Connecting kids to theater

Tomorrow's culture consumers are being well cared for at this year's Israel Festival for Children at Holon's Mediatheque center.

Kids theater 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Kids theater 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
The Israel Festival is the major national cultural event of the year, with a plethora of sumptuous productions across numerous genres and artistic disciplines. But, aside from the polished adult fare of operas, dance, theater and music from around the world, tomorrow’s culture consumers are being well cared for at this year’s Israel Festival for Children, at the Mediatheque center in Holon.
The lineup for the youngsters’ section includes plenty of familiar names, the likes of Peter and the Wolf, The Wizard of Oz and the Brothers Grimm’s The Frog Prince. But, as 47-year-old Mediatheque director Roni Pinkowitz explains, there is nothing humdrum about the productions in this year’s festival.
And while all the shows have an educational aspect to them, there is certainly nothing overly didactic or “academic” about them.
“They are educational in that they present values and personality-shaping elements, but it is first and foremost about theater,” Pinkowitz stresses.
Most theater directors and actors will tell you that they are happy when an audience takes something home from their show, something that gives them food for thought, to be processed at their leisure.
Pinkowitz says he is not looking to appeal to the children’s cerebral abilities, but to the experiential side of their lives.
“I’d like the kids to come away from the shows with an experience, and I don’t particularly care how it impacts on them, as long as it doesn’t dissipate too quickly and they go home with an enduring impact.”
Looking at the Children’s Israel Festival program, there appears to be every chance of achieving Pinkowitz’s objective.
First off is Nahman, directed by Pinkowitz himself, an original Mediatheque production based on a play written by the late Uzi Ben-Canaan. Nahman is best described as a musical fantasy that depicts the tough childhood of our national poet, Haim Nahman Bialik.
Bialik grew up in a religious home in a small town in Ukraine and, after his father died, moved to the home of his draconian grandfather.
It would be wrong, however, to portray Nahman in doom-and-gloom terms. There is plenty of humor in the play, with not a little fantasy, as the young Bialik oscillates between his obligations toward his strict grandparent and his wish, and ability, to escape into his own imaginary world.
Pinkowitz feels it is a story every child can connect and, possibly, identify with. The director says he certainly can, as could the playwright.
“I don’t just love Bialik as a poet; he was also a true man of letters and an intellectual, a great man. But the play was not written by Bialik. Uzi Ben-Canaan wrote about Bialik; but, in fact, he was writing about himself. His childhood was sufficiently difficult that he escaped it into the world of poetry and fantasy.
“Uzi wrote about Uzi, via Bialik; but the truth is – when I read it, I thought it was about me,” says Pinkowitz.
Bialik was always an outsider,” he continues. “I hope the show conveys the message that it is all right for a child to have his or her own inner world.”
The junior festival-goers will encounter more fantasy in Dodi Simha (My Uncle Simha), in which a puppet boy communicates with his uncle on all sorts of levels. Besides the two main human and non-human characters, there are quite a few “extras” which help to thicken the dreamlike plot.
“When the boy goes to the barber’s, the scissors and the comb and all sorts of gadgets come to life and start talking among themselves. Instead of the audience looking at the person holding the object, the object itself does the talking. There are lots of vehicles of expression in Dodi Simha,” Pinkowitz explains.
There is one import in the program, the Teatrocinema company from Chile, which will put on The Man Who Fed Butterflies multimedia production. The show combines live performance with a screen format, as the actors alternate between the stage and “enter and exit” a large screen at the back of the stage.
The Man Who Fed Butterflies is designed for children aged 10 and up and intertwines three stories.
“Teatrocinema are very experienced and very professional,” says Pinkowitz. “Every single detail is worked on, and I think children appreciate that.”
Elsewhere in the program, there is a thought-provoking production of The Boy from Seville, set in the period of the Inquisition and depicting the common fate of Jews and Muslims at that time, and the secret religious lives some of them led.
There is also another chance to catch a unique portrayal of Peter and the Wolf, which incorporates a full orchestra and an award-winning film of the children’s tale, and offers the added alternative value of examining what happens to the characters in the story after the wolf is captured.
It is a rich program, and one which the Mediatheque director hopes will have far-reaching impact.
“It would be great if some of the children who come to the shows cultivate a love of theater and carry on going to see theater as adults,” says Pinkowitz.
“As a kid, I remember people coming to concerts of the Israel Philharmonic with the score, which they followed during the concert. The concert experience is much deeper and more meaningful if you understand something about the music.
“I think that if you go to the theater with better-defined intent, you can enjoy it in a different and more substantial way.”
In addition to the shows themselves, the festival patrons will be able to get a better handle on what goes into putting on a theater production. In the Mediatheque lobby, there is an exhibition of costume designs of the new shows in the program.
“The children will see the exhibits and realize that shows don’t just happen by magic, that artists work hard to create the costumes, and that they are not just bits taken from some storeroom or cheap Purim getups,” says the director. “Three highly talented painters worked on these sketches.
“I think the exhibition will also enhance their overall theater experience,” Pinkowitz says, adding that while he and his colleagues invested much thought and elbow grease in compiling the Children’s Festival program, they were not looking for a hard sell.
“I want people to come because they want to see theater, not because they won a couple of tickets to a show or managed to complete a crossword in a newspaper and the prize was theater tickets.
“What is important here is the world of theater and the artistic experience it offers.”
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