Children are much more sophisticated these days, says Ronen Goldfarb Peled, artistic director of the Summer Theater Children’s Festival. Still, he is sticking with the classics.
By BARRY DAVIS
Ronen Goldfarb Peled may have his work cut out for him next week, but he appears to embrace his many roles and responsibilities with boundless energy and love. Goldfarb is the artistic director of the forthcoming annual Summer Theater Children’s Festival, which will take place at the Shein Auditorium at Yad Lebanim in Tel Aviv from August 17 to August 19.Goldfarb is arguably the country’s leading presenter of entertainment for small children, as head of the Shelanu children’s theater group for the last 17 years and as the frontman of the long-running Tell Me A Story TV show.He uses the latter as a vehicle for reading classic kids’ stories, suitably decked out in a fairy-tale-like costume and with a few puppet pals on hand with which the presenter – in his popular TV persona as, simply, Ronen – enjoys some commensurately enlightening banter.The Summer Theater Children’s Festival lineup features six shows, with two premiere productions – including – and is now celebrating a full two decades of junior entertainment.Goldfarb has been involved in the event since its inception and says the festival has seen some changes over the years. Twenty years is a long time, and even toddlers are, these days, exposed to a very different world, both on multi-channel television and the Internet.The festival director says all that has impacted on the festival fare, too.“What has changed is the way and the pace at which I develop the characters. Kids are so much more sophisticated these days. They have been exposed to so many things, and their world moves so much faster. You have to keep up with them, otherwise you’ll lose their attention.”AdvertisementEven so, Goldfarb says he makes sure he doesn’t go off the radar screen entirely.“I update the shows, and their effects and pyrotechnics – but I always stick to the original storyline. The original material is so good you can’t go wrong with it.”THE OTHER premiere at the festival is Habayit Shel Hatula La-La (The Cat’s House), which is based on a Russian story called Koshkin Dom. As with all the other festival productions, Habayit Shel Hatula La-La has a strong moral and educational message for young audiences, which Goldfarb is naturally keen to convey.“This is a story about a character who is very wrapped up in himself and his own interests. The world can be a very self-oriented place and I think it is important to get that across to small children,” Goldfarb notes.The main character in the story experiences a traumatic event in the wake of which he realizes that, after all, there may be some wisdom in having friends and sharing this world with others.“We, of course, get that message across in a strong visual way,” says the director,” and the kids take it on board.”While the festival is primarily aimed at small children – aged 3 to 9 – Goldfarb says that the parents who accompany their kids to the shows also get something out of the productions, and that the on-stage entertainment appeals to people of all ages and can be understood on different levels.“If it’s a good story children will understand it on their own cognitive level. The theatrical experience is based on the original material and each member of the audience will get something else out of it, depending on their level of sophistication.”That involves bringing the original stories into the here and now, rather than trying to drag the audience back through a time tunnel. The Tell Me A Story slot at the festival, for example, presents several classic children’s stories including Red Riding Hood.Goldfarb and his team have invested a lot in achieving an attractive package, including recruiting the likes of iconic actress Gila Amagor as the voice behind one of the main characters.“Of course kids still go on walks; but most of them, these days, if they go out on their own take a cell phone with them, so their parents can keep tabs on them. The Little Red Riding Hood character calls her grandmother on her cell phone while she’s on her way through the woods. That is something which I think all kids, and their parents, see as something completely appropriate, even if the technology wasn’t around when the story was first written.”And it’s no longer just a matter of the goodies and the baddies, and a happy end.“The wolf has its own character and is not just a cardboard cutout.” It also, Goldfarb says, acts as an educational vehicle. “Older kids will understand that the wolf is a sly, canny character, and that they should watch out for people like that in their own lives.”Goldfarb, naturally, has also gone through some formative life changes since he started the festival 20 years ago. Now 42, he is also father to two small children, the older of whom has started contributing to the event herself.“My daughter Lia, who is eight years old, is an actress and a good barometer of my work. I wouldn’t say she is critical, as such, but she’ll look at the material before a show and say things like: ‘If you did it this way...’ and that sort of thing, and that helps a lot.”It also helps to keep Goldfarb in tune with contemporary kid mentality, as well as dredging up some of his own junior experiences.“Of course, many of your childhood memories fade over the years, but as a father, your kids remind you of some of the experiences you have forgotten. As the Matti Caspi song goes, I’m now going through my second childhood, and it’s great.”In fact, Lia had some say in the festival lineup.“We were at a bookstore and she picked up a copy of [Rinat Primo’s children’s book] Ouch, Ai, Oh My! and sat down to read it then and there. And she said to me: ‘That would make a really good show.’ So I read it too, and she was right.” Ouch, Ai, Oh My! is included in the Tell Me A Story performance at the festival.ELSEWHERE IN the festival agenda there are more educational and environmental messages on offer in Masa Bekufsa (Trip in a Box), in which various items of trash come to life in a backyard. The cast includes a couple of dancers and the onstage activity is supported by a soundtrack by acclaimed composer Yisreal Brite.Perennial picture-book favorite Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak back in 1963, also gets an entertaining airing at the festival, as does Elmer (Bentzi). The latter is a story about an elephant which, in contrast to his grey kindred, is born with a multicolored hide. The storyline offers plenty of room for educational maneuvering about issues such as accepting others who are different from us, suitably utilized under Goldfarb’s sensitive directorial hands.The music for the show was provided by Yehudit Ravitz.More than anything, Goldfarb says he is aware of the need to talk to children in their own language, and to present the material in the most professional format possible.“You mustn’t dumb down to them. You have to keep them interested, but also let them do their interpreting. Children of different ages will get different things, and parents will understand the shows on a different level – like things with a double meaning.“We have invested a lot in the lighting, the scenery, the music and the choreography. You can’t fool kids today.”For more information about the Summer Theater Children’s Festival, and booking, call: 03-546 7404 or 03-6041707, or go to www.shelanu- kids.com
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