Cultural endeavor is not exactly the best supported area of life in this country, and many mainstream local arts institutions often have to cut their entertainment coat to suit their shrinking budget cloth. So it is both surprising and pleasing to see that the Acre Festival of Alternative Israeli Theater appears to be holding its own, and then some. The 34th edition of the event will take place from September 21 to September 24, judging by the scale of the roster and the quality of the acts lined up, the public is in for quite a fun and eyeopening time of it.
Mind you, the festival does have a visually impressive head start on practically any other thespian enterprise in the country in the form of the physical backdrops and special ambience exuded by the historic sites of the shows. The four-dayer takes place in the magnificently appointed Knights Halls in the Old City of Acre and accommodates a wide range of alternative theatrical vehicles of expressions, as well as all manner of street performances, bazaars and pantomime-related activities.
This year’s artistic director is veteran actor-director Gil Alon (Pictured), who says he is not looking to initiate any wholesale changes in the longstanding event’s ethos.
“I am not interested in anything other than the artistic agenda,” he declares. “That is the only perspective I adopt when I consider proposals for shows at the festival.”
Alon adds that he approached the new job with a fresh mind and a fresh eye.
“The last few years, I was abroad at the time of the festival and, prior to that, I always came to the festival as a director and had no time to relate to anything other than my own production.”
Happily, this time round, Alon has had the time – and duty – to take a look at a wide range of projects, along with the other members of the artistic jury. The 11 shows selected for the competition category feed off all kinds of subject matter. The quizzically entitled Pffffff, written and directed by Aharon Levin and Yaron Edelstein, is a black comedy-farce based on the fanciful story of an Israeli Navy submarine commander who decides to take matters into his own hands and put an end to the Iranian nuclear threat.
The powers-that-be in Israel consider the possibility of averting a nuclear freefor- all but eventually relent and decide to allow fate to take its course.
Meanwhile, My Book of Faces, written by Inna Eizenberg and directed by Nohar Lazarovich, offers a post-modern glimpse of reality, and Amir Dulitsky’s Fall conjures up an unlikely love story that emergences in the mildewed corridors of the Income Tax offices.
“I never said, when I came to this position, that I would only consider one kind or another of production,” says Alon. “We don’t take one-man shows because there are already two festivals for that; and if a production is like a soap opera on the stage, we don’t take that either. But, other than that, I and the artistic committee I appointed are open to any idea.”
Alon says he and his fellow jurors had their work cut out for them.
“People submitted material from all kinds of genres and styles, and I selected the things that moved me the most,” says Alon, adding that the open-door mindset spawned an exciting departure.
“After we received all the proposals, it transpired that this year the festival is placing the emphasis on the work of young Israeli playwrights. It was only after we had all made our choices that we discovered the gems we ended up with.
It turned out that this year’s festival will open a door for young Israeli playwriting.
That means that the festival attaches great importance to the written word, and there are new plays on the program.
These are all plays the public will not know.”
Alon expects the Israeli theatergoer to enjoy the new offerings and says he is very enthused about the discovery of the first fruits.
“It is very exciting to see all this talent coming through,” he declares, although noting that he is not entirely surprised at the wealth of fresh talent the Israeli theatrical community has to offer.
“I have read lots of new works over the years, either to make a choice of some play or other or when asked to give my opinion of something, and I have known for a long time that we have some wonderful writers.”
Now, as head of the Acre festival, he is in a position to help bring the material to the public’s notice.
“All sorts of things get in the way of getting the plays to the production stage – procedural obstacles, bureaucracy and lack of influence,” he says.
Presumably, lack of funding can also stymie a novice playwright’s attempt to get his work out there. Not so, according to Alon.
“Often, people manage to put something together even though they don’t have money,” he notes, and proffers a surprising observation. “I have traveled extensively around the world, and I can tell you that we are a lot better off than many other countries in terms of the funding we get for the arts.
Everywhere in the world artists want more funding, and that is perfectly legitimate. Everywhere in the world, the money goes first to the army, and only after that to culture.”
Other standouts at the festival include a full day seminar on the subject of theater and the Holocaust, with a panel that includes acclaimed playwrights Yehoshua Sobol and Nava Semel, writer and literary critic Prof. Ben Ami Feingold and local director and actor Chaled Abu Ali. Other off-stage activities include the Resident Artist project, where artist Hioli Lieberman will create glass works of art together with local residents.
As always, there will be a multitude of outdoor shows, including a concert by high-energy La Vache Qui Rit world music outfit and street theater company A-Ta-Kai, while modern dance fans can catch a class act – albeit not for free – in the form of the Light show, devised by Texas-based Ballet Austin dance company artistic director Stephen Mills.For tickets and more information: (04) 955-2541 and www.accofestival.co.il