By Lynn Venhaus

Rebekah Scallet was eager for new horizons when she moved to St. Louis in 2020. However, a public health emergency upended her plans, and while she waited out a global pandemic in her new home, thinking about a future with no live theatre was terrifying. However, turns out that forced time off was a partial silver lining.

“I had left my former full-time position as Artistic Director for the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre and moved to St. Louis with my family and without a new job to go to. But in a way, this was the best thing possible for me. I was forced to slow down and admit to myself that I was burned out. I needed a reset and time with my family.  And my family needed me for all the virtual school,” she said.

“So, I am grateful for the forced time off, and when the opportunity arose to get back into full time theatre work, I was ready and able to come back with a better perspective on work life balance,” she said.

When named the Artistic Director at the New Jewish Theatre in 2022, she hit the ground running and is now eager to start working on New Jewish Theatre’s 26th year.

Prior to taking over at the J, she worked as a freelance director and teacher, including at the Sargent Conservatory at Webster University where she directed “The Learned Ladies.”

But now, back into full-time theatre work, she is grateful for a fresh perspective. She’s very proud of the efforts that made the 2023 memorable, her first full season, and is gearing up for the 2024 season.

For NJT in 2022, she produced “The Bee Play” after taking the reins previously held by Eddie Coffield. This October, she made her directorial debut at NJT, helming a triumphant “The Immigrant” in October, which had been previously done in 1999 and 2011. Timely, with new insights, the production introduced the story to a new generation.

The final production of 2023, “Into the Woods” has been a passion project, and finally achieving the vision she and director Robert Quinlan had has been a satisfying end to this season.

The show is running from Nov. 30 to Dec. 17, with performances Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Dec. 17 is sold-out. Link for tickets:

Scallet brought years of theater experience to NJT through her previous work as the Producing Artistic Director at the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, which is a professional equity summer theatre festival part of the University of Central Arkansas. During that time, she produced 32 plays and musicals and directed eight productions.

Scallet worked as the Producing Artistic Director at the University of Central Arkansas, where she also taught two to four courses per year and directed the theatre program every other year for the Department of Film, Theatre and Creative Writing.

She also spent 10 years in Chicago working as a director, dramaturg, artistic administrator and teaching artist.

As a child, she remembers visiting St. Louis and her grandparents many years ago, and saw her grandmother perform in a Yiddish play at the J.

“The J itself has also meant a lot to my family. Though I only moved to the area a couple of years ago, my family has deep St. Louis roots, and I have fond childhood memories of seeing my grandmother perform on stage here. The building and the theatre itself have changed a lot since then, but this is truly a full-circle moment for me, and I am excited to walk in my grandmother’s footsteps as I create and share stories with this community,” she said in the press release announcing her new position.

In St. Louis, Rebekah has become involved in Jewish organizations. She served on the L’Chaim Gala Planning Committee, which is the Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, and is a member of the National Council for Jewish Women St. Louis. In Arkansas, she was involved with the Jewish Federation of Arkansas where she served as a Board of Trustee from 2012-2018 and served as Chair of the Events Division, including overseeing the 2019 Jewish Food and Cultural Festival.

She and her husband, Joe Stafford, have two sons, ages 8 and 11, and live in Brentwood, Mo.

Scallet, center, directing.

Take Ten Questions and Answers with Rebekah Scallet

1. What is special about your latest project?

“Into the Woods” is a musical that I’ve always loved, and one that I’ve been dying to produce for several years now.  It was in the line-up for my cancelled summer 2020 season with Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, and I’m so thrilled I get to finally produce now with New Jewish Theatre. And I’m even more thrilled that Robert Quinlan is directing, who had been originally slated to direct my 2020 version. 

2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?

Is it too cliched to say it chose me?  I have been involved in the theatre since I was little, and a director since before I knew there was such a job.

My mom likes to tell the story of watching me perform in my 4th Grade Thanksgiving play (that I also wrote). In addition to doing my own part, I was also moving the other kids around and making sure they were all standing in the right spot and doing the right thing at the right time.

As I got older and had the opportunity to work on more professional productions, I realized how powerful a tool the arts can be.  In addition to just loving the work, I love the way theatre can unite a community, create empathy, encourage conversation, and open new ideas.   

3. How would your friends describe you?

Warm and outgoing. A good listener. Diplomatic. And they’d probably mention my distinctive laugh. My actors always tell me they know when I’m in the audience because of my laugh. 

4. How do you like to spend your spare time?

What is that, exactly?  I am the mother of two boys aged 8 and 11, so my spare time is mostly spent at soccer games, piano lessons, and PTO meetings. But I also enjoy cooking, reading, and spending time walking outdoors. 

5. What is your current obsession?

I’ve been working my way through reading Tana French’s “Dublin Murder Squad” book series. They are all so good and so well written, plus I love the Irish dialect. It’s even more fun in audio book form.  

6. What would people be surprised to find out about you?

I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Chelsea Clinton played on my softball team.  

7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?

Putting my hand on the Western Wall in Jerusalem when I was 16 years old. Knowing that I was touching stones that had stood in that spot for thousands of years, and that countless other Jews before me had touched those same stones and prayed as I prayed was so visceral and spiritual. I felt connected to my Jewish heritage in a way I never had before. 

8. Who do you admire most?

My father, of blessed memory.  He died young from cancer, when I was only 28, but he absolutely made the most of the years he had.  He was a scientist with a very sharp and curious mind, and he also loved the arts and exposed me and my siblings to every artistic and literary experience possible when we were growing up. He was always true to himself and invested just as much time into his role as father as in his career. I strive to do the same with my family. 

9. What is at the top of your bucket list?

I want to travel to South America – Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador. There is so much rich history and culture in all of these places. I’d love to have the opportunity to explore there. 

10. How were you affected by the pandemic years, and anything you would like to share about what got you through and any lesson learned during the isolation periods? Any reflections on how the arts were affected? And what it means to move forward?

As a theatre artist it was wretched – having to cancel a season of work that so much effort and creative energy had already been put into was awful.  And then to stare into a future with no live theatre until who knows when was terrifying.

As it happened, at the same time, I also left my former full-time position as Artistic Director for the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre and moved to St. Louis with my family and without a new job to go to. But in a way, this was the best thing possible for me. I was forced to slow down and admit to myself that I was burned out. I needed a reset and time with my family.  And my family needed me for all the virtual school!

So, I am grateful for the forced time off, and when the opportunity arose to get back into full time theatre work, I was ready and able to come back with a better perspective on work life balance.

But I am also dismayed by the way the pandemic has decimated theatre in the U.S. Every day you hear about more theatres being forced to close and audience members not returning.  It’s disheartening, but it’s also an opportunity to look at our art and see how we can maintain our roles as meaningful and vital parts of our communities. The numbers are telling us that we can’t just do what we’ve always done, which means there’s a tremendous opportunity for ingenuity in the industry. 

11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?

I love to go for walks in Forest Park and wander around through the trails. Especially in summer when there are so many wildflowers in bloom everywhere – it’s magical. 

12. What’s next?

For New Jewish Theatre, we finish our 2023 season with “Into the Woods,” and start 2024 with Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.”  For me personally, I’m directing “We All Fall Down,” a regional premiere by Lila Rose Kaplan for NJT.  It will open at the end of May.  

Scallet, teaching.

More About Rebekah Faye Scallet

Age: 45

Birthplace: Madison, Wisconsin

Current location: Brentwood, Missouri

Family: Married to Joe Stafford with 2 sons, ages 8 and 11

Education: I have a B.A. in English and American Literature from Brandeis University, and an M.F.A. in Directing from Illinois State University

Day job: Artistic Director for New Jewish Theatre

First job: Babysitting

First play you were involved in or made: But the first play was “The Hobbit” at the Arkansas Children’s Theatre – I was 12 and I ran the sound board. 

Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? I have directed Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” three times and worked on six different productions in various capacities. I have loved each one and would direct it again in a heartbeat. It’s an incredible play. 

Dream job/opportunity:  I’d love to direct Tom Stoppard’s new play “Leopoldstadt”– it’s epic and powerful 

Awards/Honors/Achievements: Received the Arkansas Arts Council’s Individual Artist Fellowship for Directing

Favorite quote/words to live by: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts”

A song that makes you happy: “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” by Simon & Garfunkel

By Lynn Venhaus
When Haskell Harelik, born Chatzkell Garehlik in Belarus, first steps off the boat in the port of Galveston, Texas, in 1909, actor Dustin Lane Petrillo beams with both joy and wonder.

That sense of liberty, breathing free on our teeming American shore, is palpable, and brings to mind how many other journeys of generations we know about, making “The Immigrant” a universal story that couldn’t be timelier.

This one is specific to Texas following the Russian Revolution. Pograms during those events spurred Haskell to emigrate as part of the Galveston Movement, as one of about 10,000 Eastern European Jews who arrived there 1907-14, arranged by a businessman to alleviate the overcrowding and poor living conditions on the lower east side of New York City.

This fresh New Jewish Theatre production, for the third time in its 25-year history, offers a warm, intimate connection that says as much about our common ground as humans as it does about hope and dreams.

Perceptively directed by Rebekah Scallet, this moving true story is awe-inspiring in its simplicity and eloquence, heart-tugging in its splendid character portrayals by an outstanding quartet, and masterly in its technical achievements.

Playwright Mark Harelik’s richly textured family drama, first produced in 1985, has an absorbing ebb and flow over eight decades, but mainly concentrates on his tempest-tossed grandfather’s early struggles to survive in a foreign land and then eventually succeed in living his American Dream.

Petrillo’s exceptional range as Haskell – and exemplary command of Yiddish — is first shown as a poor, tired, and parched peddler, selling bananas for a penny apiece when he nearly collapses from the heat in front of the Perry’s home in Hamilton, Texas. Wary of the stranger, banker Milton Perry lets him get water from their well, while his tender-hearted wife Ima wants to offer more help to the lost soul in their midst, and their paths will cross again.

David Wassilak, Dustin Lane Petrillo. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

As the Perrys, David Wassilak and Mindy Shaw mirror the mindsets of the day, suspicious and fearful of “the other,” but are won over by Haskell’s charm and work ethic. When Milton sees Haskell’s papers and discovers he’s a Russian Jew, his prejudice flares up, but the young man is so earnest, he wins over the locals.

Because of Milton’s position, he’s willing to help set up Haskell in a more stable enterprise – a horse-drawn fruit and vegetable cart. That leads to a store in downtown Hamilton that lasted 78 years, until it closed in 1989.

Being a practicing Jew in a primarily Christian enclave, with many Southern Baptists, takes some adjustment, especially for Haskell’s wife Leah, who reunites here with reluctance. Bryn McLaughlin conveys her challenges as she desperately misses her community, but eventually assimilates to a good life as thriving, trustworthy merchants. They raise three boys, with the Perrys being a major part of their lives.

Wassilak and Shaw deliver finely tuned performances, with subtle rural central Texas accents, and together, in sync like an old married couple through the years, for full-bodied realism. Their chemistry is matched by Petrillo and McLaughlin so that you truly feel the couple’s bonds.

Bryn McLaughlin, Dustin Lane Petrillo. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

Differences about the growing European storm with Hitler in Germany and the reluctance of the U.S. to get involved in 1939 will cause friction between Milton and Haskell. There may be some artistic license, but it’s a wonderful story well-told. The minutia of daily living is superbly captured, all those little things that add up to making a life, no matter what era or what region. (I particularly enjoyed references to rabbit’s foot keychains, anklets and first time seeing an artichoke).

The creative team’s skills are first-rate, with stellar work from Kareem Deanes on sound –organically integrated with birds chirping, and retro background music – as well as his projections design. Each side of the theater has a screen where the audience can view information on Haskell’s journey and portraits of the Harelik family through the years that adds real sentimental moments to this deeply felt tale.

Scenic designer Rob Lippert’s meticulously detailed work on two home facades and landcaped trees and greenery creates a terrific setting to tell this story, placing the audience on each side for seamless action.

Stage Manager Nathan Wright, and Assistant Stage Manager Journee Carter keep the staging crisp and fluid.

Lighting designer Michael Sullivan’s warm illumination creates the feeling of home for both families.

Costume designer Michele Friedman Siler has astutely outfitted the women in changing skirt lengths and vintage styles while dressing the men in their appropriate professional attire, Haskell changing in stature through the years.

The play, co-conceived by Harelik, a professional actor, and Randal Myler, a writer, director, and producer, resonates beautifully with today’s audience.

New Jewish produced this play before, in 1999 and 2011, before I became part of the St. Louis Theater Circle as a founding member in 2012. This was a wise choice to mount it again.

Mindy Shaw, Dustin Lane Petrillo. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

This is Scallet’s directorial debut, and it’s impressive. She is in her second season as artistic director of New Jewish, having moved here in 2020.

The dialect coaching by John Wright deserves mention, and so does the aesthetically pleasing natural wig designs by Dennis Milam Bensie.

“The Immigrant” is a compassionate example of shining our lamps on the golden door for those yearning for better lives. Indirectly, it also is infused with an urgency to not be passive about the current state of turmoil in the world.

The fact that local groups are hosting information sessions on how to help refugees in the Israel-HAMAS War during this play’s run, creates even more meaning. For more information, visit

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” – bronze plaque on The Statue of Liberty, 1883

David Wassilak, Dustin Petrillo. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

The New Jewish Theatre presents “The Immigrant” Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Oct. 12 through Oct. 29. Performances take place at the Wool Studio Theatre in the SFC Performing Arts Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. The two-act play runs 2 hours, 21 minutes, and has a 15-minute intermission. For more information: or call 314-442-3283.

The New Jewish Theatre has coordinated with multiple local organizations who help immigrants to plan outreach events at or in coordination with this production to bring awareness to current issues facing immigrants and refugees in St. Louis. They include:

  • A “needed item” drive in collaboration with The International Institute will take place throughout the showings.
  • On October 21, following the 4 pm performance, there will be a discussion panel featuring members of the Central Reform Congregation Resettlement Chavurah.
  • On October 22, following the 2 pm performance, there will be a discussion featuring members of the Shaare Emeth Congregation Resettlement Group.
  • Finally, a Welcome Neighbor dinner will take place at the J between the 4pm and 8pm performances on October 28.