Center Stage: Israel’s first professional English theater

Center Stage will be holding a silent auction fundraiser prior to Valentine’s Day.

 Daniella (Dani) and Grant Crankshaw on stage (photo credit: RICHARD HALON)
Daniella (Dani) and Grant Crankshaw on stage
(photo credit: RICHARD HALON)

Center Stage Ra’anana, the first professional English theater in Israel, was built literally by hand by Daniella and Grant Crankshaw, who made aliyah from South Africa 24 years ago with their son, Jared.

Both have degrees in drama from Wits University (where they met), but not coming from money or anything but their own meager savings from their work in South Africa, it took them 20 years to fulfill their lifelong dream of their own theater. Along the way, they used their talents (and Daniella’s lovely singing voice) to write and perform a delightful satire of their culture shock when making aliyah called Together Against the Odds.

They put together teams of actors and performed Arthur Miller’s All My Sons in high schools from Holon to Hadera (even the Arab village of Tira) for students who were required to read the play and were grateful for the understanding they acquired after seeing it performed live.

They appeared in many plays, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Broadway Babes, with amateur (semi-professional?) theater groups such as the Sharon Players and the Guild Theatre.

 A poster for a recent Center Stage production (credit: Center Stage) A poster for a recent Center Stage production (credit: Center Stage)

Daniella (Dani) appeared in Sharona Pick’s musical Swan Lake Rock Opera and Grant in stand-up comedy clubs. All of this was done on the side while Daniella worked in hi-tech marketing for companies such as Lucent and Pitango Ventures, and Grant became a master handyman, coming up with unique solutions to difficult problems so that he became known as “Israel’s MacGyver”!

Finally, after 20 years in Israel, they realized that they had to fulfill their dream. They invested everything they had (savings, knowledge, experience), and rented a large empty space in the industrial area of Ra’anana that was filled with debris – and they built a theater!

With the help of a few friends and their son – and a little bit of blind luck, like when they acquired the theater’s chairs that had been removed from an old theater and were in a truck on the way to be sold for scrap metal – they disposed of the garbage, recycled materials, built tiers for their theatrical chairs, installed electrical and sound systems, air conditioning, toilets, and a coffee lounge, all with their own hands until Grant went home late at night with a great feeling of satisfaction despite bloody fingers – when installing the air conditioning duct, he fell off the ladder and was momentarily stunned but hadn’t broken his back.

They worked with all of Ra’anana’s departments (fire, police, electricity, health) to receive the permits and approvals necessary to operate a theater. And at last, in October 2019, they opened with two performances of Hilary Chaplain’s The Last Rat of Theresienstadt  – a multi-media play with music, puppetry and live-action projections brought from America. And so it began.

Two prize-winning plays from America were performed by professional Israeli actors (Bad Jews by Joshua Hermon, Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo) to audience acclaim and sold-out performances. They instituted Q&A sessions in the coffee lounge after each performance, hosted a highly successful play (The Wandering Israeli) and produced an original children’s show (The Knick Knack Nook).

On New Year’s Eve, Center Stage presented a sold-out comedy show. They hosted Eyal Sherf’s highly successful lecture & performance (The Sound of Goosesteps), Lenny Ravitz’s comedy lecture Dance Life Don’t Drag It, this writer’s Political Satire Through the Ages in Theater, TV and Movies, a 13-lecture series, and they opened a Youth Theater program. Starting in October 2019, Center Stage built an enthusiastic and appreciative community.

And then disaster struck – corona, a worldwide pandemic – and Israel went into total lockdown! In early March 2020, they were ordered to close their doors after only 107 remarkable days of theater magic, and did not reopen for over a year as even when the lockdown was lifted, all theaters in Israel remained closed. Many Israeli businesses were given financial aid by the government during the closure, but Center Stage was ineligible because they did not have three years of proven profit.

But typical of Dani and Grant, they didn’t give up. They “MacGyvered” and turned to the only available platform: the digital platform. They mastered Zoom and kept their theater-loving community entertained and connected via chat shows, lectures, play festivals and more.

Their first project was was a five-minute on-line play festival which brought in 12 submissions. Six were presented to the online audience with actors from Israel, US and South Africa. It proved so successful that Center Stage immediately embarked on a second festival that drew more than 90 play submissions from across the world. Once more, they chose the top five and presented them to a worldwide audience.

During this time they also connected with JPP, the Jewish Plays Project based in New York.Center Stage was chosen to be the first representative of the JPP Playwriting competition in Israel, and the first theater partner outside of the US. (JPP sponsors bold and controversial Jewish conversations on the world stage; their innovative and competitive vehicle encourages emerging artiststo investigate their Jewish identity, an then JPP involves Jewish communities invetting, selecting and championing newvoices, later JPP even secures mainstream production opportunities for the best new plays.)

After the success of the first online play festival, Center Stage held a second festival that drew more than 90 play submissions from across the world. Once more, they chose the top five and presented them to a worldwide audience. Dani and Grant then created “On Cue,” a weekly Zoom chat show in which they interviewed leading English-speaking creative people in Israel as well as in the US. In the style of Actor’s Studio, they finished each interview with a series of questions based on Marcel Proust’s famous questionnaire.

During the months of theatrical closure, they produced 24 On Cue segments, and were able to reach across borders and involve audiences and actors from around the world, including the USA, UK, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, and the Netherlands among others.

In total, more than 170 actors, comedians, musicians, dancers, artists, playwrights, directors, producers, and even stage technicians performed virtually to over 6,000 people worldwide. These online events provided Center Stage with the opportunity to extend their reach beyond Israel’s border. However, they brought in little revenue.

After the government considered lifting restrictions and allowing theaters to reopen as long as those attending had green passes and wore masks, everything was further delayed by an unexpected war in May, the rise of the Delta variant in July/August, and minimal working days during September due to the High Holy Days.

Yes, those events interrupted Center Stage’s relaunch, but that didn’t stop the Crankshaws. They finally reopened Center Stage with a remarkable line-up of current and future performances: Shards, Putting the Pieces Together by Evan Kent; Israeli stand-up comic Yohay Sponder; four cabaret events – “Changes”, “Shapes of Love”, “Summer of Love” and Destination Anywhere”; regular Thursday night “Late Night Comedy” with leading English-speaking comedians; award winning shows Whistle with Hadar Galron and Repertory Theater by Iftach Ophir and Erez Driguez, The Gate by Robbie Gringas; and three sold-out shows of Jokers and Thieves’ SongTalk. They secured rights for three productions – a comedy, a musical and a drama – that they hope to produce in the winter of 2021 and 2022, and they are in advanced discussions with artists and productions abroad to bring them to Center Stage. 

They also reopened the Youth Theater program for kids age six to 16. They are currently starting regular events in the bar lounge, including stand-up comedy, live music, pub quizzes, open mic and slam poetry events, as well as Improv, acting and musical theater workshops and weekly “On Cue” chat show with live audience.

Their audiences are coming back, but Dani and Grant adjusted for those still squeamish about sitting inside by including digital shows in addition to live performances. Yet with all this going on, Grant is back to handyman work to make ends meet, while Dani focuses almost alone on the theater.

Center Stage is now under threat of permanent closure due to the debts and costs of building the business, and all those months of no income. On Yom Kippur eve, their landlords shut off their power – which has since been temporarily turned back on – and are granting them a few months to repay debts. They aim to raise $40,000 through GoFundMe, and they are reaching out to anyone who is devoted to culture, including investors, donors and theater professionals interested in participating in a benefit show. 

Daniella and Grant Crankshaw have a mission: to become the creative hub for English-language theater and bring it into the mainstream of Israeli culture, to provide the art-loving community at large with classical, contemporary, new theatrical productions of artistic excellence, and to challenge audiences with innovative productions that entertain as well as confront today’s issues and ideas.

They have created a vibrant cultural center, a meeting place that inspires a creative exchange between artists, audiences and the community. They believe that the future of the live theater experience can be assured only by the development of young audiences and aspiring thespians. It is for this reason that their youth theater and in-school touring program are major components of Center Stage. 

Center Stage will be holding a silent auction fundraiser prior to Valentine’s Day. All items in the auction will be displayed online for one week with full acknowledgment of the donor. When the online section closes, a live auction will be held at the theater and the people attending will be able to outbid the online bids. It should be a fun event! (More details at