Hot season in the South

First up next November is Woody Allen’s classic 'Play It Again, Sam,' in which the hero is a nebbish (surprise, surprise).

When Gary Bilu established the Beersheva Theater (BT) in 1973 it was with the idea of molding eager young talents and providing a core round which cultural activities in the Negev could cluster and flourish.
That never quite happened. Now it may. For a start, general director Shmuel Yifrach and arts department director Rafi Niv are, for the first time in BT history, Negev-born and bred. Next, they have gathered a clutch of hungry and mostly young musicians, designers, and directors, some of whom are part of the artistic committee. They will form the Young Beersheva cadre, a group of young newly graduated actors that will live in Beersheva, work alongside the company, and participate in BT’s outreach programs. With the committee’s input, they have compiled a season that often challenges and titillates by taking a bold new look at established repertoire whose titles reassure.
First of all, this season’s last two shows are Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – with “the emphasis on their theatricality,” says Yifrach.
First up next November is Woody Allen’s classic Play It Again, Sam, in which the hero is a nebbish (surprise, surprise), the audience rolls around laughing and the ending is happy.
What Ido Ricklin magnificently did for his minimalist The Count of Monte Cristo he will probably do again for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which premieres in January 2011 with the same people and using Dori Parnes’s new translation.
Directors Aya Kaplan, Nir Erez and Eli Bijawi – all young and gifted – will create, respectively, their own visions of All About Eve (November 3 – adapted from the film) and the rock-opera Black Rider with Young Beersheva; Erez – The Traitor (November 6) based on Ibsen’s Enemy of the People but reflecting our local political and moral climate; and Neighborhood Blossom, a musical by Kobi Oz of Tea Packs fame, based on his own songs. Eli Bijawi, who directed Piaf at BT this year, will direct his own version of Carmen, based both on the Bizet opera and the novel by Prosper Merimée.
Niv himself will direct Steven Sondheim’s Company (November 4) and, this Hanukka, Momo, a fantasy play for the whole family by Ricklin, based on the book by Michael Anda.
And that’s not all. There are Excellence Center theater programs in place for kids from kindergarten to 12th grade. There are Cultural Core series for various communities from youth at risk to seniors in Beersheva and outlying towns and villages. The six-year-old acting school is swamped with applications, and subscriptions have topped 10,000 – up from 8,000 last year.
Moreover, Yifrach had the rare grace to praise publicly his predecessor, Nathan Datner, saying he inherited a firm foundation to build on. The budget is up too, NIS 20 million as opposed to NIS 16m. in previous years – with NIS 9.5m. of that coming from public funding.
People think nothing of traveling to Verona for opera, Montpellier for dance, London for theater; a train ride to Beersheva is cheaper – and next season just may be as rewarding.