Turn off the TV

The Orna Porat Theater kicks off a new festival for kids - just in time for Purim.

Emperor 88 248 (photo credit: Eyal Landsman)
Emperor 88 248
(photo credit: Eyal Landsman)
Three original performances; workshops in pantomime, masks and puppetry; and meet-an-author seminars are all on the bill for the The Orna Porat Theater for Children and Youth's brand-new happening, "The Yaron Festival in the name of Yaron Yerushalmi." The theater festival is making its debut during Purim, March 9-11, 2009. The three new performances are Peter and the Wolf, The Emperor's New Clothes and Ophira's Bracelet. The Orna Porat troupe will present Peter and the Wolf (for ages four-seven) as a musical-vocal performance. The beloved fable, The Emperor's New Clothes (for ages five-eight), meanwhile, has been rejigged and is told from the boy's perspective. As for Ophira's Bracelet (for ages eight-12), it is a poignant drama based on Rivka Magan's short story about childhood friends who turn on one girl and excommunicate her from the group. The Yaron Festival is named after Yaron Yerushalmi, a young paratrooper who fell in the line of duty during the War of Attrition. To commemorate him, the families of David and Micky Yerushalmi help advance the areas of theater, dance and music. During the Purim holiday, a whole slew of troupes will be vying for audiences, yet Artistic Director Yaki Mechrez isn't worried about competition. "When we put together a play, we try not to think about the competition," he told The Jerusalem Post. "That said, competition brings challenges and it's only a good thing." "We make our own standard and we work to stand behind it," adds Ran Gwetta, general-director of the theater. The Orna Porat Theater for Children and Youth is the country's most senior repertoire theater for young audiences. It was founded in 1970 by Israel Prize-winning actress Orna Porat and then-education minister Yigal Alon. The troupe does not have a theater of its own, but stages performances at the Yaron Yerushalmi Hall at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv. On staff are some 200 actors and 50 directors, composers and playwrights. The troupe has about 30 shows in its repertoire, and produces six to eight original shows every year. "We are Habimah, The Cameri, Beit Lessin - but for the young," says Gwetta, who at 34 is one of the youngest general-directors of a theater company in the country. "We work with the best and only the best. From costumes to music to sets, we don't cut corners. And this separates us from the others." In addition to other theater groups, some of the steepest competition in bringing children to the theater comes from television and computers. "Perhaps our rhythm has to be faster to keep audiences entertained," says Mechrez. "We know innocence ends earlier, so we have to change our content. But we believe there's place for good theater regardless of what's on TV." Indeed, the Orna Porat theater troupe has a membership of 3,000, and brings some 400,000 people to its productions annually. And the secret to the company's success? Mechrez says: "Listening to the children; listening to the demands of the theater." "Renewal," Gwetta says. The Purim festival will also include theater workshops for the younger audience as well as an array of outdoor events. The Yaron Festival in the name of Yaron Yerushalmi takes place March 9-11 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv. Tickets cost NIS 50-NIS 70. Box office: (03) 510-6924.