Khan takes on a young look

The “Kimat Mukhan” project is a play on words inferring the embryonic nature of the performers’ artistic development and work.

A recent rendition of S.Y. Agnon’s ‘In the Prime of Her Life.’ (photo credit: YAEL ILAN)
A recent rendition of S.Y. Agnon’s ‘In the Prime of Her Life.’
(photo credit: YAEL ILAN)
It is no secret that Jerusalemites from the younger generation continue to relocate to other parts of the country, principally Tel Aviv, lured by employment opportunities, lower rents and house prices. Now the Khan Theater, one of the city’s most venerable purveyors of cultural wares, is aiming to redress the imbalance.
And it is not only born-and-bred locals who are migrating westward down Route 1. The capital’s twenty-something crowd population has ebbed and flowed for some time now, primarily due to the arts education offerings available in the city, provided by the likes of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Nissan Nativ Acting Studio and Hazira – Performance Arts Arena. The flux in the local thespian student body is fueled by the cold fact that budding artists come over here for their four-year academic stint, and as soon as they have the sought-after certificate in hand, they hotfoot it back whence they came, to tread the boards in Tel Aviv.
Alert to the pressing need to preserve Jerusalem-based creative endeavor while keeping the public on board, the 50-year-old and counting Khan Theater is launching a multipronged drive designed to furnish budding artists with – literally – a stage on which to strut their incipient stuff, while appealing to as wide a consumer spread as possible.
The “Kimat Mukhan” project – a play on words inferring the embryonic nature of the performers’ artistic development and work, while referencing the name of the theater – is the brainchild of Khan executive director Elisheva Mazia and project leader Shira Stern. The latter fronts Habranza – Jerusalem Theater Artists Community, which, along with the municipality, helped to breathe corporeal life into the concept.
“Kimat Mukhan” kicks off on Tuesday, October 2, with a curtain-raiser featuring works by four lots of artists at various stages of their career paths, thereby also offering the public a fascinating glimpse of the creative process. The program provides young originators with a vehicle for getting their first fruits out there, and getting a street-level taste of their craft, after several years in an academic cocoon. All the productions will be staged in the cozy Khan 2 auditorium.
Mazia, who slipped into the theater honcho’s chair 10 months ago, is alert to the need to shake things up on the cultural side of life in the city.
“There is a sense that there aren’t that many youngsters who come to us,” she notes. “The audiences are relatively older. They are very faithful.”
While the Khan and counterparts are not exactly down on their knees, Mazia believes that others are also tackling the patron age-category issue. “This is a general trend in theaters across the country, and around the world, too. And it’s not just theater. The same applies to classical music and opera.”
She says it’s time for the tough to get going. “I don’t think this is a lost cause at all. We have to take these institutions and make them relevant for young audiences, partly by introducing activities that are not the main issue of the institution. That’s why, for instance, we ran a festival this past summer with productions for children.”
There’s more, a lot more, where that came from.
“We’re going to run our ‘Unplugged’ series,” Mazia continues, “and there will be stand-up comedy shows with young artists.”
“Unplugged” offers some bill-topping pop and rock entertainment, with Eric Berman. Efrat Gosh, Corinne Alal and Eran Tzur lined up.
The municipality is right behind the project. “The Cultural Department of the Jerusalem Municipality fully supports the Khan initiative to access new and young audiences,” says Eyal Ezri, head of the Department of Culture and the Arts. “We feel that every institution should constantly review its work and, while maintaining high standards, should adapt and update, to ensure it remains relevant.”
The thinking behind the project addresses both sides of the curtain, while getting the venue’s ship back on course. “The idea behind  ‘Kimat Mukhan’ is to nurture the next generation of theater artists, particularly artists who live in Jerusalem,” Mazia explains. “Overall, I think that, in the last few years, the Khan has lost touch a bit with local artists. That’s important for audiences, but we also have a responsibility to cultivate the next generation of theater professionals and not just engage in our regular work. That’s where Shira and her project come in. I want young artists to feel that the Khan is their professional home.”
The aforementioned project spearhead is Shira Stern, who helped to get “Kimat Mukhan” off the ground and is steering it through to onstage fruition. Stern has been at it for a while through Habranza, which, she says, was designed to provide nonaffiliated professionals with a much-needed helping hand. “Habranza started up three years ago, to generate some kind of unity between Jerusalem actors who don’t belong to any particular theater.”
The idea is to try to spread the good word within the freelance thespian community and create a sort of support group and networking dynamics.
“The members of the Habranza community learn from each other about how to go about putting on a production,” Stern says. “We started out by looking at freelance works in Jerusalem, and by bringing the artists together, so we can talk to each other and talk about our individual needs. It’s very difficult to create something as an independent.”
The needs cross numerous areas of the profession, from the purely creative to basic street-level practicalities and logistics.
“As a freelancer, you need a lot of help. More experienced people can help the novices, not only with their work but also with all the peripheral stuff, which can be a headache.”
The Khan is certainly doing its bit to help the young ’uns along, by providing Habranza with home turf, the Khan 2 performance space, affectionately known as the Cave, due to its compact layout. Having a permanent base is central to Habranza’s efforts to better the lot of free-roaming professionals.
“One of the most pressing needs for independent artists is a rehearsal room, which is a real challenge,” Stern notes.
Habranza led a bit of a peripatetic existence before settling at the Khan. “We found a space at Alliance House [near the shuk]. Then we moved to the YMCA,” she says.
Now the actors and other professionals engage in creative group dynamics at the Cave, which allows them to tailor their endeavors to the actual performance space. The creative process takes in communal freewheeling which, hopefully, eventually produces a work worthy of public consumption.
“I came upon the notion of having a sort of acting gym, whereby everyone gets together and throws out their ideas, and everyone contributes,” Stern says.
Clearly, the process works, with “Kimat Mukhan” scheduled to hold monthly programs with four 10-minute plays per evening, created by members of the Habranza group.
Stern says things have improved here over the past decade or so. “When I completed my studies in Jerusalem, I had to decide whether to try to make a go of it here, or to move to Tel Aviv.”
The latter proved to be the way to go, but not for too long. Stern felt that, if she was going to produce the goods, she needed to be back in her natural habitat. “There are things you can only do in Jerusalem; they don’t work on the other side of Sha’ar Hagai,” she laughs, referencing the end of the Jerusalem Hills on Route 1.
Stern believes there is good professional reason for theater students to stay put. “I go to places like Nissan Nativ, and I really enjoy telling the students it makes sense for them to stay on in the city after they finish their studies.”
ELI HAVIV was one of the out-of-towners who opted to remain in Jerusalem after school, albeit only for a while, but he maintains a strong professional link and presence here.
The new public interest-inducing program at the Khan also includes entertainment offerings by seasoned professionals, principally in the form of stand-up comedians such Haviv, Guy Adler, Anat Oren and Yoav Rabinovich.
Haviv is an intriguing case in point. The Ra’anana-born entertainer came to the capital to study theater but, unlike the majority of his peers, did not scurry back to the Tel Aviv area once his academic days were over.
“I stayed on for quite a while,” he explains. He didn’t just stay here, he put in a shift and a half in enhancing the local theatrical and comedy fare.
The forthcoming Stand-up in the Cave program kicks off with Haviv – with Adler as an opener – on October 13, followed by appearances by Galit Hugi, Rabinovich, David Kahan, Gali Teger and Oren during the course of the following two months.
After graduating from Nissan Nativ, Haviv got straight down to doing something about Jerusalem’s theatrical scene by helping to found the Incubator Theater company, which, over a decade after its establishment, continues to offer a wide range of original and alternative entertainment.
He managed to maintain a busy professional schedule in the capital, working also with Beit Avi Chai, even after relocating to Tel Aviv.
“I’m the opposite of the cliché,” he notes. “I lived in Tel Aviv, and I traveled regularly to Jerusalem to work. I spent my weekends in Tel Aviv, to be with friends, but most of my work was in Jerusalem.”
Haviv continues to perform here, and is delighted to be part of the Khan’s drive to keep the patrons coming in.
“[Incubator general manager] Arik Eshet and Elisheva [Mazia] are two cultural warriors in Jerusalem,” he says, adding that he not only works in the city himself, he also brings over colleagues for the entertainment pleasure of Jerusalemites of all ages.
He also hopes the Khan series will spawn opportunities for future generations of comedians to get some valuable business time.
“It would be great if people who don’t normally go to theater come to the Khan for this,” says Haviv. “Theater is not just for a particular kind of audience. Anyone can come and have a good time.”
WHILE NOT exactly fresh out of school, Roni Tobias-Gideon is hoping the Habranza initiative will help her further her craft. Now in her early 30s, the Jerusalem-born director has been making ends meet for a few years directing a range of works, including repertory material. The new Khan project offers her an opportunity to do her own thing here.
“I studied at Tel Aviv University while I still lived in Jerusalem, and then I lived in different places for a few years. Now I am back in Jerusalem, and I am thrilled to be part of Kimmat Mukhan, including Habranza, and to be working with all these professionals, with the support of the Jerusalem Municipality,” she says. “I did all sorts of jobs – assistant director, production manager, etc. I wanted to learn about the whole field. Now, through “Kimat Mukhan”, I have the chance to present my own material. That’s exciting.”
Daniel Ovadia is yet another youngster who moved to Jerusalem to study, and stayed. “I came here from Kiryat Ekron [near Rehovot],” says the 26-year-old actor, who graduated from Nissan Nativ last year. Happily, Ovadia was provided with a good reason to stay. “I got a part in Beaujolais, with the Incubator Theater,” she recalls. “I’ve also done stuff with Beit Avi Chai. There is work in Jerusalem for actors.”
Ovadia says she was pleasantly surprised by the professional turn of events. “I didn’t think I’d stay in Jerusalem after my studies. I still go to Tel Aviv for auditions; that’s unavoidable. But most of my time and work is in Jerusalem.”
Ovadia met Stern at a workshop, heard about Habranza from her, and soon joined the Khan initiative.
“You can bring whatever you want to ‘Kimat Mukhan,’” she says. “I am now working on a play of mine and of a friend. That’s something I’d dreamt about, but never had the facilities, the place, to do that.
“We’re putting the play on at the Khan on October 2. I can’t wait.”
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