LOGON, the Light Opera Group of the Negev, welcomes back veteran star Amiel Schotz in Hello, Dolly! The troupe's 26th annual production will begin its run on February 12 in their hometown of Beersheba before traveling to Haifa, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Jerusalem and Kfar Saba, and returning for final performances in Beersheba on March 7-8.
After a several-year hiatus, Schotz returns to the stage as the crusty old widower, Horace Vandergelder, in the popular Jerry Herman musical comedy. For the 70-year-old actor, singer, poet, playwright and all-round denizen of the Scottish, English and Israeli stage, the role of Vandergelder will be his 16th in LOGON productions. "I didn't [play] a part for the last several years," Schotz recounts. "Each year, my wife and I had other obligations during the month of January, and LOGON's country-wide performances begin in February, so being absent during January would have been impossible."
The usual tag line about the LOGON cast and crew is that in real life, they're all something else. Which is pretty much true - the cast includes full-time students, medical and computer professionals, business owners, teachers, professors and many other occupations. But for the dedicated thespian Schotz, "real life" has always taken place inside a theater. True, he earned his living doing something else, but he's most alive when involved in some theatrical production.
Born in Scotland, Schotz was a shy child who'd burst into tears at the thought of performing. "My sister is six years older, and she was always putting on skits for the aunts and cousins. My mum always told her she had to find a part for me, but she never wanted to. 'Oh mum,' she'd say. 'You know he always spoils it!' That was true - I'd get tongue-tied and start to cry. I sang as a child tenor, though. My heder (Hebrew school) teacher was a hazan (cantor), and in school productions he'd introduce me as 'the boy with the golden voice.'"
It was when Schotz was at the University of Glasgow that the theater bug bit. "During the summer after my first year, I went to a Jewish summer school in England. At the end, we put on a little skit. It was awful, absolutely horrible, but I loved it. I went back to university and immediately joined GUDS - the Glasgow University Dramatic Society - which became the high point of everything I was doing. I spent four wonderful years in university studying accountancy and didn't pass a single exam - I was the worst possible person you could imagine for that job. But I was constantly in the theater, held several student offices and wrote for many student magazines."
Acting as a profession didn't appeal to Schotz. "My father was Benno Schotz, a magnificent artist, Sculptor to the Queen of England. But my family went through some very difficult financial times. During the Depression, there were years when my father earned nothing at all and we lived off my mother's earnings as a dressmaker. I wanted something more reliable so I picked accountancy, even though it really wasn't for me."
A fetching lady from Israel played a walk-on role early in his life. "I was working as an apprentice in an accountancy office, and fell in love with an Israeli girl who'd come as an au pair. She allowed me to take her out but remained loyal to her army boyfriend in Israel, whom she later married. But it made me realize that if I had wanted to get married, I didn't have much to offer. So in 1961, I handed in my notice and instead took a computer job in York. Computers were in their very early stages - we programmed an IBM 1401 mainframe with a 4KB memory! I worked in York for four years, but my heart was in the theater - I was in a group doing both straight theater and musicals. I loved every minute."
Then came Israel. "By 1965, I finally managed what I thought would be a year-long visit to Israel. I was hoping to stay. I had a profession - computers - in demand in Israel. I went to Jerusalem where my uncle and aunt were living. Within a month of arriving, I was on stage."
Having an actor's chutzpah helped. "Alfred Jarry had started English amateur theater in Jerusalem, and when I arrived he was putting on a famous play called 'Ubu Roi.' I went to see it and was completely bowled over. It was excellent! I met one of the actors, managed an introduction to Jarry and asked if I could read for his next play, thinking Ubu would run for just a few weeks. Jarry told me he expected Ubu to run for quite some time, but suggested I audition to fill in for other actors. In fact, he said, one of his actors - N. David Gross, who later became editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post - couldn't attend the following evening's performance. Jarry suggested I learn Gross' two parts, and fill in for him. I learned the parts, but when I arrived the following afternoon, Gross was actually there. So Jarry said, 'Could you play these other two roles instead?' At 5:30, I sat down, learned the parts and went on stage that night. That was the pattern for the whole year-long run of Ubu. I'd arrive, ask, 'Who am I playing tonight?' and go on. The play was a smash hit - we did two shows a night."
The improvisational theater 'Theater Games' claimed a big segment of Schotz's life. His book Theater Games and Beyond, published in 1998, remains a standard text for community theaters the world over. Theater Games in Hebrew opened at Jerusalem's Khan Theater in 1967, with Schotz as the only non-Israeli in the cast. "My Hebrew was only passable, but it was a great run."
Schotz' year-long visit in Israel spanned three years before he left to pursue a Master's Degree in acting and directing at Brandeis University. He returned to Israel, taught acting at Tel Aviv University until the mid-1970s, then gave workshops and courses in theater games all over the country. In the late 1970s he began teaching English as a Second Language at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, and played his first LOGON role - Sir Despard Murgatroyd - in the troupe's 1983 production of Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddigore.
This year, the chance to come home to LOGON in Hello, Dolly! was irresistible. "I couldn't pass up the Horace Vandergelder role," Schotz says. "It's just a great part - Vandergelder appears to be this crotchety misogynist, but underneath it all, he's really a mensch. That's what Dolly Levi sees in him. She offers him the freedom to be who he really is."
One of the things an actor does is to "clothe" his character, create a backstory - decide what happened to the character before, what made him the person he is in the play. Schotz presumes that Horace Vandergelder, who we know is a lonely widower, may have felt responsible for his beloved wife's death. "All we know about his wife is that she died," he says. "But what if Horace didn't have enough money to pay for the medical care she'd needed? That could be why he's bitter and stingy now. He wants companionship, but he's afraid to commit. He admits the 'house is an empty shell without a woman' - but then justifies it by adding, 'and dirty, too!'"
Schotz has a uniquely Jewish perspective on Vandergelder's bad case of male chauvinism. "Vandergelder sings: 'It takes a woman all powdered in pink, to joyously clean out the drains in the sink. It takes an angel with long golden lashes, with soft Dresden fingers for dumping the ashesâ€¦ In winter, she'll shovel the ice, and lovingly set up the traps for the mice. She's a joy and treasure but practically speaking, to whom can you turn when the plumbing is leaking?' Do you recognize that?" Schotz asks. "That's the eshet hayil Vandergelder is praising, the 'woman of valor' from the Jewish tradition. Horace Vandergelder describes, very clearly, the woman who's the perfect wife - of course in the Torah version, she's also educated and pious. But the ideal woman gets up early, cleans, cooks and sews. It's really a tribute to a woman - as written by a man."
"That's what so wonderful about Hello, Dolly - it's full of hope and potential. There's the bitter Horace and the unstoppable Dolly - who's been widowed, too. Dolly works at it, she gets her man, and by the end, Vandergelder is a different man. No longer a miser, he's quoting Dolly's late husband, Ephraim Levi: 'Money is like manure. It's no good unless you spread it around,'" says Schotz.
"This year we have a great, strong, young cast," he adds. "Myra Bennett, another LOGON regular, plays Dolly, and together with her husband David, also produces. Musical director is David Waldmann. We have our mother-and-daughter team of choreographers, Adinah and Keshet Margalit. And Helen Eleasari - known to Jerusalem Post readers as Helen Kaye - returns as director. Helen's just first-class, and represents another homecoming for me. In 1991, she directed me in Yeoman of the Guard. I played Jack Point, one of the high points of my life - even though during rehearsals, we were constantly running into the bomb shelters and putting on gas masks. It was the first Gulf War."
"Dolly! is a fun show, full of hope, renewal and affirmation of life. In live theater, it's the electricity that runs between the actors and the audience that' s so heartwarming, that gives both sides so much joy and satisfaction. We hope everyone who comes to see Dolly! will enjoy it as much as all of us do, who have the fun of putting it on," Schotz concludes.
For information about the production, call 08-6414081 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. www.lightopera.2ya.co