Monday, August 30, 2010

Israeli actors and playwrights want to boycott audiences in Ariel

Savion Liebrecht whose play The Banality of Love I saw and found so profound and really special has joined over 50 other people connected with Israels theater industry in signing  a letter declaring they will not perform (or in her case have her play performed) in the new cultural center in Ariel. See the articles here or here. I saw Liebrecht's play as part of a series  organized by the Rehovot community center. We get to see seven plays which are chosen by the center and then usually one or two shows (not always plays) which we get to choose from wider range of events also sponsored by the community centers. We see the plays at the Wix Auditorium in the Weizmann Institute, which is the largest auditorium in Rehovot. I love the subscription because it gives me an opportunity to see many plays during the year and exposes us to work we might not choose ourselves.I am a native New Yorker (home of Broadway) and I love seeing real live human beings perform! Movies and TV don't even come near the thrill of seeing and hearing real people on stage! Many of the plays we see are original plays written in Hebrew and these I find very interesting because although they are not all great plays they do reflect a lot of the culture around us and it is interesting to see Israeli culture develop. 
Ariel is a municipality founded in 1978 and now has a population of close to 20,000 residents with another 10,000 students who study at the college there. The town jus finished building a new cultural center and contracted for a series of plays to be performed for the local residents. Ariel, as you can see from the map here is right in the center of the country but it is 11 miles (17 km) over the 'green line'. And here the plot thickens!. Many of the people connected with the theaters are refusing to participate in the productions planned to be staged in Ariel. They don't want to be in the conquered territories. This is what they say: 
"We wish to express our disgust with the theater's board's plans to perform in the new auditorium in Ariel. The actors among us hereby declare that we will refuse to perform in Ariel, as well as in any other settlement. We urge the boards to hold their activity within the sovereign borders of the State of Israel within the Green Line."

Israelis consume a disproportionate amount of culture and one of the reasons is that the theater companies (as well as orchestras and other cultural organizations) are marketed to the public through subscriptions like mine as well as through labor unions and other groups that buy blocks and resell to their members. So although the Habima Theater (now undergoing renovation) is located in Tel Aviv, the troupe plays to audience around the country in setups like ours in Rehovot. Other theater companies that perform around the country are the Cameri Theater (also of Tel Aviv), the Be'er Sheva Theater and the Haifa Theater. There is also the excellent Gesher Theater, whose home theater is in Jaffa, which was started for and by Russian actors in 1991 at the height of the great aliya, to give them an opportunity to perform in Israel.  Needless to say, in a country as small as Israel supporting so many quality theater companies requires a good deal of government subsidy.
I'm sure that Habima's management means what they say on their website in the context of 'dialoge with different audiences' (emphasis mine):
 "Annual awards given to theater professionals for outstanding achievements in their work. HaBima has performances throughout the country, giving the Israeli public, from anywhere at any age, the opportunity to participate in theater - Jews and Arabs, secularand religious, young and old, from the central region to the periphery; Zabarim (sabras - born in Israel) and Olim Hadashim (new immigrants)."
Well, that may be what the management and the taxpayers want to think, but 'artists' have a right to decide where and to whom they will perform. They feel that by their presence they are lending credibility and legitimacy to the occupation. These 'artists' don't mind being in Jaffa, Haifa and Safed of course because that's Israel, right? Oh, excuse me, but Abu Mazem thinks he should be returning to the home he was born in in Safed. Who's going to tell him that the 'artists' don't count that as occupied territory. Oh, and Jaffa of course, also isn't occupied.  Maybe they should make sure that their audiences in the "central region" and in the "periphery" aren't comprised of people who are serving or have served in the occupation army or pay taxes that support the occupation government. 
These writers and actors have the right to say all this, they have the right to act on their convictions too. Culture should be a unifying factor for us. I can't help feeling that these people are more interested in partisanship than in unity. So if they want to be political they should run for office and face the practical day-to-day problems of running a country. In the meantime, till they take over they must accept that the audiences (and the government) don't have to finance their endeavors. 


Leora said...

I'm sorry the showing of this play is causing this sort of argument. Yes, wouldn't it be nice if the arts unified people?

I have a book by Savion Liebrecht - this sounds like an interesting play.

Risa said...

It's not this play, it's any play!

Batya said...

Some of the actors took their names off the petition. There's lots of rigidity from the alleged liberals.

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