As my last post before going abroad, I thought I would do some quick research on Israeli theatre so I could be prepared and you could know what I might be getting up to while I’m away in the Middle East.
My research only reaffirms my thoughts about theatre’s potential. Israeli theatre’s beginnings start before there was even a state of Israel. The Habima, or Israeli National Theater, began in Russia under the wing of the Moscow Art Theater.
“For one of the first times in history a theater preceded the establishment of the country it would represent. The Habia imagined the state it wished to reflect, and miraculously that state materialized thirty years later. As a theater that dreamed a country and saw it realized, the Habima, and those companies that soon joined it, believed that they had a mission not simply to celebrate a return to an ancient home but also to shape the new society that would be be established there by performing in Hebrew, the language of the new state” (Ben-Zvi xii).
From then on, Israeli theater took on a social role as mirror up to the realities that Israel was facing as a new state and new human existence for its people. Up until the end of the 20th century, Israeli theatre was almost entirely focused on the portrayal of national identity — no kitchen sink. Everything was inherently political and nationalistic. And when consensus of Israeli identity changed during the Lebanon War, the theatre responded to the feeling of unknowing with drama that spoke to the feelings of the population.
This immediately reminded me of the Greeks. Plays put on for public entertainment, but also didacticism, teaching how one should act, feel, and respond. They validate feelings while also shaping the perception of the country around them. The “Omanut Laam” (Art for the People) agency acts as a national endowment for the theatre, providing subsidized tickets and opportunities for citizens who live outside of large urban centers to come see plays. However, as we have learned, the Israeli subscriber base, subsidized by the government, means that these plays always share a particular message that suits both the audience and the government.
To be honest, I think this is a better start that trying to appeal to just commercial theatre. Knowing that the plays put on are reflecting a national identity (which can be challenged) to me is a hopeful look into the realm of drama in Israel. Because of the nature of collective identity in Israel that scholars I read emphasized, I feel like this is the most intimate theatrical experience one could attend. More than watching a family drama, or a Shakespeare play, it seems as though much of their material is derived from Israeli playwrights and experiences.
I am very excited to explore it for myself.
Ben-Zvi, Linda. Theater in Israel. University of Michigan Press, 1996.
Avigal, Shosh. “Patterns and Trends in Israeli Drama and Theater, 1948 to Present.” Theater in Israel, edited by Linda Ben-Zvi, University of Michigan Press, 1996.