She-Rah, poems of power

The works of Agi Mishol and Dorit Weisman will be put to music and read aloud – very loudly – at an unconventional female-oriented production.

Dorit Weisman (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dorit Weisman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If your idea of a poetry session is a writer politely reading his or her works, solo, to a hushed and reverent audience, then you’re in for something completely different at the She-Rah (a feminist-inclined play on the Hebrew word for poetry, “shira”) show at Beit Mazia.
The majority of the on-stage protagonists are the allwoman cast members of the Theatre Company Jerusalem under the directorship of Gabriella Lev, company founder and the person responsible for conjuring up the idea behind She-Rah. The show is based on works by two of Israel’s leading female poets, both multi award winners, Agi Mishol and Dorit Weisman, who will also be on hand to read from their works, but in a none-too-conventional a manner. The musical offering will be substantially underpinned by the Jerusalem Oratorio Capella Choir.
“Gabi [Lev] surprised us with what she did with our poems,” says Weisman, 62. “In fact, I think the whole show is full of surprises. The first time Agi and I saw the rehearsals, we were amazed and fascinated with what everyone did with the poems.”
The poetic material in She-Rah is performed through a range of artistic conduits. Some works will be recited by Mishol and Weisman while others will be portrayed in a theatrical format, in song and even in dance.
Weisman also sings one of her poems, together with the choir. “This is a pretty large-scale production,” she observes. “There is an intimate aspect to it, but it’s also quite grand.”
Weisman feels that the allfemale nature of the production is part and parcel of the conceptual intent reflected in the thematic spectrum.
“All the poems engage in subjects relating to women,” she explains. The theater company blurb talks about topics that include “passion, relationships between women and men, love and the family, the woman’s body and dealing with the surprises life throws up.”
Around 10 years ago, Weisman had to deal with one of life’s more unpleasant surprises when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. But far from being a shattering experience, she says it only led her to bigger and better things – and a life-changing decision.
“When you are faced with something like that, it makes you think,” she says. As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and Weisman soon quit her lucrative job as a computer system manager.
“My husband showed me we could manage without my job and I retired. That was the best decision I ever made, and it left me plenty of time to write.”
Among other material, she wrote and published a book about her former ailment, called Eifo Pagasht et Hasartan? (“Where Did You Meet the Cancer?”), which came out in 2006. One of the entries in the book is called Boker Tov Leshad Smol (“Good Morning, Left Breast”), w h i c h will be sung in the show in a lightheaded, comical, almost infantile way.
“Yes it has a simple, childish sort of tune that goes with it,” notes Weisman. “I suppose that creates a stark contrast between the so-called serious nature of the subject and the way in which it is portrayed. Also, it is in rhyme, which is not at all characteristic of the way I write.”
Weisman makes no bones about the underlying sentiment behind much of her work and behind She-Rah.
“In Jerusalem, there is something subversive about being a woman who creates and performs,” she says.
“My and Agi’s poems focus on different things that may not be considered acceptable in ‘polite company,’ such as the woman’s body – and the body of a woman past her prime, at that. And there is sex in there too, and sex in which the woman is proactive. Women are supposed to be submissive, right? Well, not in my work.”
Weisman is quite happy with Lev’s in-your-face approach to She-Rah, and says she hopes the grandiose scale of the show helps to draw the crowds in. “My vision is to bring poetry to the public. I believe that this kind of production can reach a lot of people. How many people pick up a book of poetry and read from it? Not that many, I can guarantee it. But these can make it more attractive.”
She is also a great believer in ambiance and the way it impacts on both the delivery of poetic material and the way it is received. “I also make documentaries, and I once made a film in which I read poems in all sorts of places. I read in a supermarket and in a soccer stadium.
The place where you recite poetry can have a bearing on the words and their meaning. It is amazing. If I sing a song with a choir in which I am a sex object, and there are, say, 30 people singing it with me, it becomes a sort of song of praise, and something comical.”
By now it has become crystal clear that Weisman is not the kind of person who sits around waiting for things to happen. She is a soft-spoken woman with a twinkle in her eye, and apparently with a song or two in her heart.
“You know, cancer is like anything in life,” she muses. “It is not so much about what you meet along the way but about what you do with it. That’s why I wrote Eifo Pagasht et Hasartan?. Where do you meet it, and where does it meet you? Where do you go with it? That’s what life is all about.” • She-Rah will take place at Beit Mazia on February 12 at 8:30 p.m. For tickets and more information: 624-4584 and