Fringe theater involves unconventional themes and breaking down barriers. The 31st annual Israeli Fringe Theater Festival seeks to do the same by breaking down barriers between fantasy and reality, between Jews and Arabs and between Israel and the rest of the world. The multicultural city of Acre has been home to the festival for three decades. This year, it takes place on Hol Hamoed Succot from September 26 to 29.
Through the 65 shows, with 300 Israeli and international artists, the organizers of the festival attempt to bring fringe theater to the Israeli public and to bring the Israeli public to Acre, a setting they describe as “magical.”
“It’s an adventure to come to Acre because you don’t come only to see the performances; you also come to a very unique place, where the environment and the atmosphere are very special,” says Smadar Yaaron, the festival’s artistic director and director of the Acre Theater.
The variety of productions during the festival reflects the multiculturalism of the city and creates an interaction that can only happen in fringe. Yaaron explains that this unique form of alternative theater experiments with fine arts, seeking new artistic methods of visuals, aesthetics and space, thus appealing to audiences from any given background. The interactive aspect of the festival is especially pronounced in the outdoor shows.
For example, David Maayan, known as the Father of the Fringe in Israel, has a three-hour show called The Family Table. “In the first part, the spectators are divided into groups, led by six actors. Each actor takes a group through a theatrical voyage in the old citadel,” says Yaaron. “In the second part, the spectators join together, along with the actors, and they all sit around a big table outdoors, called the family table,” which gives them the opportunity to interact with the producers of the show.
The street theater segment of the festival, directed by Avi Gibson Bar-El and Yinon Tzafrir, seeks to display the beauty of the city through more than 40 theatrical events all over town, 20 of which are premieres, and nine are international performances. The street shows are open to the public and fits in with the theme of fringe through the variety of topics it addresses and the many artistic forms of theater it uses.
These include classical clownery, aerial performances, pyrotechnics, parades, stage performances, acrobatics, projections and political shows about the conflict and feminist issues.
With the magical aspect of the city of Acre, Gibson Bar-El says that the location has an influence on the art itself. Street theater, by its very nature, mixes reality and fantasy.
And with a setting like Acre, the festival’s street theater becomes almost divine.
“There is something about the street performances that is different and accessible,” says Gibson Bar-El.
“God is the set designer. He does the décor, with the sky, the stars. Acre’s exceptional diversity – the old city, the interaction between the citizens, the tension that is created through the coexistence – makes for a highly charged atmosphere, which makes this festival very unique.”
The city of Acre, he adds, “is a force in itself. It incorporates different sights, sounds and aromas. This is the best setting a street theater could hope for.”
Since fringe theater also involves controversial topics, such an interactive festival requires an organized dialogue. A two-hour symposium will take place during the festival, touching on issues such as the artistic boycott of Israel, the place of Israel in the artistic world and what Israeli artists think about it.
Yaaron experienced this type of boycott firsthand when she participated in a Mediterranean dance festival in Amsterdam, which included some groups from Arab countries. “When they heard that an Israeli performance would be featured, it created a big mess,” she recounts.
Since some international artists have been canceling their shows in Israel due to the boycott, this panel discussion is significant, since the festival itself features many international artists.
Yaaron adds that apart from bringing together artists from Israel and
abroad, it’s important to bring together Arabs and Jews in a cultural
setting and address the political climate in Israel. A segment called “A
Mystical Inner Journey into Kabbala and Sufi Mysticism” is a spiritual
production presented in a Sufi mosque in the old city, which explores
the connection between Sufism (the mystic side of Islam) and Jewish
mysticism through art.
“It is organized by artists, musicians, dancers and academics doing
research between the two cultures,” Yaaron explains. “It involves mutual
ceremonies incorporating Jewish and Sufi elements and creating a sort
of a communion between the two sides to show that we are all one. This
is very important, especially in these times that we’re experiencing.”
Yaaron says that the Fringe Festival is a big part of Israeli culture,
since it has been around for more than 30 years and has managed to
survive through wars and intifadas.
“The festival owes its power to itself,” Yaaron asserts. “Like a
phoenix, it does not want to die. After every time it was canceled or
postponed (because of the conflict), people were sure that it was the
end of this project. But somehow it’s alive, it’s always rejuvenating
itself. It has become part of the routine of fringe enthusiasts in
Israel. It’s something they always look forward to.”For more information and tickets, go to www.accofestival.co.il