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(photo credit: Courtesy)
With some 80,000 English speakers living in and around the capital, it was only a matter of time before an English-language theater happening took place. Every Tuesday from now through the middle of June, the Theater Company Jerusalem will perform an original play in English at the Gerard Behar Center.
The initiative came about as part of The Jerusalem Foundation's project called "Something Different." The foundation launched the venture to help introduce the cultural richness of Jerusalem to the capital's different communities.
Both The Jerusalem Foundation and Theater Company Jerusalem "have the same aims: that we would like to enliven cultural life in Jerusalem," says founding artistic director of Theater Company Jerusalem, Gabriella Lev. "Jerusalem is a difficult city on many levels. It is one of the poorest cities in the country. The culture budget is 10 million shekels - while Tel Aviv's culture budget is 600 million shekels. It's very difficult to build a vibrant culture here. But we have chosen to live here and to create here... And I really hope that we can reach more people."
Theater Company Jerusalem was founded in 1983.
"When we started we were a group of artists working on what we loved and aspiring to express who we were in Jewish culture. We weren't thinking in terms of how long things would last or what we'd be doing in 30 years' time," Lev tells The Jerusalem Post. "Our concerns were how to create a new theater culture that is a real expression of what was happening here in Israel."
That is still the company's mission.
The plays in the festival are all produced by Theater Company Jerusalem. This troupe focuses on exploring ancient Jewish texts and oral traditions through the performing arts.
The company will perform five plays from its repertoire: Shulem, Esther, Ma'aseh Bruria, Yearning, and the new Talmudic Love Stories.
"It's a very interesting piece," says Lev of Talmudic Love Stories. "We're presenting some love stories from the Jewish tradition. But what we hope to do is interact with the audience. It's not that they come in and are presented with a story. We are having a conversation with them, very much like the dialogue in the Talmud. It's an experiment that we're trying. I'm very excited and I think it will work."
THE OTHER four plays have all received acclaim here in Israel and abroad.
The award-winning Shulem recasts the Holocaust in a lyrical, theatrical poem. It is a collage of live music, song and dance, trapeze arts, puppets, visual effects and Yiddish vaudeville.
The play Yearning is an ethnic music-art performance which combines the spiritual power of ancient Jewish prayers with the melodies and rhythms of Oriental Art Music. The show relates the story of man's endless longing amidst the pulse of creation, destruction, light and shadow that we call reality.
In Esther, Lev weaves into the archaic story her own family anecdotes as a child of Holocaust survivors. The piece challenges society's collective memory.
And Ma'aseh Bruria (or Bruria's Story) tells of this great Jewish woman. The play merges ancient Talmudic and Midrashic texts with modern-day Hebrew.
While Theater Company Jerusalem has performed across the country, it is to international audiences that it is best known. According to Lev, Theater Company Jerusalem is Israel's fringe theater company that travels the most. It has been to destinations including Scotland, Japan, New York and Hungary.
Though Theater Company Jerusalem could have followed the trend of those who create art and move to Tel Aviv, Lev says the company has stayed in the capital because of its character.
"It's inspiring and exhilarating to create in a city where so much has been created before," she says.
Theater Company Jerusalem's plays are more challenging than those of other repertory theater groups in the country. "Jerusalem audiences are looking for entertainment, talent and a good night out. But they're also looking for something to touch them. Otherwise they wouldn't live here."
The "Something Different" English Language Festival kicks off on May 19 with Shulem, and continues every Tuesday through June 16th at the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem. Tickets cost NIS 35 to NIS 45 each, or NIS 160 for the whole series. Tickets: (02) 623-7000.