Orto Da theater 521.
(photo credit: Johan Segev)
It is a well-kept secret that one of our most successful theater companies
across the globe is a small outfit that alternates between street performances
and shows in “bona fide” indoor venues, with a generous dosage of festival
appearances betwixt and between.
Orto-Da Theater has been putting on
acclaimed and even award-winning productions, outside the mainstream avenue of
theatrical endeavor, all over the world since 1996 but, as yet, does not have
its own premises.
The Ramat Gan-based Orto-Da Theater – the name comes
from an English combination of “orthodox” and “dada”; or, alternatively, a
Hebrew amalgam of or (light) and toda (thank you) – was founded by artistic
director Yinon Tzafrir, Yifat Zandani Tzafrir and artistic advisor Avi Gibson
Barel in 1996.
In the interim the company has put on a large number of
productions, hundreds of times, garnering prizes at such events as the Acre
Theater Festival, Pula Theater Festival in Croatia, Bat Yam Street Theater
Festival and Cuidad Rodrigo in Spain.
Orto-Da’s long-running Stones
production, for example, has been performed over 300 times in more than 30
countries, including Belgium, Holland, Germany, Brazil, the US, Canada, France
“There’s a theater owner in Paris who wants to bring
Stones there, [for us] to perform it every evening at the theater for three
months,” says Tzafrir. “We’ll see whether we can manage that.”
to the company founders, Orto-Da aims “to investigate and access the hidden
parts of the soul.”
The productions are based on a creative process that
looks at human behavior and what drives people, in as an unfettered format as
possible, “showing the human image, in its beauty and ugliness, kindness and
monstrousness, in order to delineate them within the boundaries of artistic
THAT INTENT produces powerful productions, mostly based on
mime, with Orto-Da’s latest offering Via Dolorosa Now having its indoor premier
– after street shows in Croatia and in Acre – at Tzavta in Tel Aviv on March 19
(8:30 p.m.). A performance of Stones at the same venue scheduled for March 21
(8:30 p.m.). Stones will now be performed at Tzavta once a month. Outside the
country, Via Dolorosa Now will be called Monkey Business.
Via Dolorosa Now production initially portrayed the lives of four monkeys –
three male and one female – who begin squabbling over a case one of them finds.
The case contains a sacred book, which each of the three male monkeys uses to
adopt a different religious identity – Jewish, Muslim and Christian. The female
monkey is initially excluded from the religious shenanigans, but eventually
comes up with a secular resolution to the conflict.
You don’t have to be
a doctoral student to appreciate the possible religious-political-social
ramifications of such a story line.
“It’s about how human beings
developed after discovering faith, each religion’s faith,” explains
”It is about how we use religion. We discover faith and we want
everyone else to believe the same thing. It touches on religious coercion and
how we justify all sorts of terrible acts, as a religion and a
Tzafrir and Barel are aware of the possible interpretations of
such a work, but prefer to concentrate on the creative and entertainment
“There is politics in everything you do, including eating
humous. But this is more a lyrical, moving and funny show,” observes Tzafrir.
Meanwhile, as with all Orto-Da projects, Via Dolorosa Now has evolved, and the
characters have changed.
“Jesus is no longer in the play, and it
incorporates evolution and religion,” says the artistic director. “As there are
no words spoken in the show, the audience can bring its own interpretation to
the play,” adds Barel. “If you have 100 people in the audience, because it is a
visual show, there can be 100 different shows happening at the same time. And
that’s perfectly OK.”
Typically, Orto-Da works start out life in a
relatively limited format and evolve and expand over time.
They can begin
with just two or three characters and grow into much larger
“We have been performing Stones for five years now,” says
Barel. “We have a special work process.
We start out with an open-air
street performance, and then consider whether the show is ready to be moved into
an auditorium. We develop our productions while they are being performed, and we
continue with rehearsals the whole time. We don’t stop developing a work until
we decide to stop performing it.”
That continuity, says Barel, offers a creative continuum.
“It’s a pretty
unique approach for Israel. Most productions are industrialized. They are
performed for a specific period, and that’s that.”
Like much of what has
happened to Orto-Da since its very inception, Stones came about
“We were touring in Europe and we had an unscheduled
longish stopover in Warsaw,” recalls Tzafrir. “So we took a trip into Warsaw, to
see a few things including the site of the ghetto, and we saw the sculpture by
Natan Rappaport called Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. We took some pictures of the
sculpture and, when we got back to Israel, we started thinking about how to
bring the figures in the sculpture to life.”
Stones, created by Tzafrir,
is described as “a poetic journey within spirits and memories, between the
present day and history.” It tells the story of a rebel through a sculpture
which comes to life.
“It is a bittersweet show where the laughter goes
together with emotion,” says Barel. “It deals with the passion for life, the
heroic myth and the victory of the spirit, within the modern world.
often start from a visual idea,” Barel continues. “Via Dolorosa Now, for
example, started from some Jesus masks which we saw at the festival in Italy. We
performed it in Croatia after the director of the festival asked us to bring
another show there after Stones.”
THAT CROATIA event also spawned an
interesting Orto-Da project. “We ran a workshop there based on our acting
technique,” says Barel.
Over the company’s 15 years of existence,
Tzafrir, Zandani Tzafrir and Barel have kept the ideas coming, partly driven by
the simple need for survival.
“The state obliges us to come up with at
least one production a year,” explains Barel. “The Israeli capitalist method
used in the arts means that you are judged by quantity, not quality,” adds
“We have to put out a show a year to get some
In fact, the company received approval for substantial funding
from the previous government, but the elections and change of personnel at the
Culture Ministry put paid to that.
Tzafrir and Barel’s paths first
crossed 16 years ago at the first Bat Yam Street Festival.
“Yinon did a
show from a made-up lifeguard’s station in the middle of the festival area. I
taught, and still teach, theater at the Shazar High School in Bat Yam, and we
put on a show at the festival.
I began to put up signs about the show on
Yinon’s lifeguard’s stand. Yinon took them down and we started
A few months later, they ran into each other again, at a
religious school where Barel taught. “Yinon told me he was putting a street
theater company together, asked me if I wanted to join in, and that was
Tzafrir and Barel are delighted to have a berth in Tzavta, but say
they would be even happier to get more of a helping hand from the powers that
“We represent Israel around the world more than any other Israeli
theater company there is,” declares Barel, “and all without regular state
For more information about Orto-Da Theater see www.orto-da.com