Playing by the book

A new theater series encourages children to read.

Yarden Bar-Kochba (photo credit: Ziv sadeh)
Yarden Bar-Kochba
(photo credit: Ziv sadeh)
As indicative product names go, Play by the Book ranks with some of the better ones. It is the title of a series of theater productions for children that are, unsurprisingly, all based on books.
“Yes it is a pretty good name,” admits series artistic director and co-creator Yarden Bar-Kochba. “It was proposed by Sadnaot Habama [performing arts school]. It does encapsulate what the series is about.” What the series is about is presenting new children’s books, in a highly visual, pan-sensory and entertaining manner to junior readers and to potential readers ages four to nine. The first installment of the series will take place at the Sadnaot Habama Center in Tel Aviv, at 11 a.m. on June 2. The show is based on a new offering from author-clinical psychologist Eldad Cohen, A Blue Melody with Curls, with further series slots due to present staged productions of junior-oriented offerings written by Eshkol Nevo, Orly Castel-Bloom and 2011 Ofir Prize laureate Hagai Linik.
Play by the Book is also the brainchild of Sadnaot Habama director Rivi Feldmasser, who says that in addition to encouraging youngsters to pick up a book, she was keen to maintain her center’s envelope-pushing artistic ethos. “This project represents the center’s approach, which is based on aiming to become a facility that enables professional artists to develop their abilities through unconventional methods and ways.
Today, the Sadnaot Habama Center serves as a basis for investigating new models and for exposing them to the general public.” The latter, naturally, includes the junior audiences of the Play by the Book shows.
Bar-Kochba says that A Blue Melody with Curls was a natural choice to kick-start the series. “For a start, the name of the book is gorgeous and I have known Eldad’s work for some years now. I really like the way he writes.” Mind you, just because you like a book doesn’t mean it particularly lends itself to staged rendition.
But Bar-Kochba says Cohen’s story offers a good starting point.
“The book has music as a theme, so of course we needed to find a musician to work with.” Here again, Bar- Kochba didn’t need to look too far. “I spoke to Didi Shahar about it. He’s a wonderful songwriter, and I asked him to write some music for the show.”
A Blue Melody with Curls tells the story of a little boy who sets off in search of a tune he likes, and which he needs to hear in order to fall asleep. During his travels he meets a street musician and a woman with a drum who join him on his search.
Together the threesome try their luck with the Minister of Disappearing Tunes.
“Didi wrote some lovely songs for the show, which the actors sing,” says Bar-Kochba. “We also have an accordionist and a percussionist. The actors have really gotten into the spirit of the show and there is a lot of joy in the rehearsals.”
That, says the director, will be conveyed unequivocally to all and sundry next Saturday morning.
“Officially, the show is for four- to nine-year-olds, but I am sure the parents will enjoy it just as much.
There’s something so charming and magical about the story and about the way it is presented.”
Besides the pure entertainment value, Bar-Kochba has some ulterior motives – of the best kind. “The series is definitely designed to try to draw children into the wonderful world of books. Classical music is fading from our lives, as is the theater and, these days, children read fewer and fewer books. It is a matter of what the children are taught.”
While that sounds somewhat didactic, if not dogmatic, Bar-Kochba says you have to keep things light. “I always start with the things that I enjoy. If I enjoy something, there’s a decent chance that I’ll be able to present the material in a way that is enjoyable for others too.”
While the Play by the Book approach is very much a tangible analogue one, Bar-Kochba says she does not reject more contemporary, technologically enhanced avenues of engaging in cultural and educational pursuits. “I prefer reading a real book rather using a Kindle, but there are wonderful things available on computers too. It all depends on how you use them. Didi [Shahar] mostly earns his living in hi-tech, and he manages to marry that with writing wonderful music. So that’s all right.”
The director says the idea behind the series was very much a matter of appealing to as broad a consumer base as possible. Bar-Kochba says she and Feldmasser were not looking to challenge their potential audiences or to appeal specifically to high-brow tastes. “I wanted something simple and direct, and you get that in children’s literature. Children’s books manage to offer simple basic quality.
Children’s shows also have something pure and endearing that you don’t find in productions for adults.”
It seems there were quite a few authors ready and willing to offer some of their work for the series. “We got proposals from lots of writers,” continues Bar-Kochba, “and I think any writer wants their book to come to life.”
Then again, one wonders if writers may not have some problems, at least on occasion, with a director’s idea of how his or her book should be translated into another, more tangible, vehicle of presentation.
The director says that simply hasn’t been the case with the forthcoming production. “Eldad has been very involved in the work on the show and even wrote a couple of new scenes for it. He has attended rehearsals and he has been an important factor in the way the show has evolved. He has a very incisive mind and I am happy to hear his observations about the way the show is developing.”
That, says Bar-Kochba, will be a constant of the Play by the Book series. “Yes, the other authors will also be involved. As far as I am concerned, that’s part of the deal.”
The director says she is also not keen to spoon-feed her young audiences and, in fact, says that children have no problem with understanding inferences and running with them. “You know, children can see a melody and the colors music brings. You don’t have to spell things out for them. It is important to allow them to do some of the work on their own.”
For more information about the Play by the Book series: (03) 624-1654 or