Coronavirus cancellations: In Israel the show doesn't go on

There have been festival cancellations and drastic recalibrations across the board, with theaters closing the doors to the general public and sports events played without an audience.

Jerusalem Cinematheque unveils renovated auditorium  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem Cinematheque unveils renovated auditorium
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The latest Corona-related directive, banning gatherings of more than 100 people, has left the local entertainment business and cultural sector in tatters.
There have been festival cancellations and drastic recalibrations across the board, with theaters closing the doors to the general public and sports events played without an audience.
The Epos International Art Film Festival, which was due to take place at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, March 11-14, has, for now, been postponed, although it is not at all clear if it will actually happen at some stage. “In keeping with the government’s instructions, and with great regret, the Epos Festival is being postponed to better days,” said the official statement.
Other casualties include the Zappa network, with all clubs across the country shutting down until further notice.  “We are following the new Ministry of Health guidelines and for now, as of tomorrow (March 13), we are postponing all the shows scheduled for the near future,” said a spokesperson for the Zappa group. “As soon as the guidelines change we will work to put together a new itinerary, for the canceled shows,” the spokesperson continued, ending on an optimistic – hopeful – note: “We are confident that this time will pass quickly and we will get back to being happy, and enjoying live performances of Israeli music.”
There have already been some last minute cancellations of show, including a concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at Hechal Hatarbut in Tel Aviv whereby an IPO spokesperson took the stage to inform the audience that there would, in fact, be no concert pursuant to the new Ministry of Health directive. Some patrons voiced their disapproval vociferously, but eventually everyone dispersed.
Meanwhile, up north, at Haifa Theater, a performance of the Comedians was canceled, literally, at the last moment. “I don’t recall anything so dramatic in all my years in theater,” said star of the production actor-comedian Shlomo Baraba. The show also stars Baraba’s longtime sparring partner Moni Moshonov and Moshonov’s son Michael. “It was 7:50 p.m. We were about to go on stage at Haifa Theater, we were in costume and ready,” says Baraba. “Suddenly we are told that, due to recent events, the hundreds of people in the audience have to go home, and we do too. It was very dramatic. It reminds me of the Gulf War.”
The Lessin Theater in Tel Aviv has also put a hold on all its shows until the end of April. “We are not doing anything at all now,” explains theater general manager and artistic director Zippi Pinnes. “We’ll have just a few rehearsals, as long as they don’t involve more than 100 people,” she adds with a bitter laugh. “This is terrible. And it’s not just about us. It’s about people who live in the country’s periphery. It means there won’t be any culture anywhere in the country. It’s very sad and scary.”
Naturally this is going to have a drastic detrimental effect on the ability of artists across the disciplinary board to make a living. A friend who attended the Wednesday evening show at the Jerusalem Zappa club, by the veteran Ketzat Acheret trio of Shlomo Yidov, Shomo Gronich and Shem-Tov Levy, told me Levy was moved to sarcastically announce that, pursuant to the new government guideline, musicians would now start performing in public toilets, “to crowds of no more than 30 people.”
The Cameri Theater has also shut down for now, and the annual Teatronetto Festival, which has been presenting programs of solo performances for the last 30 years, and was due to take place during the Pessach vacation, is also in limbo. “Based on the guidelines and recommendations of the Ministry of Health, for the population relating to the Corona virus, and based on concern for public health, at this stage we are suspending work on the 30th edition of the Teatronetto Festival, for solo performances, which was due to take place in Ancient Jaffa and Akko on hol hamoed Pessach. We will release an announcement regarding a new schedule for the festival at a later date. We hope we all safely get through the days of Apocalypse Now and we will soon meet up again in the auditoria and on stages.”
Shlomo Mizrahi, manager of the Barbi music club in Tel Aviv, was a little more outspoken. “They are burying us alive, throwing us to the dogs,” he told the Walla new web site. There is no logic to this. All shows are now canceled until the end of March. That means losses of hundreds of thousands of shekels.”
Cinemas are not immune to the new situation either. A Cinema City spokesperson announced that: “Based on the updated Ministry of Health guidelines, we will of course limit audiences of screening to 100 people per hall. We will also adapt the timetable so that there intervals between the screenings, and to prevent mass gatherings in the public spaces,” he said, adding the company is taking all precautions possible. “We will allow audiences to spread out around the auditoria, and we will provide a disinfectant liquid for people to use on their hands, at the entrances and exits of the halls. The steps we have taken are designed to allow people to enjoy the screenings while safeguarding their health.” Meanwhile, The Lev cinema chain said it will maintain its movie schedule, while limiting audiences to 100 people.
The repercussions of the virus scare, for the local arts community, are also extending beyond our borders. The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC) has canceled a tour of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, which was due to start on March 12, ending on April 1. A spokesperson for KCDC said the decision means that an entire year of preparations will come to nothing, and the company will have to contend with “huge financial losses.”
The Israel Opera’s planned production of Tchaikovsky’s Yevgeni Onegin, which due to open on March 20, has been postponed, and it is unclear whether the planned visit in April by The Natalya Sats Musical Theater of Moscow, to perform The Firebird and Scheherazade will now go ahead.
On the sunnier side, some outfits are managing to tailor their fare to the new preventive measures. The Vertigo dance company, for example, has taken the welcome proactive step to host Israeli dance artists in a serious of “intimate shows limited to audiences of up to 100 people” at its home base at the ecological artists’ village on Kibbutz Halammed Heh. “The audience will be able to enjoy the show and also the scenery and the fresh air of the village in the Ella Valley,” said the statement.
One event that is surviving the storm more or less intact is the annual Jerusalem-based Bach Festival. The star guest from abroad, French harpsichordist and conductor Christophe Rousset, will not now attend but the vast majority of the program will go ahead as planned. The concerts that were scheduled for Tel Aviv and Haifa have been canceled, but almost all the Jerusalem concerts will take place, naturally, with no more than 100 people, in total – musicians included – allowed into the various auditoria. Fortunately the Bach Festival is a chamber music event, which cuts down on the number of instrumentalists.
And, just in case you are looking for some other form of entertainment in Jerusalem, at a venue which is totally unaffected by the new guidelines, the cozily proportioned Mazkeka music club is a good bet. I have never seen more than 40 people in the audience there and, in fact, you couldn’t’ squeeze many more in there if you tried.