English takes center stage in Ra'anana

English takes center sta

cat-owning feminist 248.88 (photo credit: )
cat-owning feminist 248.88
(photo credit: )
Soon after they wed in 1990, Northwestern grads Jodi and Rob Schenck decided to move to Israel. "That's it," they thought, "[Israel] is where we need to be." The Gulf War marked a tepid time in the region, and even though the two olim and their cat were placed in an absorption center, they eventually settled into their new homeland. Both professionally trained, the Schencks had worked in theater in Chicago after college. And when they first arrived in Israel, they did a lot of work in amateur theater and made some connections. Among them was Helen Brown, the wife of the then US ambassador to Israel and a huge supporter of English-language theater. It was Brown who funded the English Theater Company, in which both Jodi and Rob were involved. However, due to the Gulf War, the company's days were numbered. So they founded the Guild Theater. The idea came about one evening when Jodi and her friends, Pnina Isseroff and Larry Buchum, were sitting in the kitchen and discussing the prospect of putting on productions that couldn't be staged by an amateur theater. "There are a lot of Anglos in Ra'anana. We wanted to bring high caliber theater to them, instead of them traveling," Jodi Schenck told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview. "We wanted to give something back to the country, because the country had given us so much." The Schencks work in English theater not because they cannot fit in with Hebrew theater but because "it's a lot more fun to work in your own language." And it's nice to provide something for immigrants. "We do feel that we belong," she said. "We do go through the same feelings with the country." As Anglo parents, Schenck added, they wanted to give their son part of who they were - who he is - culturally. The Guild was formed with the blessing of then Ra'anana mayor Ze'ev Bielski. All performances are at the HaMishkan Center for Music and Arts, which is part of the Muncipality's Cultural Department. It is now the official English-language theater of Ra'anana. It's a very supportive environment, said Schenck. "There are some people who have seen all of our plays and keep coming to see more." Aiming to maintain a high standard of performance, the Guild retains a standard cast and hires out only when necessary and only by recommendation. Actors are either professionally trained or exceptional amateurs that Rob and Jodi met during their work in amateur theater. The theater has recently opened an intern program, allowing high school students to assist in the production of the plays and take on small roles. Schenck describes having them there as a burst of young energy. According to Schenk, the Guild actors are more like a family than a theater group, with the warm environment quickly absorbing new members. This atmosphere, she said, proved an enormous support during hard times following the deaths of Isseroff and Jodi's father, renowned author and poet Chaim Zeldis. LAST YEAR the group put on Seek Haven, a production based on the works of Zeldis with original music by Isseroff. The play covered a variety of topics including the birth of the modern State of Israel, the Bible, and love. Since the theater is a nonprofit and all of the actors have other day jobs, Guild rehearsals are typically held at night. "It's an act of love for everyone involved," said Schenck, who herself works as a teacher. At 8 p.m., after work and family time, the actors get together to practice either at HaMishkan or at the Schenck family home. "For Rob and I, if we had no money at all, we'd still rather sleep in theater and do nothing else. Even though we love our jobs," said Schenck, recalling that her father used to tell her that he wrote for his soul. She feels the same way about theater: "It's where we go when we want to be happy." During the season, rehearsals are held every night except Shabbat, since many in the group, including the Schencks, are Shabbat observant. Smoke and Mirrors, which has become something of a Hanukka tradition for The Guild, is a musical comedy written for the whole family in the style of Shrek - in that it has multiple layers. Based loosely on the Cinderella story, the play sports a protagonist, Ella, a cat-owning modern-day feminist. The plot thickens when the two meet a prince whose best friend has been turned into a dog. Schenck said she was surprised by the popularity of the play. "We didn't realize how much fun people were having," she said. "We were inundated with requests by parents saying, 'my kid wants to see it again.'" Participation is encouraged and the children are happy to be involved - they aren't shy. The actors get tremendous energy from the children, Schenck said, with three-year-olds asking the prince and princess questions on stage. "I've had kids come up to me who saw it when they were four and recognize me," she added. The play was a co-production of Schenck and Isseroff, two friends who had worked together for 18 years. They wrote the original script together in what Schenck described it as a "lovely creative process." As they rehearsed, actors added suggestions; one asked for a song, so Schenck and Isseroff sat down the next night to write one. The song eventually became one of the show-stopping hits of the musical. "The actors helped it grow and we helped it grow with them," Schenck said. Smoke and Mirrors runs December 15 and 17 at 5 p.m and December 16 and 18 at 11 a.m. For tickets, call (09) 746-4036.