The tyranny and fanaticism of high school

Judy Kleinman helps brings English-language theater to Israeli youth, with the next performance being the breakthrough play ‘The Wave.’

'They strongly believe in the educational value of engaging kids in live theater,’ Judy Kleinman says of working with ADGE. (photo credit: PATRICIA CARMEL)
'They strongly believe in the educational value of engaging kids in live theater,’ Judy Kleinman says of working with ADGE.
(photo credit: PATRICIA CARMEL)
It’s America, 1967 – Lyndon B. Johnson is president; the Vietnam War polarizes the nation; flower-power and rock & roll dominate pop culture; and in an ordinary suburban town in California, a teacher proceeds with an audacious experiment.
The Wave – which was adapted into a novel, movie and play – is a dramatization of one high school teacher’s demonstration of how easily society can succumb to extremism and tyranny. It will be performed in Israel from November 16 to December 4 by the American Drama Group Europe (ADGE), an internationally renowned professional theater troupe, for audiences across the country.
According to Judy Kleinman, production manager of ADGE in Israel, the theater group has already performed The Wave 199 times in Western Europe, in front of 60,000 high school students. Following the Israel tour, ADGE plans to take the play to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Scandinavia.
“The Wave is not only about raising awareness of the dangers of fanaticism,” she says. “It also presents an opportunity for students to experience live English theater performed by talented, professional American and British actors.”
ADGE was founded in 1978 by Grantly Marshall, who taught English and drama at the University of Munich, where the first ADGE performances were held. The company’s reputation as a professional theater company performing high-quality American drama quickly spread to other parts of Germany and beyond its borders in Europe. In 1993, ADGE joined forces with British music theater group TNT, established by Paul Stebbings, the award-winning actor and artistic director.
ADGE-TNT expanded into Asia and the Middle East with a diverse repertoire, including compelling productions of Shakespeare’s major plays. Each Shakespeare production comprises five to six professional actors who convincingly perform multiple roles – as indeed was done in the time of the Bard of Avon.
The theater group made its debut in Israel in 2009, with Hamlet in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ra’anana.
Kleinman recalls how her kids, from ages five to 11 at the time, were transfixed by the play.
“They had watched some clips of Hamlet on YouTube so they had an idea of the story, and they were enthralled by the simplicity of the staging, the clever, multi-functional props and the actors who were making live theater accessible to them.”
ADGE followed up Hamlet with Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing. Kleinman recalls how at the urging of her kids, she contacted the company in 2011 to ask if they could perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in her hometown of Zichron Ya’acov.
She was told they would agree to do so if she could guarantee a half-full theater. Working in conjunction with Hitachdut Oleh Britannia (HOB) to promote the event, they ended up overselling more than 350 seats. As a result of this overwhelming response, ADGE agreed to perform a matinée in addition to the evening show, to accommodate an audience that hailed from Karmiel, Haifa and elsewhere in the North.
The amazing success of the show in Zichron prompted Marshall to approach Kleinman and ask if she’d be interested in managing ADGE tours throughout Israel. Asserts Kleinman, “It had worked so well in Zichron because together with HOB, we were able to tap into a culture-loving, theater-going audience in the North for whom Zichron was more accessible than Tel Aviv or Haifa.”
The popularity of ADGE grew through word of mouth.
“The play generated so much interest throughout the North, especially from schools. I had become involved because my children were so into it, but I saw how school kids who had never seen live theater before reacted to this group performing Shakespeare.
“It shows how Shakespeare remains relevant in the modern world, even when the audience’s mother tongue is not English. The actors engage their audience in the drama; their diction is so clear, they communicate so much with their facial expressions that, as long as [the audience] is familiar with the story, it can understand what is going on.
“After the performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one mother called to ask why they hadn’t performed the play in Shakespearean English.
I told her that the play hadn’t deviated from the original Shakespeare, but she insisted that it had because her daughter told her she had understood every word. The kids get so involved with the performance and the actors, they don’t realize they are listening to pure Shakespearean English.
“A few days after the performance, a teacher called [and said] that her class had been on a Shakespeare high for a week.”
In another example of how Shakespeare appears to have captured the imaginations of Israeli youth, Kleinman recalls how a 15-year-old who had been sent by his mother to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream wrote on his Facebook page, “Shakespeare rocks – I got to meet Puck!” Perhaps due to the fact that the story of Romeo and Juliet is so well-known, there was a strong increase in student interest when the show was scheduled for this past February.
“A Muslim school from Kafr Kana contacted us about buying tickets for the show in Zichron,” says Kleinman, “but we had totally sold out. However, they agreed to come to a matinée in Tel Aviv. At about the same time, a religious school from Kiryat Shmona contacted us and they also agreed to come to Tel Aviv. The audience of that performance was therefore mixed with religious Muslim and Jewish kids, as well as a large contingent of kids from non-religious schools.
“It happened in a totally organic way, all these kids from vastly different backgrounds coming together to watch Shakespeare being performed in English. Theater brought these kids together naturally, and the outcome was wonderful.”
After the performance, the actors come out to meet the kids, talk to them and answer questions about the play.
“It’s part of the ethos of the group,” explains Kleinman.
“They strongly believe in the educational value of engaging kids in live theater.”
Over 900 students attended the performances of Romeo and Juliet. With such an outpouring of enthusiasm for Shakespeare, how much more will a play about high school students resonate with Israeli youth? The Wave is optional reading for Israeli high school students taking five-point English matriculation exams.
The book is based on a 1967 class experiment in a Palo Alto high school, carried out by social studies teacher Ron Jones. Jones, unable to illustrate to his 10thgrade students how the German people could have fallen under the spell of fascism and claimed they knew nothing of the genocide of the Jewish people, devised a way to demonstrate it. He created a “movement” with the stated aim of eliminating democracy, reinforcing the concept with the slogan, “Strength through discip l i n e , st rength through community, strength through action, strength through pride.”
He then introduced a number of rules that bolstered his authority and regimented the students’ behavior.
Students were ordered to salute each other, even outside the classroom, and they began to exhibit signs of extreme discipline and an overweening sense of community.
At a certain point, the movement took on a life of its own, with over 200 students from other classes participating.
Those not taking part were refused entry to the classroom; some students reported others who failed to fully abide by the rules.
Jones became alarmed at the zealousness of the students and decided to bring the experiment to a close. He told them they belonged to a national movement and that the name of their presidential candidate would be announced at a rally the following day.
At the rally, Jones informed the students they had been part of an experiment that had shown how they had willingly accepted extreme self-discipline and assumed a sense of superiority – much like German citizens during the Nazi period. He then screened a film about the Nazi regime.
Notes Kleinman, “Students and teachers from both Jewish and Arab schools in the North have expressed interest in the production.
“In addition, the head of the English literature department at the Al-Qasemi Academy teacher’s college in Baka al-Gharbiya has invited ADGE to perform The Wave at the college for English students of the college and local high schools. We’re hoping to follow up the play with a discussion between Israeli and European students over Skype.”
ADGE will be performing The Wave in Munich on January 27, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Throughout 2015, the European tour will be dedicated to commemorating this anniversary.
The Wave will run from November 16 to December 4 in Tel Aviv, Kfar Saba, Haifa, Netanya, Zichron Ya’acov, Baka al-Gharbiya, Ma’alot, Upper Nazareth, Jerusalem, Rehovot, Ashdod and Beersheba.
Hamlet will run from January 4-11 in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ra’anana, Zichron Ya’acov, Modi’in, Rehovot and Beersheba.
For information, email Judy Kleinman at