Elad Shippony is as independent as it gets. For the past 10 years, he has performed with his theatrical show, The Wandering Israeli, over 600 times across Israel and regularly at Israel’s National Theater, The Cameri, solely through hard work and word-of-mouth.
This summer, Shippony developed the original and highly acclaimed Hebrew version of the show into English, and is appearing every week at the Arab-Hebrew Theater in Jaffa through the end of August.
Shippony will take The Wandering Israeli on an American tour starting on September 10 in San Diego, September 11 in Los Angeles, then going on to Palo Alto on the 12th and New Jersey on the 15th.
Shippony sat down with The Jerusalem Post
to talk about using language as a means of connection, the joy of traveling, and the challenges of striving to be an independent artist and succeeding to get his message across.
Can you tell me about yourself? I was born in Israel, but when I was three my parents moved to LA. That’s where I grew up, but I always knew I would come back because they instilled in me this love for Israel. It was my dream to become a journalist. I had a choice to either go to Columbia University on scholarship or go back to Israel and join the army. So I came back to Israel and joined the army. I was adopted on Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon.
It’s funny because it’s the same kibbutz Ehud Barak was born on. He was the IDF chief of staff when I was a soldier. I lived next door to his mother. She was working in the laundromat. It’s only in Israel that the mother of the commander the IDF could be folding my clothes! I served in Golani and I really enjoyed the army.
When I finished, I went to travel for a few years. I spent a year in Africa. I bought all kinds of art in Africa that I sold on Venice Beach in California, which helped pay for my next trip to South America. I learned Spanish during the year I was in South America and realized how amazing it is to travel when you can actually speak with the local people. It gives you a whole new dimension.
Did Spanish help you tremendously in LA as well? Oh yeah, suddenly I was walking the streets of LA and wow, I can speak to people! When you speak to people in their native tongue, they open up to you. That’s when I really found a love for languages.
When I came back to Israel after traveling, I became a youth counselor on Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon. Every year, I would leave for three months to travel. In 1994, right after the peace signing between Jordan and Israel, I decided that I wanted to learn Arabic. I packed a backpack and went to Amman [Jordan] for three months. I stayed in a hostel and learned Arabic off the streets. I came back fluent.
It’s changed my life in Israel to be able to speak Arabic. In 1999, I got married and we went traveling to New Zealand. We came back and she was pregnant with our first daughter, so I realized that I needed to find a real job. High-tech was booming at the time and I got a good job as a technical writer. It was nice and a good-paying job, but inside I knew it wasn’t my calling. So I started to write my travel stories.
These travel stories became the basis for ‘The Wandering Israeli’? Yes, I had never performed before or learned acting professionally, but I thought I would see what happened. I knew I needed something more in my life. After I had written a few travel stories, I started marketing them as a show. It started off really slowly, but within a year we were already performing in national theater!
Can you describe the show? I go in and out of character; I’m the narrator and the various characters. The main story is my time in Amman. The live music sets the tone. For instance, when I go to South America or Africa, the music changes.
It’s not just a travel story, but things that relate to Israelis. The show is very funny.
The humor is not below the belt; it’s clean.
We’ve been invited to perform in front of religious communities. We’ve performed in front of Arabs also. We performed a few months ago at a teacher’s conference in Carmiel and half of them were Arab.
They enjoyed it very much because the Arab characters have a prominent position in the show. But nothing is political. The whole idea is very optimistic, so people connect with it. The story is about traveling and there is not one person who doesn’t find joy in traveling, whether you’re a backpacker or you go to the most expensive hotels.
So there are two shows now, one in Hebrew and one in English? We started off with the Hebrew show.
We performed that for the past 10 years with no external PR, and it’s a good show.
We also performed once a month in Tel Aviv. All of it was word-of-mouth. I recently decided that I wanted to take it on tour to the United States, but when I contacted production companies that specialize in bringing Israeli productions to the US, they all said no. All I need to hear is “you can’t.” So we started doing it ourselves.
Within three months we had closed four dates - San Diego (9/10), Los Angeles (9/11), Palo Alto (9/12) and New Jersey (9/15) and we’re not only doing the show in Hebrew, but also in English. So that’s seven show dates!
The thing was that we said initially we needed four shows in order to make the American tour viable, but we only had three because we couldn’t convince Boston to give us a shot. So we adapted the show into English and that way we could offer it back to back with the Hebrew version on the same show date.
So I went to the Arab-Hebrew Theater in Jaffa and offered the Theater’s Director to collaborate with us on our English version. So we booked all the Mondays throughout the summer and it’s been a roller-coaster ride. The English version impacts the people no less than the Hebrew version. And since there is no regular-running English show in Israel that’s geared for tourists and English speakers, it’s really been well received and we hope to continue with it after our US Tour. Sometimes you follow an idea, and it turns out to be an amazing opportunity.
Shippony performs The Wandering Israeli in English at the Arab-Hebrew Theater in Jaffa every Monday this month. To purchase tickets to the Wandering Israeli at the Arab-Hebrew Theater, go to: http://www.arab-hebrew-theatre.org.il/en/show.php?id=2783
For more information on the Wandering Israel, go to: https://www.facebook.com/iNoded/
The Wandering Israeli US Tour Information:
San Diego, Sept. 10, Qualcomm Hall:
English - 7:00pm (special segment for Hebrew speakers)
Los Angeles, Sept. 11, Sinai Temple:
English - 6:00pm
Hebrew - 8:30pm
Tickets: (818) 456-8527 or (323) 351-7021, http://bit.ly/nodedLA
Palo Alto, Sept. 12, Oshman Family JCC:
English: 6:30pm, Tickets: http://bit.ly/nodedpaloaltoEN
Hebrew: 8:30pm, Tickets: http://bit.ly/nodedpaloaltoHE
Tickets: (650) 223-8692
New Jersey, Sept. 15, Kaplen JCC Tenafly:
English: 7:00pm, Tickets: http://bit.ly/nodednjEN
Hebrew: 9:00pm, Tickets: http://bit.ly/nodednjHE
Tickets: (201) 408-1427
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