The 25th annual Haifa International Children’s Theater Festival will take place on April 5 to 7. As always, there is a plethora of quality and fun stuff for vacationing children and their family, both indoors and out.
The al fresco entertainment lineup constitutes 19 shows from nine countries, such as Holland, Spain, Switzerland and Austria, as well as a co-production between Italy and Israel. There are several quality local offerings on the outdoor roster. Perennial artistic directors Yinon Tzafrir and Avi Gibson Barel took great pains to incorporate as many artistic skills as possible in the junior fare, from circus acts and puppetry to pantomime and stilt walking.
Tzafrir says that compiling the program for this year’s three-day bash was quite a challenge.
“We spent a lot of time on the road, in places like Italy and Germany, checking out shows. It was tougher this year.”
Why? Because of last summer’s war in Gaza and the reluctance of some artists to come here.
“The Haifa International Children’s Theater Festival is always on a very high level,” says Tzafrir.
“You go to some street theater festival in Europe, and you might see dozens of shows, and out of that maybe two are on the right level.”
That, he explains, is a pitfall of the outdoor format.
“When you have a performance outside, it can be a bit disorganized and not of a very high standard.
Performers can come along and try out all sorts of things that may not always work. That’s the nature of this discipline,” he explains.
It goes without saying that Tzafrir and Barel have done their utmost to obviate that unwanted eventuality happening at the Haifa festival.
“With outdoor shows, people can come and go as they please, but at the Haifa festival we commit to a very high standard of entertainment,” Tzafrir says.
The artistic directors’ job is facilitated by the fact that they are part of the scene themselves. The Orto-Da theater company, which has been running for 20 years with Tzafrir, Barel and Tzafrir’s wife, Yifat Zandani Tzafrir, at the helm, has been on the global theater festival circuit for some years, with shows such as Stones and In Sanity.
“We have built up a network of contacts,” Barel notes, “and that helps us bring top entertainment to Haifa.”
Offering quality material, says Barel, involves conveying messages and presenting members of the public of all ages with something good to sink their teeth into.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘educate,’ but we do want to challenge people with the works we bring to the festival. We want to generate new dialogue around the concept of street theater. We want people to see that street theater is not just some kind of entertainment for shopping malls.
We want them to see that it is bona fide art that uses multidisciplinary arts skills and all kinds of styles,” Barel explains.
The joint artistic director suggests that performing outdoors means that the artists have to go the extra mile to keep their audience engaged.
“You have to grab the observers right from the word go,” says Barel.
“If they don’t like what they’re getting, they just move on. So we try to keep our distance from the cheaper side of outdoor entertainment. We want to generate a mindset switch among the public to show people that good street theater works are high quality and have a real story behind them and make amazing use of all kinds of special effects.”
The duration of the shows can vary.
“Outdoor performances don’t have to be 20 minutes long,” Barel continues. “Last year we had a show that lasted 50 minutes, and the audience was transfixed. I hope we have that this year, too.”
Tzafrir and Barel seem to have pulled out all the stops to make that happen. The Dutch contribution to the festival is the 25-minute Orange Stewardess show, which features a stewardess who appears to be both slow-witted and in a mad hurry. The oxymoron bottom line offers an enlightening angle on timekeeping.
There’s a similarly educationoriented message in Circo Pitanga from Switzerland, where the boss of a traveling circus appears to lose control of the whole enterprise.
The animals refuse to cooperate and become threatening, and all kinds of strange phenomena rear their disruptive heads. But all’s well that ends well, as the circus manager and his assistant manage to resolve the predicament in a fun and colorful way.
The Theater Irrwisch troupe from Austria will bring their visually arresting Hupft! Hops to Haifa. The three performers dance on ladders, drum on chairs, disappear into buckets and switch roles to produce a madcap comedy that should split sides of all ages.
The Alienigenas (Aliens) work by the Insolits company from Spain should leave the onlookers with food for thought about fitting in.
The storyline is based on the arrival on Earth of three aliens from outer space who try to fit in with human life by being as inconspicuous as possible. Eventually, however, they have to accept the fact that they are different and that they should just be themselves.
The local street theater community will also be well represented in Haifa. Some extraordinary puppets will take their bow in the Suitcase Cabaret show by the Pupik Theater company, while the Ofek Theater’s Why?! Hat! tells the story of a lovestruck character who discovers that if he wants to win his beloved’s heart he doesn’t have to be a chameleon but just be himself.For tickets and more information: (04) 860-0500 and www.haifakids.co.il