Room for expression

From its founding day, Amir Orian’s Room Theater has been a source of inspiration for theater artists and audiences alike.

Amir Orian 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Guy Davidi)
Amir Orian 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Guy Davidi)
Amir Orian has never shied away from following his creative credo.
Over the last five-plus decades the youthful looking 67-year-old actor-director-teacher has covered expansive artistic terrain, from children’s TV to cutting edge theatrical endeavor, and never strayed from his chosen exploratory path.
Since 1985, Orian has devoted most of his working day to training actors in the intricacies of his Open Circle acting method, and putting on thought-provoking performances in his compact Room Theater venue, which sits atop his apartment building near the Tel Aviv seafront. Orian’s apartment, where he runs his workshops and training courses, and the theater itself, exude a sense of otherworldliness, and it is easy to see how both Orian, and his fellow thespians and disciples, can let their muses loose and hone their craft there.
Orian has been in the business for quite a while. He first trod the boards over half a century ago, as part of the Habima Theater youth activities club, and it was a heady, pan-sensory experience for the teenager.
“I greedily inhaled the dust in the air behind the scenes and I had the great honor of participating in the ceremonial opening of the Habima Small Stage,” Orain recalls. “I read a poem by Nathan Alterman.”
It was a singular personal success, and an experience which was to propel Orian even further into the acting profession.
“The audience liked what I did and that was the first time I had unwittingly enjoyed audience appreciation for something I did.
That was an intoxicating moment.”
Things went swimmingly for Orian and he soon found himself with more than a modicum of fame, although he also discovered that his standing in the national popularity stakes had become somewhat onerous.
“I was one of the two presenters of the country’s first children’s TV show – Mischak Ketzev (Rhythm Game). You have to remember there was only one TV channel back then, and I would get stopped by mothers on the street and they’d asked me what to do about their child who had some problem or other. That was crazy. I was just a kid myself. What did I know?” Orian went on to spread his talents across a wide range of theatrical productions and movies. His cinematic work includes a role in Jud Ne’eman’s 1970 directorial debut Hasimlah (The Dress) and another alongside Gila Almagor in Matzor (Siege), by Dan Ben- Amotz, in 1969. His theater work during the 1960s and 1970s included parts in landmark play Hahayal He’amitz Shvik (Shvik the Brave Soldier) at the Khan Theater in Jerusalem, in Layla BeMai (A Night in May) by AB Yehoshua at Bimot Theater, the lead role in Mr. Slik at the Giora Godik Theater and a part in Hanoch Levin’s Solomon Grip.
Orian also lent his talents to some behind-the-scenes roles, including assuming responsibility for Educational TV’s afternoon programming during the 1970s, writing scripts for children’s and youth TV shows, and directing productions. He also got involved in a number of community support projects, such as serving on the board of ERAN (Emotional First Aid by Telephone), and he ran workshops for ERAN volunteers, helped to provide drama activities at children’s summer camps, and set up and managed the Hamiklat independent community center in Tel Aviv, not far from his present abode.
Orian’s community spirit endeavor was sparked by a dramatic real life experience.
“During the Yom Kippur War I was sent, along with some other actors, to entertain soldiers at an Egyptian position which the Israeli paratroopers had just taken,” he recalls.
“We thought we were going to perform for them but the paratroopers were so exhausted they just went to sleep, and we were advised to do the same. But there were mortars falling all around us, and tracer bullets, and I didn’t get a wink of sleep. I thought to myself then that, if I got out of there alive, my life would change and I eventually realized my vocation in life was to help others in some way.”
ORIAN’S UNWAVERING intent to maintain his artistic credibility occasionally led to professional and personal confrontation, but his instincts were generally borne out.
“I was once offered a role in a Habima Theater play called Chaverim Mesaprim al Jimmy (Friends Talk about Jimmy),” he recalls.
“I read the play and decided it wasn’t good so I rejected the offer. People, at the time, thought I was crazy to turn down a lead role in a Habima production. They would have sold their soul, body and anything else they had to have a lead in a Habima production. In the end, the play was only put on four times before closing.”
Psychodrama also came within Orian’s expanding educational scope and proved to be a useful tool in developing the Open Circle technique.
“I was curious about the possibility of connecting psychodrama with theater. One of the principal psychodramatic elements is spontaneity, and the authentic experience and encountering the unexpected. I wondered whether we could, for example, take Shakespeare and create a synthesis between improvisation, or the immediate individual experience of psychodrama, and the history of the Shakespearean text. The blending of history and the immediate individual experience became central to the artistic approach we developed here at the Room Theater.”
Orian says his philosophy developed naturally.
“I didn’t sit down one day and think ‘I have to create a new approach to acting,’” he notes. “The Open Circle method just evolved from my observations of what happens on stage, and behind the scenes, and how audiences and actors behave.”
The technique also involves active participation by the consumer.
“We always have discussions with the audience after performances at the Room Theater. It is an integral part of our work.”
The after-show dialogue slot was actually spawned due to some official constraints.
“The first play we put on at the Room Theater was called Aruchat Erev (Dinner) which, at the time, made waves. Mind you, I wouldn’t do the play today,” says Orian, adding that the performance included the slaughtering and cooking of a chicken.
“I got a call from the government censor and was told someone would come along to watch the show, as she had heard it was disturbing.”
Despite the fact that the Room Theater has always been a private facility, Aruchat Erev was duly banned. However, Orian found a way to circumnavigate the censure.
“A lawyer told me that the official censor could not touch the show if I called it a lecture and didn’t sell tickets. So I wrote a book about the play, which the public bought, and we had a lecture and discussion about it later. Making money has never been part of our mindset. We only want to be creative.”
The after-show format remains in place to this very day, as does Orian’s professional and artistic integrity.
For more information about the Room Theater and the Open Circle acting method: