR HORSE National tour and THE HEIDI CHRONICLES starring Elisabeth Moss on Broadway) and has transitioned into developing scripts for film, television, and on stage. Writing projects include: THE GREEN BOAT (finalist for Space on Ryder Farm development series), ONE WHITE FACE (commissioned pilot of the book One White Face by Hilary Corna), EXPLORING MUSIC (a documentary music series), SOUNDS DELICIOUS (a cooking talk show with music), and THE ROOT OF HAPPINESS (now in the film festival circuit.)
“The Ring Project” — The Multimedia Play
Jared Mezzochhi — Multimedia Playwright
Jared is a multimedia playwright, director, and designer for theater. Jared is one of five American Theatre Wing’s 2017 Henry Hewes Design Awards recipients for his work on VIETGONE, produced at Manhattan Theatre Club in NYC. Jared was also awarded an Obie Award and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Project Design, also for his work on VIETGONE. During the summer of 2017, Jared was granted the prestigious Macdowell Colony residency fellowship for a 4-week residency to work on his multimedia script for The Jüdische Kulturbund Project. He has received a Princess Grace Award in 2013 for his multimedia work at the HERE Arts Center’s YOU ARE DEAD. YOU ARE HERE. His multimedia script POPPA GOD BLESS was workshopped in the Process Series at UNC Chapel Hill. It is premiering at 3-Legged Dog in NYC in 2015. For the last nine summers he has directed original work at Andy’s Summer Playhouse, an innovative children’s theater in Wilton, NH, creating original work with award winning artists from across the United Stated, performed by children ages 8-18 and intended for audiences of all ages. In 2011, Jared won Best Original Playwright at the New Hampshire Theater Awards his adaptation of THE LOST WORLD. It was produced in February 2015 University of Maryland’s Clarice Center for the Future of the Arts. In 2015, Jared became the Producing Artistic Director and continues to be every summer.
Jared has designed productions in New York City with 3-Legged Dog DOWN LOOP, SPYGARBO), Baryshnikov Arts Center (Robert Wilson’s ON THE BEACH), HERE Arts Center’s (YOU ARE DEAD. YOU ARE HERE., TRADE PRACTICES), Builders Association (JET LAG 2011), Rob Roth (SCREEN TEST) and has toured nationally and internationally with Big Art Group (SOS, SLEEP, THE PEOPLE). He has designed for Center Stage in Baltimore (STONES IN HIS POCKETS), Cleveland Playhouse (BREATH AND IMAGINATION), Milwaukee Rep (HISTORY OF INVULNERABILITY, THE MOUNTAINTOP), The Wilma Theater (BODY OF AN AMERICAN) and CompanyONE (ASTROBOY and THE GOD OF COMICS). In DC, he’s designed for Woolly Mammoth (TOTALITARIANS, ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY), Synetic Theater (A TRIP TO THE MOON), Theater J (INTELLIGENT HOMOSEXUAL’S GUIDE TO CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM WITH A KEY TO THE SCRIPTURES, YELLOWFACE), and Studio (ASTROBYOY AND GOD OF COMICS).
Currently, Jared is building a Projection Design MFA and BA program within the University of Maryland’s Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies Program in College Park, MD.
“Two Pianos: Playing for Life”—The Performance
Nora Jean and Michael Levin in collaboration with The Jüdische Kulturbund Project wrote Two Pianos: Playing for Life, drawing from their sourcebook Papers, Please—A Twentieth Century Odyssey and materials from the Hoffman family.
Nora Jean, a Philadelphia native and the first “real American” in her 1930s immigrant family, inherited entrepreneurial skills, matchmaking instincts, and love of classical music from her parents, a Polish-born businessman and Russian-Romanian concert pianist. Her parents met and married in Leipzig Germany (1926-31), then fled with her older sister to Palestine and the U.S. (1936-38). Her family’s first university graduate, she earned political science degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, where she met Michael.
Since 1978 Jean has juggled a quest to document her parents’ tumultuous European pasts with consumer-protection day jobs. From 2004 she has been spokesperson and director of Caring From a Distance, Inc. (CFAD), the nation’s only nonprofit providing trusted honest-broker information and advocacy for long-distance caregivers. She created and manages content for CFAD’s award-winning ad-free website, www.cfad.org.
From 1976-85 Jean co-founded and co-managed The Workplace, Inc., Washington DC’s first rental office suite for writers, consultants, and non-profit staff. During that time she and her colleague Janet Steiger co-authored To Light One Candle: A Handbook for Organizing, Funding and Maintaining Public Service Projects (ABA Press, 1978-1979). In 1986 she wrote a path-breaking multi-edition step-by-step eldercare book, How to Care for Your Parents: A Handbook for Adult Children (Storm King Press, 1986; Norton, 1990-97). She has spoken and written widely on eldercare in print and media venues, including the Today Show (1997).
Michael has been writing creatively all his adult life, legal deadlines notwithstanding. He holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Law School, and Oxford, where he was a Thouron Scholar. Chased by a Vietnam-era draft board, he declined playwriting fellowships to Carnegie and Yale Drama Schools, likely saving American theater. He has published work in over 50 periodicals or anthologies and has received numerous poetry and feature journalism awards. His first collection, Watered Colors (Poetica), was named a Best Poetry Book for May 2014 by the Washington Independent Review of Books. A second collection, Man Overboard (Finishing Line Press), will be released in 2018.
Before entering private practice Mike served as an appellate lawyer, counselor and policy executive in several federal agencies; in the Carter White House as Deputy Director of a Cabinet-level OSHA Reform Task Force; and as legislative aide to former Rep. Andrew Maguire (D-NJ) and the late Sen Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), He was awarded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service (1982) and was an EPA nominee (1985) for the National Public Service Awards.
Mike is Contributing Editor to BioCycle Magazine and a past contributing writer to the Pennsylvania Gazette. He has been listed in Who’s Who in American Law, Who’s Who in Business and Finance, and Who’s Who in the World. Some of his work is at www.michaellevinpoetry.com.
Education and Music Programs
Sarah Baumgarten — Education Director and Music Collaborator
Sarah’s collaboration with The Jüdische Kulturbund Project includes exploring and performing the vocal repertoire performed by the Kulturbund. In addition, Sarah is creating effective lesson plans to educate middle and high school students on the subject of the Kulturbund and contemporary artists living under oppression, while also helping students to discover their own responses to oppression through the arts.
Sarah earned her Master of Music degree in Voice Performance & Pedagogy from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University in May 2015, studying with Ah Young Hong. Following her graduate work, she received a teaching certification from the Peabody Conservatory in December 2015. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree in Voice Performance, and a minor in Italian, from Penn State University in 2013, studying with Norman Spivey. She has performed with the Asheville Lyric Opera, Crittenden Opera Studio, The International Vocal Arts Institute, OperaWorks, the Delaware Valley Opera Company and the Vancouver Summer Opera Workshop.
During the 2016 season, Ms. Baumgarten performed the role of Anne Page in the Delaware Valley Opera Company’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. She will also appear as 1st Lady and Papagena in VIVace’s production of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at the end of August. Ms. Baumgarten is currently a Concert Artist with Concert Artists of Baltimore, under the baton of Maestro Edward Polochick, and is also a member of the choir of the Chizuk Amuno Congregation. Ms. Baumgarten was a national Semi-finalist in the Classical Singer competition in Boston (May 2016), and was a Semi-finalist in the Art Song Preservation Society of NY’s Mary Trueman Vocal Competition. In the autumn she performed with Annapolis Opera in their production of South Pacific. Sarah performs music for The Jüdische Kulturbund Project ongoing public programs. Currently, Sarah can be seen giving recitals in both the Baltimore and Philadelphia areas.
Patrick O’Donnell — Education and Music Collaborator
Patrick earned his BA from Yale University, his MM in Piano Performance from the University of Maryland, and his DMA in Chamber Music and Vocal Accompaniment with Martin Katz and Eckart Sellheim at the University of Michigan. Concert appearances in the Washington, DC area include the White House, the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater and Millennium Stage, the Library of Congress, and the Embassies of France, Italy, Monaco, Columbia, and Brazil. As a lecturer on art song, he helped design and teach a course entitled, Arts Songs, a Guided Tour — Lecture and Live Performances sponsored by the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences at the National Institutes of Health. For opera, he has presented pre-concert lectures for the Washington Concert Opera, and has given presentations on opera, music theater, and cabaret for the Smithsonian’s Resident Artist Program. He enjoys collaborating on fund-raising concerts for the Washington Concert opera, a highlight of which was a performance in March 2011 with acclaimed mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade. Patrick has appeared as a master coach and featured guest artist at the Fairbanks (Alaska) Summer Arts Festival, and serves as head vocal coach of the Washington National Opera’s Institute for Young Singers, where he also teaches opera history. He is currently on the faculties of both Levine Music and the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University, and also teaches at George Washington University, where he has served as music director for the university’s productions of ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, HAIR, SWEEENEY TODD, URINETOWN, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, and THE CRADLE WILL ROCK where he appeared on-stage in the role of the composer, Marc Blitzstein.
Klaus Linsenmeir — Symposia and Seminars
Klaus is the executive director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, an organization that is part of the Green political movement. The movement developed worldwide as a response to the traditional politics of socialism, liberalism, and conservatism. Its main tenets are ecology and sustainability, democracy and human rights, self-determination and justice. It promotes non-violence and proactive peace policies. While the foundation is based in the Federal Republic of Germany, it is an international actor in both ideal and practical terms. Its namesake, the writer and Nobel Prize laureate Heinrich Böll, personifies the values it stands for: defense of freedom, civic courage, tolerance, open debate, and the valuation of art and culture as independent spheres of thought and action. In the field of education, the activities of the Heinrich Böll Foundation reflect the change of modern societies towards what has been labeled “Knowledge Society”. Knowledge has increasingly become a crucial resource and education has become the precondition for participation in the public sphere. This participation includes the ability to take part in social deliberations and discuss issues involving human rights and politics.
Klaus feels a specific connection to the story of the Kulturbund and its relevance today. His mother’s family had to leave Germany in 1935. Though they were not Jewish but Catholic, his relatives experienced the fascist oppression, which remained a strong narrative in the family. His grandfather, a journalist and later politician, survived in the Canadian embassy in Rio de Janeiro. What he shouldered to not compromise on his convictions is still a moral obligation for Klaus.