'Short Term' gets us on board the memory train at the Israel Festival

Alexandrovsky hopes Short Term will have a lasting, positive, and enlightening effect on his audiences. 

 SEMYON ALEXANDROVSKY: A bittersweet lament for parents, children, and the time that binds them (photo credit: ALEKSEY KOSTROMIN)
SEMYON ALEXANDROVSKY: A bittersweet lament for parents, children, and the time that binds them
(photo credit: ALEKSEY KOSTROMIN)

Memory is a fickle, elusive thing. We all have selective recall of past events and, even though we may still be cognizant of some subjective tweaking here and there, in time the pictures and emotions they evoke become cemented in our consciousness.

But what happens when the ability to retain memories begins to wane? As we get older that happens during the course of time but for some, at some point, the wheels fall off entirely. That might be in the form of dementia when adult children must learn to accommodate their aging parent’s loss of focus and both sides adapt to a new perception of time, events, and facts on the ground.

That falls within the purview of Short Term, a participatory show which takes place on August 3-4 (with three showings daily) as part of this year’s Israel Festival.

Semyon Alexandrovsky, the brains and creativity behind the work, calls it: “A bittersweet lament for parents, children, and the time that binds them.” The Soviet-born writer and director, a returning oleh (“immigrant to Israel”), says he drew inspiration for the show from a book by British-born New York photographer Phillip Toledano called Days With My Father. “Phillip moved in with his father, in his father’s last years as his short-term memory began to diminish,” Alexandrovsky explains. “The pictures in the book had short texts underneath, about his relationship with his father.”

Belarus playwright Konstantin Steshik turned it into a concise play and Alexandrovsky took that and ran with it, all the way to several performances of Short Term in Belarus and, now, in Jerusalem. Steshik is responsible for the dramaturgy of the Israel Festival production. 

 The brain (illustrative). (credit: PIXABAY)
The brain (illustrative). (credit: PIXABAY)

The lay culture consumer might be tempted to slot Short Term into the theatrical interactive pigeonhole. Alexandrovsky prefers the participatory epithet. Judging by the description I got of what we can hope to see and take part in, next week the contributory tag is spot on – on all sorts of levels. For starters, the show features father-offspring dialogue recorded by various Israeli personalities with their own parent or child. Young actress Naomi Noy is in the taped mix with her celebrity thespian dad Menasheh, as are musician Itzy Shwartz and pop singer daughter Shir, and interdisciplinary artist and educator Erez Maayan Shalev and his son Gershon.

There are various logistical strata to the way Alexandrovsky has devised the piece, including generating a special ambiance which, he feels, supports the creative flow. 

“There are three stages to the show, which last an hour,” he notes. “The members of the public enter the [Henry Crown] hall. It is a large place with 600 seats.” The participatory, non-passive, factor comes into play from the start. “We invite 55 people to come in each time,” Alexandrovsky continues. The diminutive group format is designed to imbue a left-field vibe and get us thinking as the patrons take any seat they wish in the vast expanse of the auditorium. 

“There is a sense of uncertainty in such a big place,” the director adds.

As the pensive ticketholders look around them, they espy a motley assemblage of items on the stage arranged to replicate a domestic dynamic. While they begin to take in their surroundings, the members of the “audience” can read the father-offspring dialogue in Hebrew surtitles screened onto the back wall of the stage. The scene is now set as the attendees are invited to take the stage and get into the homey furnishings and bric-a-brac, literally, hands on. There is, Alexandrovsky believes, something for everyone there.

“They have an experience of memory. I chose items that the audience may recognize. It may be something they will have seen in their parents’ home or something from their own childhood like, possibly, a rocking horse or slides with a slide projector. There are all sorts of memory triggers which may connect with our own backdrop.”

The dialogue recording the participants hear while they rummage around the stage will run consecutively in a loop. That references verbal exchanges between senior citizen parents whose short-term memory is not what it once was and their kids who have become accustomed to repeating things they have just said, to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Notwithstanding – or possibly as a riposte to – the continued incursion of technology and virtual means of communication into our daily lives, Alexandrovsky went for a definitively corporeal mindset. “I like to work with tangible objects, with things you can reach out and touch,” he says.

He and set designer Yael Igra did their homework for Short Term. “We visited the homes of older people, we listened to their stories, and looked at things on the Yad2 [secondhand] website. I went to homes that were being cleared out and I’d see piles of junk thrown out on the streets from apartments that had been vacated. There were family archives in there, old letters and that sort of thing.” That became fodder for the festival show. “This is a performance that works a lot with memory, fading memory, and the essence of memory.”

A penchant for alternative forms of artistic expression 

ALEXANDROVSKY CLEARLY has a penchant for alternative forms of artistic expression which, in fact, got him into a spot of bother with the Russian authorities when the war in Ukraine began. Last year he got away to attend a conference for Ukrainian artists in Jerusalem, held under the auspices of the Israel Festival, and he is now happily settled back in Israel – where he lived between the ages of eight and 20 – now with his wife and two daughters.

“I like to get away from the things that separate us like the audience sitting in a darkened hall while the actors perform on a lit stage. I also like to explore this changing world and I have created virtual works. I observe the way the world works and I research the way we communicate with reality through participation.”

All of the above, and more, are designed to shift something within us, cerebrally and emotionally. Alexandrovsky hopes Short Term will have a lasting, positive, and enlightening effect on his audiences. 

“Art should encourage us to take a look at ourselves. I believe that important things can come out of this encounter that will trigger good wishes that lead to good deeds, like getting in touch with your parents – and maybe inspire us.”

For tickets and more information: https://www.israel-festival.org/en/