Expect the unexpected
Rod Ben-Zeev is one of several top artists improvising at Tzavta this week.
A MOMENT at last year’s Improvisation Festival at the Tzavta in Tel Aviv Photo: Berney Ardov
According to Rod Ben-Zeev, he and his fellow professionals have good material to
work on at this week’s annual Improvisation Festival, which kicks of at Tzavta
in Tel Aviv tomorrow (Monday) and ends on Thursday.
“Life in Israel is
all about improvisation,” notes the 30-something Ramat Gan-born,
Amsterdam-resident actor and improviser. “People just adapt to situations and
make things work.”
Ben-Zeev is one of several top artists who will be in
hand at Tzavta this week to put participants with various levels of experience
and expertise through their improvisational acting paces.
event follows last year’s highly successful inauguration and incorporates a wide
range of activities. The program includes the Israeli improvisation
championship, in which improv performers present off-the-cuff slots, the appeal
of which is judged by the decibel level produced by the audience applause. There
will be three stages to the contest, divided into three levels of skill. The
advanced level features trained actors who engage in improvisational acting on a
regular basis, acting students and amateurs who just have a penchant for
improvising. The finals will take place on Thursday.
Ben-Zeev and his
coprofessionals at the festival, including festival artistic director Amitai
Yaish Ben- Ozilio, Inbal Lori and Anna Preminger, will moderate 20
Ben-Zeev’s schedule includes an advanced-level workshop based
on Lars von Trier’s disturbing 2003 drama Dogville, an intensive session,
naturally called Boot Camp, in which participants will learn about the rules of
improvisation, and an Englishlanguage workshop called Here We R in the Center of
Town, on how to improvise in a foreign language, and how to turn to the
linguistic disadvantage to a boon.
The onlookers at the performances will
be “roped in” to the evolutionary process, with members of the audience asked to
come up with suggestions such as topics, locations or a backdrop to the
improvisational work, and each day’s program will end with a “late night” slot
with some hard-core improvising.
Ben-Zeev, whose parents hail from the
United States, got into improvising in Chicago during a post-army visit to the
US. He has been based in the Netherlands for several years, and performs and
runs acting-improv workshops in Amsterdam and all over the world. He says that
taking the left-field approach to acting is highly liberating.
something really special about knowing that, in the environment you are in, you
are kind of expected to make a mistake, to fail, and then there’s all this
interesting stuff that comes out of the mistake, or supposed mistake. I think
that’s the freedom that attracted me to improv,” notes
“Mistake” is, in fact, something of a misnomer as, when it
comes to playing around with the acting craft and material, there really is no
such thing as a wrong move per se.
“Yes, I always mean ‘mistake’ with
quotation marks because, in improvisation, that is the best thing that happens,”
Ben-Zeev continues. “It’s just the moment the pattern is broken. We are
constantly gravitating toward repeating patterns in everything we do. If we can
identify that moment when the pattern is broken, that’s where the original stuff
Ben-Zeev brings a wealth of experience, with all sorts of
groups, with him to the fray in Tel Aviv.
“I studied with the best
improvisational teachers in the world in Chicago, and I worked with elderly
people there and I got a chance to learn how to teach it.”
He says that
he gets a lot out of working with people with different cultural backgrounds,
and of different ages.
“It was great working with the senior citizens in
Chicago, because improv is mostly restricted to people aged 20 to 40, and older
people have such a different outlook on life and a different vocabulary, and
different abilities – whether it is physical or mental – and it was interesting
using improv just to keep them in the moment and some really nice things came
out of that. They actually did a show at the Chicago Improv Festival, which is
the biggest festival in the world in this field.”
In Tel Aviv, Ben-Zeev
will be working with improvisers of varying skill levels and experience, and
also in different formats.
“There is the short version of improv, with is
more of gamey stuff where you constantly return to the audience – you might ask
them for a word, or a suggestion to inspire the scene which usually has some
tricks to it, like a bell goes off and you have to do something different, or
change the last thing you said, when you hear the bell, or you have to use a
particular letter, or you are physically restricted to a certain part of the
stage,” he explains.
The Dogville-based slot will follow the lengthier
format of improvisation.
“In the long form you usually break the fourth
wall [by addressing the audience directly from the stage] one time, at the
beginning of the show, and you ask for a suggestion, just as a means of showing
the audience that it’s improvised. Then you just start improvising. It’s more
like watching a play, although you don’t have a set, like you would in
conventional theater, so you just explain things to each other, like saying ‘I
really like being in a supermarket,’ and then the audience will instantly
imagine a supermarket – it’s sort of a contract you have with
According to Ben-Zeev, neither the actors nor the members of the
audience know what they are going to get, and that he also likes to see
“Many people in the audience will have some idea of what they
are letting themselves in for, but it is great to see the smaller percentage who
are coming along for the first time and can’t believe that what they are seeing
is improvised. The longer format is generally for people with more experience of
these kinds of shows, and they are more up for it, but I think anyone can enjoy
The four-dayer will end with “a giant party with all the
participants and the audience, with alcohol and improvised surprises.”
you’re looking to take some risks, and like the unexpected, Tzavta is the place
to be this week.
For tickets and more information: (03) 695-0156-7 and