Way out on the boardwalk

Bat Yam's annual Street Theater festival to feature a number of free performances.

Tel Aviv art 298 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
Tel Aviv art 298
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
Beachgoers in the coastal town of Bat Yam, the suburban town south of Tel Aviv, may be alarmed to find themselves accosted this week by a frantic ultra-Orthodox couple searching for their missing child. They need not worry, as the pair are actors in Rinat Maskona's Haredim, one of the numerous productions taking place on this southern extension of the Tel Aviv boardwalk Tuesday through Thursday as part of Bat Yam's annual Street Theater festival. Haredim, the only play at the event of free outdoor performances, is the second in playwright Maskona's trilogy exploring elements of Israeli society. "I've always been fascinated by the ultra-Orthodox," says the 26-year-old producer of her motivation for the piece, which she describes as "a comic-tragedy examining the complexities of faith." For Maskona, whose production The Russians - the first of her trilogy - premiered at last year's festival, appearing at this year's is an honor of particular importance. "We need to show that life is going on as normal," she says, referring to the fighting in the North, which has led to cancellations by all the scheduled international acts. Festival director Jackie Baruch echoes her sentiments. "Obviously the cancellations are disappointing," he admits. "But if anything, the war makes the event even more significant. We hope to provide a welcome distraction for the scores of northern residents currently in the center of the country." He is confident that the festival will continue to be a success, citing the "abundance of talented Israeli acts." One highlight of these is professional clown Stuart Kingston and his troupe The Fools. The vibrantly attired entertainers will delight spectators with an array of wacky song-and-dance sketches aimed at encouraging audiences to join in and discover their inner clown. Kingston, 53, sees his performance at the festival as "arriving full circle" in a career that began in Israel and took him half way across the globe. Originally from Britain, he made aliya as a teenager and began his working life as a low-wage employee in the metal industry. Aged 28, with no previous performance experience, he quit his job to perform on the streets of Tel Aviv. Through this work he met with Avraham Dana, director of the prestigious Mahraba theater group, who became his mentor. In 1991, after achieving success as a street performer in Israel, Kingston moved to China to study Chinese opera. Learning the basics of the language alongside first graders in the morning and the arts of Chinese drama and opera from the country's masters in the afternoon, he gradually transformed himself into an actor, appearing alongside China's most renowned artists and garnering a certain level of celebrity among its people. Returning to Israel in 1999, Kingston found himself once again attempting to carve out a name on the streets of Tel Aviv. "It was difficult at first," he recalls. "But gradually I began to establish myself again." In recent years he has taken up a teaching position at the Tel Aviv School of Arts and started his own clown troupe, sponsored by the Tel Aviv municipality. In an ironic twist of fate, three years ago the entertainer met and married his Chinese wife, who was working here as an au pair. Another noteworthy production is the innovative "Airbeat Show," a nail-biting trapeze act meticulously timed to the beat of percussion instruments. The show is enhanced by a huge background screen featuring colorful multimedia aids. The airborne theme continues with Street Band, a group of 15 jazz musicians who will also perform in mid-air. Other performances include The Frog, who sings and dances while poking fun at the audience, and A Sweeter Hug - a complex dance act featuring two permanently attached artists attempting to move in step with each other until they eventually find a pace that works for them both - representative of the constant human struggle to find a balance between the conflicting desires for companionship and for personal space. The shows take place between 6 and 11 p.m. from August 22-24.