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Israeli Theatre

December 1, 2014

Earlier this month, I had come back from an almost two-week adventure in Israel. The reason for going to Israel was I was given the opportunity to participant in a Director’s Lab out there. Between going to the other side of the world to experience how they do theatre and with everything going on other there as of lately, the whole experience was truly enlightening.

I feel like the first thing to mention is the elephant in the room: Israel is a country that while it’s been an official country for 66 years, for thousands of years there’s been war on and over the ownership of the land. Adding to this, part of Israeli law requires men to be in the military for 3 years, and women for 2 years. These aspects have a huge effect on the theatre going on over there. I personally found the theatre world to be very polarizing with two main styles: either completely about war, violence, or other social issues; or complete escapism: fantasy, fairy tales, and magical elements. I found this contrast to be really fascinating, since it really shows not only how individual artists react and relate to the war, but exposing true feelings on the situation regardless. Either that they need to expose what’s wrong, or that they simply need an escape from it being everywhere. 

While they do have theatre’s there that solely focus on shows and musicals that everyone knows (from Shakespeare to the “Sound of Music” classics), a lot of my experience there has been a huge focus on new play development and devised theatre. They really seemed to focus a lot on Israeli works by Israeli artists. This of course makes sense, but what fascinated me about it was more what it got me thinking about how I don’t know any famous Israeli playwrights off the top of my head, but they can tell us all about American shows (specifically musical theatre shows since that did start in America officially).

Another thing that I found really interesting about Israeli theatre is their rehearsal process. Most shows rehearse for at least 3 months if not more. Some people work on a production for years even! While as a director I often take months to plan a show, and maybe it’s a full year (or longer) between starting pre-production work and closing the show, I can’t imagine ever being just in rehearsal for that long.

Even words that we use to describe theatre made an interesting change in the translation over there. The thing that threw me off the most was how instead of “playwright” they say “play writer” (although once writing it down myself, that now makes more sense to me). They also don’t have a word for “devised” in Hebrew, which is really interesting considering how much devised theatre I experienced and hear about over there.

There’s many, many, MANY things I learned while out there (and maybe I’ll find the time to write about the director’s lab experience next so I can share that more), but I do want to share this right now: the last show I saw out there was a 2 1/2 hour show with 3 acts and no intermission. It was also entirely in Hebrew. I don’t speak Hebrew (thankfully just about the entire world has learned English as a second language so I never had a language barrier except for this). Seeing a show in a language you don’t understand (and for that long on top of it) was such a beneficial experience for me. It required me to watch the performance in an entirely new way. My eyes had to become my ears, and I only used my ears to hear the tone that someone was speaking in. Everything for me had to be about focusing on the actor’s and what they did otherwise I had no other way to follow along. What else was so great about this, was that despite not knowing the language I had no problem following along. The actors had great physicality so I was able to figure out from that who was who and what was going on throughout. Even to my surprise I never got bored, tired, or even drifted off. It really shows that speaking is such a small part of our communication, which really was such a great thing to meld down.

If you ever get the chance, explore theatre in another country or at least try to see a show in another language. Learning about the cultural differences as both an artist and a person is just an asset for wherever you head off to next. While this wasn’t my first time experiencing theatre in another country (or for that matter in Israel), I can tell you now that I’ll do whatever I can to make sure that it isn’t the last. 🙂

sarah sig

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 10, 2014 1:21 pm

    Reblogged this on Rogues & Vagabonds.

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