They live in New York, but the performers taking the stage tonight at the Sage Theater in Times Square all have a complicated sense of geography. They're residents of Isramerica, both the name of the 8 p.m. show and of the world they inhabit - a bilingual, bicultural space that straddles their connections with Israel and the US.
"The idea is that we're creating a group of talented Israeli and Jewish American artists," says Sivan Hadari, Isramerica's artistic director and a performer in the show. "In this program, we're building a fusion between New York and American culture and Israeli society and culture."
That fusion will be expressed in a variety of forms during the 90-minute performance, which will combine vignettes of dance, music, comedy and theater - mostly in English, but with a sprinkling of Hebrew thrown in.
"That's how I live my life," says Hadari, who was raised in Brooklyn until age 12 before moving with her family to Ra'anana, a suburb north of Tel Aviv. "I speak in Hebrew and English at the same time. I think in Hebrew and English at the same time. It's always this 'Isramerican' lifestyle - New York and Ra'anana mixed together."
Her compatriots in Isramerica - all up-and-coming artists in their 20s and 30s - will bring iterations of the same story to their performances. Many were raised in Israel and came to New York to study or pursue their craft professionally, while others are Americans with Israeli family, or who simply bear a strong affinity for both countries.
The pieces they'll perform reflect that dichotomy - voiced in musical form, perhaps, or as a scene from Chaverot Hachi Tovot (Best Friends), a play by Israeli writer Anat Gov that's being performed in English for the first time. Emceeing the evening will be the 28-year-old Hadari, who conceived the show more than two years ago, but began to organize it actively in April following New York City tryouts for Kochav Nolad, the Israeli version of American Idol.
"I got to see people do their Kochav Nolad auditions, and I was blown away," says Hadari, a graduate of Israel's Bet Zvi Conservatory and New York City's American Academy of Dramatic Arts. "People were really ready to do something onstage, and we also discovered a lot of connections between us."
Dividing their talents among 16 acts, the show's two dozen performers established both personal and professional camaraderie during rehearsals. "I know some other Israelis in New York, but not artists, and it was refreshing to meet so many other Israeli artists and actors," says Sharon Ben Tovim, a 24-year-old from Herzliya serving as the show's stage manager and producer.
Promoted with the help of Artists 4 Israel, a New York group that promotes the Jewish state through the visual arts, Isramerica is also serving as a fund-raiser. Part of the proceeds from the show's $15 tickets will go to Latet and Elem, Israeli anti-poverty organizations, and to the New York branch of Habanim, a group working for the return of Gilad Schalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped and held in Gaza since June 2006.
The show itself, however, will be free of political content.
"We made a point not to have pieces that are political or have religious undertones," says Hadari. "We're trying to show that Israelis and Americans are creating art that is beautiful and not about [those issues]. We're trying to show the side of Israel that is light and fun. We want people who maybe haven't been to Israel... to say, 'Look at all these amazing things that are coming out of Israelis.'"
For Hadari and her collaborators, the hope is that Isramerica will become a regular event, showcasing talent on a monthly or bimonthly basis. There are tentative plans for a December show, although concrete details have yet to take shape.
While the onstage focus will remain on the arts, the performers' sense of place is the key - and the bond they hope to share with the audience. "It's about creating a community," says Hadari, "a group of people who share a love for Israel and art."