Stephen Stern on Isra-Drama

Hello it’s Stephen Stern, to share my viewpoint (part one of two I think) on the Isra-Drama encounters — while still on the Jerusalem, Ramallah and back to Tel Aviv encounter mode through Friday night. Consider this a “footnoted blog” with Jennifer’s synopses and venue photos; the daily Shirley; and the lucid contextual overview (with stories) I sense coming from Ari — there to inform this offering

First of all, fifteen countries were represented as foreign participants at the festival–many already active in exchange, development or co-production work with a variety of Israeli theaters and artists (and in several cases, independent dual national work — such as German-Israeli AND German-Palestinian major co-production development work.) Others came for the first time (including a small contingent from China). An exciting brew of national and artistic sensibilities meeting, challenging, and digesting what our Israeli colleagues had to offer.

And then there’s the Theater J cabal (enhanced by Alexandra Aron, our New York director of Imagining Madoff) and a North American delegation formed and led by Ari.  Fair to say we were front and center in the active feedback, networking, and sharing/shaping of responses. It’s remarkable to think of the first Theater J work with Motti Lerner 12 years ago, then Via Dolorosa, and on to the Voices festivals, mainstage productions and sharing a range (which will grow!) of depictions of the cultural breadth of Israel. The voice and stature of the house that we all built with Ari has worldwide respect as a major transmitter, translator, consumer and provider of Israeli culture. And we witnessed this in Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv…all over.

I note with special warmth the impact of the South African delegation, the woman who heads the inspiring Market Theater (alive and independent and speaking loudly throughout Apartheid) and three brilliant and lovely actor/producer/directors.

The Market Theatre in Johannesburg.

I repeatedly sought out their quiet passion about their own dramatic history of cultures in conflict holding on to a dream, struggling through the glory and pain of seeing it realized, and making music and theatrical art and sharing a national story to inspire the world. I returned to them time and again for response to the passions of Israeli culture we saw expressed.

The quality of Israeli acting was high, and the engagement of large audiences for a range of styles and dramatic concerns was something I knew — but concentrated over 12 productions in 6 days, it moved me deeply. I’ll talk about favorite shows, and maybe what didn’t quite work, next time. I am engaged in trying to broaden in Washington examples and discussions of the culture and narratives of Israel and its neighbors. The theatrical organizers of this festival and its Foreign Ministry sponsors provided an exhaustive (sometimes exhausting) entry into Israeliness.

From the first two shows I saw, a contemporary writer’s block in a hinterland neighborhood and what heals and reveals; and a look at the German survivor generations in the 1980s dealing with the loss of their grocery store in the face of the coming New Israel.

Avi Oria and Tiki Dayan in Hillel Mittelpunkt's Makolet (Grocery Store)/Photo: Elizur Reuveni.

My two personally galvanizing themes emerged in the best way…through dramatic encounter. One–what have these decades after decades made of the Israeli male psyche and is there universal, as well as specific cultural, meaning (and how do we men and women talk about the implications) Two–the 1980s (or so) seemed the setting of so many plays looking back to post-Holocaust and independence, through triumph in war and emergence in post-war(s) of a dynamic modern society–yet one facing embedded ancient personal and societal challenges leading to the here and now. More on the here and now–and the ever present then…next time.

On down the road for other encounters.

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