Founding Artistic Director of Symphony Space
“Think of a human feeling, a part of the body, a bodily function, an activity of man- or womankind, and the odds are very good that you’ll find at least a reference to it, if not a deep exploration, somewhere in the pages of Joyce’s creation.”
– Isaiah Sheffer
Bloomsday, as Isaiah observed in this introduction, is the only commemoration of a fictional date from literature. James Joyce’s novel Ulysses chronicles the lives of Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and Molly Bloom on a single day, June 16, 1904, thereby turning June 16th into a holiday for Joyce fans ever after.
Isaiah began directing Bloomsday on Broadway at Symphony Space in New York City in 1982 – “I’m structuring an extravaganza” was the phrase he jokingly used to describe the process – and whether the event lasted five hours or twelve, the core remained constant: sections of the great work read aloud by capable actors who would bring Joyce’s text to life. The goal, as he conceived it, was to create an event that would enable devoted fans to bring a copy of the book and follow along and would simultaneously allow “those who are new to Joyce’s work, or awed or frightened or just simply bewildered by it, [to] be swept up and carried into Bloom’s world by the voices, the intelligence, and the brimming enthusiasm of terrific actors.” (source)
Dressed in blue and white for reasons he explained in the this 2004 New York Times story about Bloomsday, Isaiah hosted the annual event and read some parts himself – like this passage from the Ithaca episode in which he reads an increasingly drowsy Mr. Bloom:
Here, Isaiah reads at A Bloomsday Breakfast in Bryant Park, an event organized in 2011 by Culture Ireland and the Irish Arts Center:
And here Isaiah is interviewed about Bloomsday on CBS Sunday morning: