Shakespeare for all at the Haifa International Children’s Theater Festival

William Shakespeare has been called the common man’s playwright, and with good reason.

A SCENE FROM ‘Twelfth Night.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
A SCENE FROM ‘Twelfth Night.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
William Shakespeare has been called the common man’s playwright, and with good reason. While today his plays may be generally considered the stuff of highbrow entertainment, the Bard himself was not at all upper-echelon marketing oriented. It is said that when he was still around, in the late 16th-early 17th centuries, people of all kinds would just wander into performances of his work, at the famed Globe Theater in London and other venues.
Ronnie Brodetzky gets that. As the in-house director of the Haifaite theater company, she says she wants to appeal to all and sundry, and to draw Israelis of all ages, socioeconomic backdrops and cultural leanings to the troupe’s projects.
Brodetzky will have an opportunity to see whether her creative formula is doing the all-inclusive trick next week, when she oversees a rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The production occupies the flagship slot of the 29th annual Haifa International Children’s Theater Festival, with four performances scheduled to take place at Haifa Theater on April 21 (10 a.m., 12 noon, 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.).
If the director and her cast were looking to tickle their audience’s funny bone, they could have done a lot worse than go for Twelfth Night. The script is tailor-made to draw the spectators into the thick of the plot, and then hit them right where it tickles.
The play features the mother of all love triangles, involving a nobleman called Orsino who spends much of his time longing for the romantic attentions of a certain Lady Olivia. Unfortunately for him, the said gentlewoman is in mourning for her recently departed brother and is not disposed to courtship or propositions of a matrimonial nature. Meanwhile, a shipwreck takes place off the coast of the kingdom of Illyria, and a young aristocratic female passenger, by the name of Viola, is swept to the Illyrian shore. She quickly realizes she needs to conjure a way of earning an honest crust, upper-class origins notwithstanding, and, finding herself unable to land a berth in the bereaved lady’s household, hits on a ruse. She disguises herself as a man and gets herself a job at Orsino’s place.
That, naturally enough, produces a comedy of errors, as Olivia falls for Viola’s male persona, Cesario. With Orsino already besotted with Lady Olivia, the romantic morass is complete when the grieving noblewoman develops passionate feelings for Cesario, naturally assuming “him” to be a man. Basically, everyone is head over heels in love, and all concerned are disconsolate at their inability to do anything about it.
Brodetzky felt it was the perfect literary vehicle for getting bums on seats and inducing raucous laughter along with riveting interest in the onstage action. The latter, she hopes, will be generated by the nine-piece thespian lineup, whose members work under the aegis of the Haifaite setup, which appears to be something very special – if not unique – in this country, which is not particularly generous when it comes to apportioning financial support for artistic endeavor.
HAIFAITE IS, as the name suggests, a theater group based in Haifa.
“We restarted the company last year, in January 2018,” Brodetzky explains. “It began around nine or 10 years ago, and the actors relocated to Haifa from other places around the country.” That, horror of horrors, includes some who even went so far as to forsake Tel Aviv, the national magnet for anyone looking to make it in the entertainment business.
The actors, aged 24 to 44, all committed to working together and devoting the majority of their waking hours honing their craft, and working on the next creation.
“We spend a lot of time together. We all live in Haifa and create in Haifa,” Brodetzky notes. “This is a special city, a cultural city.”
While the actor’s spirit may rejoice in the rich diet of soul food it gets in our northern port town, at the end of the day the spirit won’t hang around very long if there’s not much in the way of actual edibles to hand. That, pleasingly, is taken care of by the esteemed local umbrella institution.
“We all came to Haifa because the theater [Haifa Theater] invited us and gave us free rein to everything it has to offer.” That, basically, means that the said bunch of actors can do just that, and only that. “We all live in different apartments, in the same neighborhood, but we get a rent subsidy from the theater.” It is, says the director, an ideal state of affairs. “We don’t have to run after the money, which, of course, is exactly the opposite of life in Tel Aviv. You can breathe easily within a creative lifestyle and immerse yourself totally in being creative.”
It is, says Brodetzky, very much a collective, despite the age disparity. “Yes, the 44-year-old, obviously, has greater life experience than, say, the members of the group in their twenties. But, sometimes, someone of a different age can bring someone to the work from their generation, something that the older actors don’t know. It works both ways.”
As befitting a group of artists, the Haifaite group engages in exploratory endeavor.
“We try to engage in theater that searches in terms of its artistic approach,” Brodetzky notes. “Each of our productions does that differently.” There have been four since the group was revived. “The first one, Eich Lakum Mehakisei (How to Get up from a Chair), wasn’t a play. It was like theatrical material for YouTube. “Amsterdam,” the group’s second production, which was directed by Mor Frank and written by Maya Arad Yasour, wasn’t really a play. It was a text that looks at Jewish Israeli identity abroad, and was written in the form of a lot of voices, which talk in the head of a girl. It is a very rich work.”
THE GROUP put a lot into the current offering.
“We took a couple of translations of Twelfth Night, one older and one more contemporary, and we compared them,” Brodetzky explains. “We wanted to understand each character and their motives for their behavior.” That applies to everything the individual characters do and say. “For example, we wanted to understand why Malvolio [the conservative manager of Olivia’s household] suddenly appears in yellow clothing. What does that mean? He loses it. Someone who is really very dour suddenly lets his hair down. That says something about human beings in general, too.”
While the Haifa festival shows are for one and all, the festival is, after all, an event for kids. So does Brodetzky feel children, say, aged seven, will get all the intricacies of the complicated affairs of the heart, and the interpersonal dynamics?
“Children just love a good story,” she observes. “I don’t think small children think about all the machinations. They don’t see all the layers that we know are there. They just want to see what happens to the different characters, and we want to show that to them in the most aesthetic way possible. That’s all.”
All the senses come into play. “The children get it through a combination of everything at a given moment. They understand it through the text, the lighting, the acting, the stage, the whole thing.”
The children’s ears and musical appreciation will also be thoroughly engaged, with the score feeding off the melodies and unbridled rock & roll vibe of Elvis Presley.