A big move for Mikro

The Jerusalem Theater is finally hosting a repertory troupe.

Mikro Theater (photo credit: GADI DAGON)
Mikro Theater
(photo credit: GADI DAGON)
In days of yore, theater troupes would schlep their show along dusty and muddy roads, popping into towns and villages to offer the locals some entertainment and a brief respite from their daily grind. That is something Irena Gorelik, head of the Mikro Theater company, can fully appreciate.
Gorelik made aliya from the former Soviet Union in 1994, already a seasoned theater professional. She quickly set about forming the Mikro company in her new hometown of Jerusalem, working out of bomb shelters and assorted other facilities. After a decade-long nomadic existence, Mikro finally found a long-term base in the smaller of the Khan Theater’s two halls.
Now, another decade on, she and her troupe have moved into much grander premises, becoming the first repertory theater company to set up shop within the Jerusalem Theater complex. The move not only provides Mikro with a highly respectable and plush home, it gives the host arts center the opportunity to house a bona fide repertory company within its walls in addition to the vast array of outside productions it puts on year round.
Mikro officially opened for business last month with a reception attended by Mayor Nir Barkat and other notables. Afterward, there was a performance based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s 1983 novel Teibele and Her Demon, which Gorelik directed.
In October, the theater chief says, the company had a fruitful warm-up for its debut offering at the Jerusalem Theater, one that took her back to her old stomping grounds: “We took part in a large festival in Russia, in a city called Saratov, where I used to live and work. There were lots of big [theater] companies, from Moscow and other places. It was a great experience.”
It is no secret that the arts and culture industry here – as in many other countries around the world – has seen better days in terms of financial support. Cultural institutions across the spectrum say they are strapped for cash and that the state allocates only a minuscule proportion of the annual budget to the arts. So how did Gorelik manage to secure such a prestigious berth? “You can have the long version or the short version,” proffers the director with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, skirting around the question. She prefers to take a positive approach to her craft and to thespian endeavor as a whole. “Everybody complains about not having funds, but I think we shouldn’t complain. We are the ones who want to create art. No one forces us to do this. We choose to do theater ourselves, even if it is a tough choice.”
She made her own career choice at the age of 20.
“I was at university when I was offered a post in theater, on trial, and I stayed,” she recalls. She had to work her way up a long ladder to get to her current position. “I started out as a stage assistant in charge of literary research, and all kinds of things.”
And if she had any misgivings about playing such a junior role in the theater hierarchy, she was soon disabused of any griping. “I remember, one day I met a veteran member of the theater company in Saratov, and he said to me, ‘Isn’t it amazing that we do what we love, in theater, and we even get paid for it! I am so happy to be working here, and they even pay for me it!’ I took that on board, and that has remained with me ever since.”
While she’s glad she can put food on the table doing something she loves, Gorelik is also aware of the importance of providing people with nourishment for the soul.
“Since the beginning of humanity, people have engaged in all kinds of art, drawing on cave walls and all sorts of things,” she notes. “So you could say that we satisfy a basic human need, like food.”
In a perfect world, she would be more than happy just to do her beloved work without giving too much thought to financial remuneration. “There are all sorts of studios – sort of incubators of theatrical work – in which young actors work and create. They come with all sorts of wonderful ideas and develop them without thinking about getting paid. That’s really where you get strong ideas and daring works. Later in life, of course, people have all sorts of responsibilities and bills to pay, and then you get jealous and start to worry about how much others are getting paid. I hate all that.”
In fact, she says, she managed to get by for quite a while without being overly “burdened” by financial matters. “We worked without money for 10 years. After I made aliya, 20 years ago, I started out with a studio and worked with a bunch of eager teenagers who wanted to learn. I didn’t even have a bomb shelter to work out of, just a room I got from the municipality.”
The city may have provided her with modest premises, but she didn’t get much more in the way of encouragement.
“People at the municipality said I was crazy,” she chuckles. “But we just kept going.”
If she has any particular trait that keeps her on an even keel, it is a well-developed capacity to bide her time.
“We built up slowly, over the course of 20 years,” she states. “There is a story about someone in London who had a beautiful garden, and people asked him how come his lawn was so lush and the flowers so healthy-looking.
He said it was quite easy, and that all you needed was 300 years of work, and water and love.”
Gorelik may have a long way to go to hit that benchmark, but she has clearly nurtured Mikro – which is named after her late father’s own theater back in Saratov – with great care and patience. Last Wednesday’s performance of Teibele and Her Demon, which starred Sima Goren and Michael Gorodin, indicated there was plenty of quality in the company, and there are five other Mikro Theater productions up and running – among them a delightful play based on Meir Shalev’s novel As a Few Days.
For more information: www.mikro.co.il/