CULTURE: Theater and Entertainment
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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 CULTURE: Theater and Entertainment

 
Courtesy of the Jerusalem Khan Theatre

Theater

Hebrew theater, unlike literature, did not exist in ancient Hebrew culture, nor did it grow out of the Yiddish theater so popular in Eastern European Jewish communities up to World War II. It began with the founding in 1917 of a Hebrew theater, Habimah (The Stage) in Moscow, under the guidance of Russian director Constantin Stanislavsky and with the acting talent of Hanna Rovina (1892-1980), who later became the 'First Lady of Hebrew Theater.' In 1931, the company set up its permanent home in Tel Aviv.

Theater in Israel is composed of many different elements - contemporary and classical, indigenous and imported, experimental and traditional - with playwrights, actors, directors, and producers of many backgrounds merging the foreign with the local and thereby gradually creating a distinctive Israeli theater. The theater scene is very active, with many professional repertory and other theaters and dozens of regional and amateur companies performing throughout the country to large and devoted audiences. In recent years, a number of Israeli companies have toured Eastern and Western Europe and the United States, and have participated in international festivals,  including the Edinburgh and Berlin Festivals, and appeared in major theater events in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. A number of semi-professional and amateur groups perform in English and Russian.

Leading playwrights, several of whom have received international recognition, include the late Hanoch Levine, Yehoshua Sobol, Hillel Mittelpunkt, and the late Ephraim Kishon. The major professional companies are located in the country's four largest cities.

Habimah, the national theater, is housed in a three-hall complex (total of 1,520 seats) in Tel Aviv, and has an average attendance rate of about 90 percent, due in part to its over 30,000 annual subscribers. Its repertoire includes traditional plays on Jewish themes, works of contemporary Hebrew playwrights, and translations of international classics, dramas, and comedies, with internationally acclaimed directors sometimes brought in to stage productions.

The Cameri Theater, the Tel Aviv municipal theater since 1970, was the first company to stage realistic portrayals of Israeli life and has continued to contribute to the development of Hebrew theater with a lively repertoire, including a major series of original Israeli dramas and adaptations of major classical and modern hits. The Cameri Theater is located  in a new state-of-the-art compound which comprises four halls and is adjacent to the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. The Cameri Theater's production of Hamlet, which starred Itay Tiran as Prince Hamlet, garnered huge critical acclaim both here and abroad. This award-winning rendition was presented as part of the Shakespeare in Washington Festival of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The Haifa Municipal Theater is a repertory theater featuring Israeli productions, as well as foreign plays, both classical and modern.

The Be'er Sheva Theater is a repertory theater featuring contemporary, original works, as well as translated classical and modern foreign plays.

The Beit Leissin Theater in Tel Aviv is a repertory theater featuring Israeli works, as well as translated contemporary foreign plays.

The Arab Theater is a professional Arab-language theater for adults, featuring original works from Arab countries, as well as translated contemporary works.

The Beit Hagefen Theater is a professional Arab-language theater for children and youth, featuring original, contemporary plays, also from other countries.

The Khan Theater, Jerusalem's only repertory theater, offers a mixture of contemporary and classical works in a unique hall situated in a restored, centuries-old Turkish inn.

Photo courtesy of the Jerusalem Khan Theatre


The Gesher Theater, founded in 1991 to provide an artistic outlet for new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, first offered high-level productions in Russian. Following its success and critical acclaim, it has now entered the mainstream of Israeli theater with Hebrew plays. It has represented Israel in prestigious festivals all over the world.

The Clipa Theater was founded in 1995 by Idit Herman, dancer and director, and Dmitry Tyulpanov (Russia), actor and musician. Their company weaves the arts of theater, dance, design, and music. The group, whose works are mostly wordless, debuts two to four new works a year. Most are performed for a limited period, and some are performed only once, at a unique location.

 

The Children's and Youth Theater stages plays for three different age groups at schools and cultural centers throughout the country, conducts drama and theater classes, and provides instructors for special school workshops.

The Akko Festival is a fringe theater festival, where new and experimental Israeli work is premiered. It consists of a competition of indoor performances; outdoor and street performances; and international guest performances.

The Children's Theater Festival takes place in Haifa. It features new works for children, includes a competition and hosts international guest performances.

Performance at the Train Theater (Photo: F. Sklar)


The Train Theater was established in Jerusalem in 1981 as a puppet theater. It offers a variety of plays from full-length performances to colorful story-telling for very small children, as well as street festivals for the whole family. The theater also produces the annual International Festival of Puppet Theater.

Training in acting, directing, and allied stage professions is available at Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Beit-Zvi School of the Performing Arts (Ramat Gan), the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), and the Kibbutz Seminar's School of Drama.  

Poster, The International Festival of Puppet Theater in Jerusalem (Courtesy of Navon Art)

Light Entertainment

The concept of 'popular' entertainment began in pre-state Israel during the 1940s with such groups as Chizbatron, Matateh, and Batzal Yarok. However, the major impetus occurred during the 1960s with the formation of entertainment troupes attached to different military units. Among the country's leading entertainers who began their careers during their army service are Haim Topol, Si Hyman, Miri Aloni, Dorit Reuveni, and Yardena Arazi. During this era, the Israeli comedy group Hagashash Hahiver rose to fame, going on to perform decades of what became classic Israeli sketches and eventually winning the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement in the arts.

While television and radio are the main outlets for popular entertainment, live performances by comedians, singers, musicians, bands, and groups take place regularly throughout the country.

Israeli singer Rita (Government Press Office / A. Ben-Gershom)


Some vocalists have achieved star status, among them Arik Einstein, Shlomo Artzi, Matti Caspi, Rita, Dana International, Corinne Alall,  Hava Alberstein, Shalom Hanoch, and Yehudit Ravitz; as have some groups including Teapacks, Mashina, Atraf, Etnix, Friends of Natasha, and Beit Habubot. Certain artists  have also made a name for themselves abroad, including Dudu Fisher, the late Ofra Haza, Rami Kleinstein, Aviv Gefen, David Broza, and Noa (Ahinoam Nini). In 1998, Israeli transsexual Dana International won the Eurovision song contest and become a global star. Her song, "Diva", was since chosen the 14th greatest ever Eurovision song. She recently released her 11th album, "Hakol Zeh Letova" (All for the Good).

Grand-scale musicals in Hebrew translation, including "Les Miserables" and "The Sound of Music," have been revived to enthusiastic acclaim.

Increasingly popular among all Israelis is a Mediterranean musical genre deriving primarily from Arabic and Greek influences, as performed by singers Boaz Sha'arabi, Yehuda Poliker, Sarit Hadad, Avihu Medina, Margalit Tsa'anani, Zehava Ben, and Ofer Levy. Newer names include Eyal Golan, Amir Benayoun, and Miri Mesika.

A new generation of stand-up comics, such as Eli Yatzpan and Adi Ashkenazi, is beginning to command substantial followings.


Bukharan ensemble (Photo: Y. Loeff)
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