Inspired and moved by the story of the Jewish Kulturbund, Gail launched this project in 2009. Spending time in Berlin, Gail, Mark Harris, and James Egan started to shape the vision for the film and theatre productions. The team has expanded to a talented international group of artists, producers, advisors, and scholars.
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.
Through her Meteopa Productions, Gail produces independent projects focusing on advocacy, art, human rights, international, and music themes. Gail also serves on the board of The Welders, the DC-based playwrights’ collective and winner of the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company (2016). Gail is collaborating with the Breaking Barriers Institute to develop films about those who made an impact on civil rights in the United States. She is also working with a team of the Cheick Hamala Diabaté Foundation whose primary initiative is to build a music school in Mali. For the last 20 years, Gail has written, produced, and directed a broad range of media projects in film, multimedia, books, and exhibitions for 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.
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 Foundation, which is dedicated to building a music school 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.
PLAYING FOR LIFE: ART UNDER TYRANNY, Multimedia Play
James Egan — Executive Producer (multimedia play and documentary film)
James Egan is a producer, screenwriter, and executive director of the Immersive Technology and Virtual Reality Department at the School of Motion Pictures & Television in San Francisco, California. He founded Wild at Heart Films in July 2000 to create MEDIA THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE. Currently, he is producing his documentary RAISE HELL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOLLY IVENS in association with Robert Redford’s Sundance Productions. James has produced a number of award-winning documentary films, including JACKPOT (Best-low budget feature, John Cassavetes Award, 2001), ANGELS IN THE DUST (Amnesty International VARA Award for Social Justice, 2007) and KIMJONGILIA (2009; Best Film, One World Film Festival and The Human Rights Democracy Network 2010). James was the editor of JOHN WATERS INTERVIEWS, a book in the prestigious series, CONVERSATIONS WITH FILMMAKERS.
Jared Mezzochhi — Multimedia Playwright (multimedia play)
Jared Mezzocchi is a multimedia playwright, director, and designer for theater. He 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 six summers he has directed original work at Andy’s Summer Playhouse, located in Wilton NH (DONKEY XOTE, DICK TRACY, THE LOST WORLD, THE BFG, THE LITTLE PRINCE, THE BLOCK). 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.
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.
David Schweizer — Theatre Director (multimedia play)
David Schweizer has been directing, developing and producing innovative theater, performance and opera work for more than thirty years in the United States and abroad. He was trained at Yale Drama School where his classmate/collaborators included Sigourney Weaver, Meryl Streep, Christopher Durang, Wendy Wasserstein, and Albert Innaurato.
David brings to our project strong vision, experience, and talent, developed from years of directing artistically and socially relevant, provocative, and innovative theatre productions. Among these works is the Obie-award winning AND GOD CREATED GREAT WHALES, which fuses opera theater, spoken theater, and live imagery on stage. David directed the THE EMPEROR OF ATLANTIS, the Victor Ullmann opera written in the Terezen prison camp. The opera was presumed lost as the creators were gassed. However the original work was recently discovered. The New York Times listed this production as one of the ten best in 2011. For the award-winning production PLATO’S SYMPOSIUM, David collaborated with a group of performing artists from Los Angeles and directed an aesthetically driven production that responded to the AIDS crisis in the 1990s. During the 1980s his multimedia IT’S A MAN’S WORLD, produced with the Mabou Mines experimental company, combined narrative script and live video. THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY from the Michel Foucault books, combined various media with live performance, and toured festivals in Europe and the United States.
David made his New York debut at Lincoln Center in 1974 with a radical re-imagining of Shakespeare’s TROILUS AND CRESSIDA starring Christopher Walken. This led to other world premieres by notable American playwrights including Sam Shepard (GEOGRAPHY OF A HORSE DREAMER) Ronald Tavel (THE LAST DAYS OF BRITISH HONDURAS) Dennis Reardon (SIAMESE CONNECTIONS) at Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival Theater as well as at regional theaters such as the Yale Repertory Theater (Charles DiZenzo’s THE SHAFT OF LOVE starring Ms Streep).
Mark Harris — Film Director (documentary film)
Mark Jonathan Harris is an American documentary filmmaker best known for his films INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS: STORIES OF THE KINDERTRANSPORT (Academy Award Best Feature Documentary 2000) and THE LONG WAY HOME (Academy Award Best Feature Documentary 1997). Educated at Harvard, Harris co-directed the short THE REDWOODS for the Sierra Club with Trevor Greenwood. The short won the 1967 Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject.
LIFE OR THEATER? (Dramatic Feature Film)
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, LANDFILLHARMONIC, 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 iving 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.
He has gone on to produce, write and direct 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, Graham established his own company, Shining Red Productions.
He 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.
As of June, 2016, he is writing a screenplay about the remarkable story of the Jewish artists of The Judische Kulturbund in 1930’s Berlin.
He lives in Washington DC.
Sarah Baumgarten — Education Director and Music Collaborator
Sarah Baumgarten’s collaboration with the The Jüdische Kulturbund Project includes exploring and performing the vocal repertoire performed by the Kulturbund. In addition we are working together to create effective lesson plans to educate middle and high school students on the subject, while also helping them to discover their own responses to oppression through the arts. Another aim of the educational component is to help students realize that many different people are still living under oppression around the world today.
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.
This summer (2016), Ms. Baumgarten will be performing 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 this past May, and was a Semi-finalist in the Art Song Preservation Society of NY’s Mary Trueman Vocal Competition. This fall she will be performing with Annapolis Opera in their production of South Pacific. She will also be singing as part of a presentation for The Jüdische Kulturbund Project in November, at the Library of Congress. She can be seen giving recitals in both the Baltimore and Philadelphia areas.
Patrick O’Donnell — Education and Music Collaborator
Patrick O’Donnell, vocal coach, 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. Dr. O’Donnell 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,” “Sweeney 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 Linsenmeir 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 labelled “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.
Monica Bussolati — Designer
Known to rollerblade backwards down stairs. Interested in human behavior & neuroscience, schooled in neither. Designer, marketer, illustrator, and content strategist, Monica’s firm, Bussolati, is based in Washington, DC and specializes in design and inbound marketing.
Cinephil — Philippa Kowarsky Productions Ltd. (documentary film)
Cinephil – Philippa Kowarsky Productions Ltd. handles the sales of distribution rights for International, Israeli and Palestinian films all over the world. It is based in Tel Aviv and since its establishment in January 1997, CINEPHIL has become the sales agent and home for leading producers and filmmakers from around the world.