Avant-garde in Ra'anana

Tired of amateur productions and stage farces? The Guild Theater Company is getting serious.

Rome theater 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rome theater 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After following careful instructions to stay on the cement path winding around the parking lot, I eventually reached the large white building where the Guild Theater Company had already begun dress rehearsals for its musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It was one night before their musical's premiere performance on Tuesday, December 23. The 16-year-old company had recently been dubbed Ra'anana's official English-language theater, and as such, the municipality had granted them the Mishkan Theater for its performances. Larry Butchins, the Guild's Marketing Communications Director, waved to me from the building's entrance, dressed in a flamboyant Roman toga, leggings and sandals. "We used to use the Yad Lebanim theater," said Butchins, "but it wasn't always available." He ushered me toward an auditorium filled with empty burgundy chairs, save for one seat occupied by Jodi Schenck, the Guild's co-director, who was performing sound checks. "I want them to get fairly close to the mikes," screamed Schenck to the back of the theater, "but not blasting into the mikes!" From the lighting area, someone shouts to an actor, "Make sure the flag is behind you!" We took our seats near Schenck and watched the actors move across a set composed entirely of an empty stage and a painted cardboard wall. The actors' costumes were elaborate and Roman, but a bit of the modern world reared its head in the form of Velcro sandals. "We borrow [costumes and set pieces] from all sorts of places, from other theater companies," said Butchins. "We do receive a certain amount of help from the city." The Guild does not receive funding from the municipality, and thus operates purely on earnings from its shows. The city of Ra'anana provides the Guild Theater Company with a stage and modest advertising. Despite their obviously low-budget surroundings, the actors uphold the Guild's reputation for quality performances with their charisma and strong personalities. The Guild Theater Company was formed in 1992 by Larry Butchins, Penina Isseroff, and Robert and Jodi Schenck. "We had been involved in English theater before that," said Butchins. "We decided we were tired of standard amateur theater, all the usual comedy farces. We wanted to do something different." Butchins cites a recent spike in popularity, explaining: "We like to believe it's because we're prepared to do avant-garde. We've constantly produced good quality productions, not the usual farce - running into bedroom, out of bedroom stuff. A lot of theaters do Agatha Christie. For instance, when we did Art six or seven years ago, Art had just been presented to the public. Originality cemented our following." The Guild has also performed several original works by Jodi Schenck and Penina Isseroff. "Wherever English speakers go, theater becomes part of the culture," said Butchins, on whether the influx of Anglo immigrants has made an impact on Israeli theater. "We have a consistent audience," he continued. "The theater holds about 300 people." Butchins said he expected thousands would attend the upcoming performances of the Guild's new musical. Set in Rome, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum tells the story of a slave, Pseudolus, who attempts to win his freedom by helping his master charm a maiden. "It's a very clever comedy," said Butchins, "the music is absolutely fabulous, a lot of farce and misunderstandings, disguises, all sorts of weird and wonderful things." After rehearsals, pizza was delivered backstage and Metro was able to speak with the actors amid the feeding frenzy. The Guild's diverse cast members, who hail from a number of English-speaking countries, agreed that the new theater had better acoustics, dressing rooms and bathrooms than the Yad Lebanim facility. Some of the actors, such as 33-year-old Simon Shocket (who plays Hysterium), wish the show could go on forever. "We have so much fun during rehearsal that we regret to perform. It's more fun here, more professional." A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum premiered on Tuesday, December 23. Additional performances are scheduled for January 8 and 24. For booking or additional information contact Jodi at (09) 774- 6612.