The show goes on

The Light Opera Group of the Negev has experience performing when the bombs outside are exploding. For this year's production of Guys and Dolls, it was more of the same.

light opera group 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy, LOGON)
light opera group 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy, LOGON)
In George S. Kaufman's lively Broadway musical, Damon Runyon's "guys and dolls" worry about winning craps games and finding true love. In real life, the guys and dolls of LOGON, the Light Opera Group of the Negev, have more serious problems, with their hometown of Beersheba recently enduring weeks of rocket fire. The loss of rehearsal space was LOGON'S first casualty of the war. Traditionally, the troupe spends six months rehearsing locally in Beersheba for its 10 cross-country performances. "For several years, we've rehearsed in the auditorium in a local psychiatric hospital," co-producer Frieda Gilmour tells Metro. "But with the Grads and missiles raining down, we had to move. The hospital's bomb shelter would barely hold their patients and staff. They couldn't accommodate an extra 40 LOGON actors." The troupe resettled in Meitar. "We were lucky. Meitar's Masorti Congregation uses a bomb shelter for its services, and they offered to let us rehearse there," Gilmour says. "It's too small to move our scenery in, and Meitar, 25 kilometers from Beersheba, is a drive for most of us, but we're doing fine. Even our director, Yaacov Amsellem, who lives right on the Gaza border, [drove] in every night straight through the danger zone." This year marks 28 years of musical comedy for the all-amateur group, which means that performing under fire has become old hat. During the first Gulf War in 1991, everyone toted gas masks to rehearsals. "We were doing The Yeomen of the Guard that year, and on our printed programs, we depicted a Yeoman wearing a gas mask," Gilmour laughs. "We weren't even sure there'd even be a show," she says. "Then a cease-fire took hold, so we went ahead. But at first, we weren't permitted to sell more than half the tickets, because that's all the theater's bomb shelter would hold. We had to cut the orchestra by half, too, and everyone was so jumpy that one time when the cellist played a note, everyone ran for the shelter - it sounded like the siren. Still, only one venue canceled, and the rest of the time we played to full houses." The first wave of suicide bombings in 1996 presented another challenge. "Even among ourselves, we debated whether it was right to put on a musical when so many people were being killed. But we were doing Fiddler on the Roof, and because of the kind of show it is, we decided to go ahead. The day before our Jerusalem performance there was another serious attack. Calls came from all over, asking us to cancel, not only out of respect, but also because of the very real danger for everyone. But again, we decided the show must go on, so it did - we just hoped we'd get an audience." The whole LOGON crew recalls that Jerusalem performance of Fiddler as their finest moment. "The auditorium sat a thousand people, and we were turning people away. We were so packed people sat on the stairs. Maybe they came out of defiance, to show that Israel wouldn't be cowed, or maybe it was just a show everyone loved so much. Maybe they hoped a couple of hours of Fiddler would offer a little respite. Whatever it was, the love that flowed back and forth between the audience and the actors that night is something none of us will ever forget." This year, the war situation meant that one of LOGON'S "dolls," Christina Paschyn - in Israel for a year on a scholarship from Rotary International - earned on-the-job experience as a war correspondent. In the play, Paschyn plays Miss Sarah Brown, the pure-at-heart Salvation Army reformer who finally succumbs to the charms of Sky Masterson, the rakish craps player. Off stage, Paschyn offered live commentary for her hometown television station, WEWS in Cleveland, Ohio. Some of her war stories were all too personal. "One of the rockets hit right next to our dorm, in a place I frequently go to relax. That day, I'd just been there, and had actually planned to stay longer, but something came up so I left - and the rocket hit exactly where I'd been. Driving in the car is the only time I'm really edgy. It's scary to get out of the car to lie on the ground when the sirens sound," the Parma, Ohio, native says. "My career goal is to work in journalism in the Middle East, so when the chance came to do some reporting, I jumped at it. I [did] the interviews every night by Skype. It [was] a great opportunity to tell people in America's Midwest what it's like to live in a city that's under rocket fire." Guys and Dolls plays in Beersheba, Kfar Saba, Modi'in, Or Akiva, Givatayim, Haifa, Netanya and Jerusalem, February 16 through March 19. For ticket information, call (08) 641-4081.