Day One is Done – Reflections on The First Day of IsraDrama

from Ari’s Facebook:
December 7, 2011
Day #1 and so much to say! But mostly, it’s like freakin’ summer camp – More great people than you can actually talk to in a single setting. Imagine a Jewish progressive TCG Conference – with really nice and good looking people! Am I offending anyone? It’s 2:20 am and yesterday I went to bed at 5 am. Jet-lagged? Me? Tonight saw a revival of Hillel Mitelpunkt’s THE GROCERY STORE set in an old Jaffa bodega (as it were); a cross between O’Casey’s JUNO AND THE PAECOCK, Lanford Wilson’s HOT L BALTIMORE and Odets’ AWAKE AND SING. Not so bad (though rather obviously directed by the playwright–who’s a wonderful playwright–produced his THE ACCIDENT in 2009 with Sinai Peter directing–which was great! And so it is here!

(follow up a little later)

Okay, we’re missing a bunch of important people on this IsraDrama delegation: Deborah Wayne Leiser-Moore, and Jelena Mijovic, and Richard Stein, and Andrew Huang, and I’m sure there are more! I guess the official line is that the underwriters only had room for 40 in the hotel (and there are new delegates from the Market Theater in South Africa, Ethal theatre, Limassol (Cyprus), Neus Theater Halle (Germany), Saint-Petersburg State “Vera Komissarzhevskaya” Theatre, Royal Dramatic Theatre (Stockholm), Stockholm City Theatre, Jewish Theatre of Sweden (you get the point – WAY TOO MANY wonderful Swedes and not enough literary talent from Serbia!!!)

• Before the opening session, my late lunch with Sinai Peter is a terrific update. Sinai’s been hosting Jen Mendenhall for a bunch of days before the conference and Sinai, it’s been proved again and again, is a great binding agent between Israeli artists and Americans. He’s brought our theater into relationship with so many designers (and we soon run into one of the best of them, Kinereth Kisch, having coffee with Shirley), and Sinai,

Sinai Peter, 2nd from the right, with our Theater J delegation of (from left) Jennifer Mendenhall, me, Shirley Serotsky, and Stephen Stern

it turns out, is now engaged in a busy year of directing in Israel drawing largely on Theater J’s past repertory (including upcoming productions of NEW JERUSALEM: THE INTERROGATION OF BARUCH DE SPINOZA at the Khan Theatre in Jerusalem, PANGS OF THE MESSIAH–the new version we produced–at the Herztlia Theatre, ARGENTINA–which we workshopped last January–currently running at the Haifa Theatre, and now he’s pitching IMAGINING MADOFF and much else) — such a fruitful partnership! We discuss a play I wish we could see, TASHACH, the Hebrew year corresponding to “1948,” based on the memoir of Israeli novelist Yoarm Kaniuk. True to form, Sinai gets on the phone with the director who quickly tells us, there’s a performance tonight (!) and she’ll send a car for me to see it (!) but I can’t miss the opening reception or THE GROCERY STORY at the Cameri, so I decline — but am happy when I receive a copy of the DVD two days later in Haifa. It may prove to be a wonderful complement to Motti Lerner’s investigation of an alleged action in 1948 in his play, THE ADMISSION, which Sinai will be directing at Israel’s national theater, Ha-Bima, and which we’re hoping to co-produce in 2013. We talk dates and we talk set and adjustments. We discuss the themes of the play I missed last night, Kochav Yair (covered beautifully by Stephen and Jen in their postings), and Sinai and I leave knowing we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other during this week.

• Wonderful coffee with Motti, as we play tag-team with meetings, Sinai going off to meet with Walter from the Wilma, and Shirley and Kinereth allowing us to eavesdrop on the best part of their gossip, while Motti and I discuss girls and clothes and co-productions. Walter’s actually part of the conversation for a good long while and we discuss Wilma AD’s Blanka Zizka’s extraordinary production of OUR CLASS this past November, which bowled my family over when we saw it. Walter mentions the related book “Blood Lands” and Motti discusses a long-in-the-making adaptation of Christopher Brownings “Ordinary Men…” also looking at Polish crimes during WWII and the phenomenon of The Bystander. Motti’s got a bunch of upcoming workshops in DC come February; AT NIGHT’S END in Boston at Emerson College directed by the wonderful Melia BenSussen, and a brand new commission from The Silk Road Theatre in Chicago on St. Paul — in Hebrew, PAULUS – directed by an equally wonderful Daniella Topol. Might I be that groupie who goes to both? Not to keep up with Motti, so much as to wrestle away those wonderful directors from his charming lure and bring them back into my camp. Well, there’s room enough for many a Jewish playwright on those busy directors’ dance cards. It’s great to check in with Motti and, as with Sinai, we’ll just be seeing more and more of each other, as we springboard from event to event, and city to city.

• The opening reception is, as I note at the top, a little like summer camp, except that there’s also a strong contingent from the Israeli Foreign Ministry cultural desk who are meeting with us and who are making so much of this festival possible. In particular, we reconnect with Ofra Ben Yakov and her boss, Rafi Gamzu, and reflect on last winter’s success of RETURN TO HAIFA and the late-to-unfold controversies that transpired only after the production’s extraordinary run. We’re given the clear signals that Theater J will continue to be supported for the work that we bring over but that it would be very good for us to bring over “not only work about The Conflict” (say this with a thick Israeli accent) and I assure both Rafi and Ofra that this is absolutely the case! But they still love and support Motti — just within the context of a broadly representative showcasing of a range of Israeli expressions — “Not only the tough ones.” Noted.

Other welcoming signs:

• “Tel Aviv Yaffo welcomes the participants of the World LGBTQ Youth Leadership Summit!” – On Pink Washing and Culture Washing and the Underwriting for IsraDrama

• And finally, seeing Hillel Mitelpunkt’s THE GROCERY STORE, a work first premiered in the very late 1970’s or early 80’s — Hillel’s first real hit, and a big breakthrough for Habimah Theatre when it first premiered a young Israeli author way-back-when.

Playwright Hillel Mitelpunkt in dialogue with Beit Lessin dramaturg Avishai Millstein on the set of "The Grocery Store"

The post show discussion is wonderful for emotion stirred by the older author articulating his feelings about directing, slightly revising, and generally looking back with fondness on his younger creation — and the image of himself of a young man just getting started in his career. It reminds me our past summer workshop of my play, Giant Shadows, a work wrought in the 80s and revised a bit this summer for Theatre Lab, as we all looked back with a sense of poignancy on another portrait of the artist–the child of refugees trying to make his way and claim a story for himself–as we gain some insight into what that made him what he is today…