Wandering venue

The creative forces behind Hazira Performing Arts Center, which has recently moved to the Gerard Behar Center, promise to continue pushing the envelope.

arts festival 88.298 (photo credit: )
arts festival 88.298
(photo credit: )
You don't need to be particularly savvy to know that life on the fringes can be tough. But Gili Levy is patently one of those who feels that the advantages of working outside mainstream culture outweigh the constraints. Levy is marketing manager for the Hazira Performing Arts Center, the "alternative" cultural center that has been doing business from various venues around the capital for the past eight years, after succeeding Habama, which was in the same line of business for 12 years. Last month Hazira relocated from the eminently atmospheric, but ultimately impractical, premises next to the Khan Theater to a far more spacious home at the Gerard Behar Center on Rehov Bezalel. Levy is enthused about the move and about the possibilities that the new venue offers. "The Khan place was nice, very aesthetic and all that, but here we can move things around to suit whatever production we're putting on. It's very modular." That was apparent from last week's production of Dolly City. The 300 or so seats were lined up on either side of the hall to allow the actors to move easily between two stages placed at either end, bringing the audience into the performance. "We started thinking about moving when Doron Tavori took over as head of Hazira [last year]," Levy explains. "As soon as Doron took over he said he wanted a different stage to work with. He said he wanted to play around with the space and go a little wild with it. The Khan place has this mystical, sort of Jerusalem feel to it with those old stones. That's great but it's not exactly what we want to identify with over time. We'd been there for three years. I think that was enough." Before sharing the Khan compound, Hazira was at Rehov Yad Harutzim 4, in the same building as the Sam Spiegel Film School and Nissan Nativ Acting School. "The current venue is an important interim stage on the way to the Hazira getting its own premises," Levy explains. "I hope that will happen within 18 months, and that the permanent home will be an important cultural center in Jerusalem." While Tel Aviv seems to have all manner of venues, such as the Tmuna Theater and Hateiva, that offer cultural engagement beyond the mainstream tracks, in general Jerusalem has something of a more conservative image, certainly among Tel Avivians. Levy, however, begs to differ. "There's a lot of stuff going on in Jerusalem that you wouldn't find in Tel Aviv." According to Levy, Jerusalemite culture consumers are more open to ideas from off-the-beaten track than their Tel Aviv counterparts. "Dolly City, for example, ran at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv before it came here, like a sort of pilot run," he says. "It's not an easy production to take, there are some tough issues in there and we present it in a sort of rough and ready format. We had people leaving the show in the middle in Tel Aviv, but that hasn't happened in Jerusalem." Though life can be tough on the edge, the Hazira management doesn't plan to become more conventional. "We don't have enormous budgets, and it can be difficult to bring the public into some of the more challenging things we put on here. But that also allows us the freedom to do what we want," explains Levy. "We get support from different organizations, like Mifal Hapayis and the Jerusalem Foundation, and I get paid regardless of how many tickets we sell for a particular production, but that's not the point. Everybody who works at Hazira is enthusiastic about their work. We all feel we are involved in something special." Hazira is officially defined as a "small theater," with an annual budget of around NIS 3 million. In 2007 it used its pennies to put on no fewer than 206 performances. The Khan, for the sake of comparison, is a "medium-sized theater" with an annual budget of NIS 10m., while the larger establishments, like the Jerusalem Theater, enjoy funding in excess of NIS 25m. a year. Art for art's sake is an admirable ethos but at the end of the day, there's no point in playing to empty or near-empty houses. "Of course we are happier when we get a big crowd in, but we've been around for a few years now, and we are not going to just fade away," Levy declares. "We do things that you would never see at, say, the Jerusalem Theater. We have a job to do: To offer people the chance to experience something fresh, new and challenging." Are there are any red lines that even Hazira wouldn't cross? "Sure there are boundaries to what we do," Levy says. "You can't just do things for doing's sake, just to elicit a response. We are not here to annoy people but to give them something to think about and, yes, to entertain them. Entertainment isn't a dirty word you know." Levy also feels Hazira has a role to play in expanding the public's horizons by enlightening them about areas of life and the arts they may not otherwise encounter. "We also have to educate people. If you don't know something exists, you can't open up to it and accommodate it." That said, Levy believes the future holds good things for Hazira and that the theater is in a better position now than ever before. "I think we are in the middle of a process. We are much more in the public eye now. Take, for example, the banner for Kola Shel Mila (The Power of the Word) Festival coming up [March 25-29] on the side of the [Gerard Behar] building. It's enormous. That's the kind of in-your-face message we want to get across today. "We're not shy about letting the public know about what we have to offer. We are professionals and, I believe, we are doing a good job."