With all the hoopla surrounding the Academy Awards, it seems as though actors and actresses are on everyone’s minds.

Everybody seems to have been hit with Oscar fever. Although the silver screen boasts big names, the actors and actresses who clock the most working hours are not the ones on the read carpet but those that any seven-yearold could pick out in a crowd.

In Israel, children’s performances easily eclipse all other plays in frequency and audience attendance.

The Orna Porat Theater for Children and Youth, or Orna Porat for short, produces the lion’s share of these shows. To celebrate Purim, the theater will host the three-day Yaron Yerushalmi Festival, named in memory of the fallen IDF paratrooper. Over the course of the Purim holiday, costumed children will be invited to the Suzanne Dellal Center to see the company’s new productions.

Since the beginning of the year, artistic director Gil Tchernovitz has worked around the clock writing, directing and overseeing the progress of the productions that will premiere next week. The new repertoire includes The Animal Festival, an adaptation of the children’s book The Talent Show; Friends on the Bridge; Edison; and The Choice.

Tchernovitz recounts the serendipitous moment that inspired The Animal Festival.

“I found the book The Talent Show in a pile on the floor of a small book store that no one goes into. It was like something out of a movie. The minute I started to read it, I knew we had to do something with it,” he says.

Tchernovitz worked for years as an actor in Orna Porat’s productions before being appointed artistic director. To this day, he can be seen singing and dancing on the stage.

Keeping the material fresh and engaging is Tchernovitz’s biggest challenge, one he faces with eternal optimism. Combing through book stores and libraries has become a regular activity in his life.

“Our agenda is to do good theater,” he smiles. “To do good theater, we need good material. I would love to get more people involved in my quest for quality resources. My dream is for people to send us plays and stories that they love so that we can turn them into shows.”

One of Tchernovitz’s milestone achievements is the introduction of Tiny Theater for children aged one to three.

“I saw a show for little ones when I was abroad. I knew I wanted to do that here at Orna Porat. It took me a year to get the project off the ground, and the response from both the staff and the audience has been amazing,” he says.

The Orna Porat Theater, which is now celebrating 44 years of activity, recently moved to and renovated a building on Balfour Street in Tel Aviv.

This new home, made possible by the Municipality of Tel Aviv and long-time supporters the Yerushalmi family, boasts state-of-the-art offices, a spacious lobby and an out-of-service 600-seat theater, which will undergo renovations.

“We present over 2,000 shows a year in schools and in theaters,” says Ran Guetta, general manager of Orna Porat. “That means that we send out between six and 10 shows every day to places all over the country for children aged one to 18. Every year, we produce between seven and nine new shows, separated into age groups.”

Guetta took over the reins in 2007, after cutting his teeth as the manager of the Givatayim Theater. Since he joined the team at Orna Porat, the annual activities have increased by nearly 100 percent.

Under Guetta’s leadership, the company’s presence in the community has grown to include a workshop series, a playwriting competition and a monologue competition. The company is also in the midst of several tours, with upcoming stops in the US, Korea, England and Croatia. For families who cannot afford to purchase tickets, Guetta has initiated an outreach program that provides free tickets for performances all over the country.

The company functions as any repertory theater troupe would, presenting works by a long list of known and emerging playwrights.

However, unlike repertory theater companies that cater to adults, Orna Porat must carefully match each play to a specific age group to ensure the success of the performances. To be certain that each play is foolproof and ready to hit the auditorium, Orna Porat holds dress rehearsals that are open to focus groups.

“We test out the shows to make sure that they are marketed appropriately. We talk to the audience and the artists afterwards to get a sense of what they felt. Sometimes we will start out thinking a show is good for ages four to eight, but after the rehearsals we realize that the range should be four to seven. It may sound like a small thing, but the difference of a year can make or break a show,” Tchernovitz explains.

With their experience on and off the stage, Tchernovitz and Guetta are well aware of how challenging it is to capture the attention of students.

“Children are the future consumers of theater. I truly believe that with us, they are in good hands. I see it over and again,” says Guetta. “When we put together the right ingredients, the right script, the right director, the right actors and set, all the kids sit fascinated.

Theater has the ability to conquer.”

The Yaron Yerushalmi Festival will take place at the Suzanne Dellal Center on March 15, 16 and 17. For more information, visit www.porat-theater.co.il.

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