Telling it to the kids

The International Children’s Theater festival in Haifa will take place over the holiday week.

Uri Omanuti and cast members 521 (photo credit: Kfir Bolotin)
Uri Omanuti and cast members 521
(photo credit: Kfir Bolotin)
While he may not, as of yet, have any first-hand experience of the ins and outs of what makes little ones tick, Uri Omanuti takes his role as a children’s theater show director very seriously. “I only got married last week,” explains the 35 year old, half-apologetically.
Omanuti is currently overseeing the final rehearsals of Father of Amelia is Going to Australia, which will be performed at the Haifa Theater as part of this year’s Haifa Children’s Theater Festival (April 8-10).
Mind you, the director is perfectly happy to take notes from his colleagues with a hands-on track record. “Avigail Arieli and Sharon Tzur [who play the mother and father in the production] are both parents, and I get tips from them the whole time about certain things that children do and don’t do,” admits Omanuti.
“In fact, at one of the rehearsals Naama Shitreet [who plays the eponymous little girl] said something about how Amelia might do something, but Avigail and Sharon told her that isn’t the way it happens.
It’s good to have people around with a grasp of how things really happen.”
The play is based on a book by Eshkol Nevo, and tells the story of a little girl called Amelia whose father goes away to Australia for a week, and how she and her mother cope with his absence. The production, which is aimed at the three to nine-year-old age group, has been a long time in the making.
“It is a very complex work,” says the director. “We added subplots in order to turn this little book into a complete show.” But why work so hard to extend such brief material when there must be plenty of full-scale tomes to work with? It appears that the motivation for the project is based on a mixture of professional considerations and personal taste.
“First of all because of the quality of the book, but also because Lior’s (playwright Lior Greti) daughter liked the book so much,” Omanuti explains.
Omanuti also feels there are plenty of pearls of wisdom to be gleaned from the story. “It’s a charming story and it’s a sort of school for mothers,” he says. “The mother in the book has to be very creative in order to keep her daughter amused and occupied while the father is away.”
The show, he says, may also offer an opportunity to address other emotional or social issues. “I think it looks at things like separation-anxiety and, of course, how to cope with missing someone we love.”
While the storyline portrays age-old sentiments, Omanuti says the format is very much about the here and now.
“There is a laptop computer in the middle of the living room set. We want the children to also be able to relate to what happens on the stage in terms that they can identify with.”
At the end of the day, we’re talking about theater, and about entertainment, and the eye-opening elements to the production are secondary to the enjoyment Omanuti hopes the youngsters - and their parents - will glean from Father of Amelia is Going to Australia.
“This is not a difficult story for the audience to digest,” says Omanuti.
“This is a fun play and I was taken on to direct it because I am known for handling comic material, and I was keen to bring amusing features and music to the venture. There are a lot of laughs in this show and I think everyone will have a good time.”
There is plenty of textural interplay between the spoken word and musical interludes in the production, too. “This is not a musical but I felt it was very important to have as much music as possible in this show,” explains the director. “I also wanted the music to be touching and moving, and I think that just on that level we deserve a prize. I am very happy to work with [Vertigo dance company artistic director] Ran Bagno.
He is one of the leading musicians today in theater. He has done a great job with this show.”
Omanuti says that, above all, he was keen to provide quality. “There are lots of kids’ shows on the market today which offer entertainment with no depth – which don’t demand too much thinking or involvement from the audience, and the audience applauds and smiles, and that’s that,” says Omanuti. “But there aren’t too many children’s shows which tell a story which is even a little bit melancholy, and emotive, and heartwarming too. These are timeless elements which, if presented well and with sensitivity, I think will always move an audience.”
Presumably, Omanuti is hopeful that Father of Amelia is Going to Australia will move the Haifa Children’s Theater Festival jury too, as the play is one of six in the festival’s competition selection. The other entries include Corduroy, by Shahar Merom and produced by Jerusalem-based Train Theater; The Lost Socks Land by Shai Lahav and Yoni Zicholtz; and Fool Moon – The Chelem Legend, written by Galia Levy-Grad, who stars in the show.
The festival program also includes shows for the two-three-year-old age group, and productions from Spain.