Speechless theater

“These days, words have been almost completely emptied of meaning. The visual medium is more immediate and can transport an audience to a different place and mind-set."

Galilee Multicultural Theater performs ‘Three, Four and to Work.’ (photo credit: DANA GOSHEN)
Galilee Multicultural Theater performs ‘Three, Four and to Work.’
(photo credit: DANA GOSHEN)
Pablo Ariel has been carving his own path in the performing arts for quite some now. The youthful looking 62-year-old Argentinean-born theater director and actor has been walking on the wild side of the entertainment sector practically ever since he made aliya 45 years ago.
He currently oversees the artistic output of the Galilee Multicultural Theater (a.k.a. Zikit – “chameleon”) company, which he founded “to provide a multicultural, different and refreshing look at the complexity of life and reality in Israel” as the theater website puts it.
The troupe performs shows for children and adults, adding into the thespian – generally wordless – action all kinds of cross-disciplinary enhancement, including video, dance, live music and puppets.
The next Galilee Multicultural Theater offering takes place tomorrow (Saturday) at 11:30 a.m. at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv in the form of a comic children’s show called Three, Four and to Work. Typically, the wordless work incorporates video, animation and an eclectic range of props. Ariel is the director, with Jenny Hanna Adlerblum and Hila Spektor taking care of the physical onstage and hi-tech elements, to a suitably alluring musical backdrop provided by Gustavo Bustamante.
Ariel came to Israel with what he calls “the normal rebellious spirit of a 17-yearold,” a sketchy but enthused background in amateur theatrics, as a member of the Hakoah youth movement in Buenos Aires, but not much else. The early 1970s found him living in Jerusalem, where he encountered some like-minded, equally fired-up artists keen to set out their envelope- pushing stall to an Israeli public that was largely still conservative in its cultural leanings and had just endured the seismic political and security upheaval of the Yom Kippur War.
“There was a bunch of people who met just before the war and started working together just after it,” he recalls. “Each of us brought our own personal and creative background.“ Typically, most of the youngsters came from the left-field side of the performing arts sector, and the venture gradually morphed into active service. Post-Yom Kippur War Israel was a very different place – politically, socially and culturally – from the country that had been awash with the euphoria of the brilliant military gains of the Six Day War. The 1973 campaign had shaken the place up and also led to a flurry of artistic activity that challenged the formerly cast-iron tenets of the Establishment.
The Nikui Rosh gang began to unleash biting satirical sketches on the then sole national TV channel, while Ariel and his pals sought other avenues of expressing their own ideas on the state of the nation.
“We started out with street theater at places like the plaza in front of the Jerusalem Theater and near the Israel Museum,” he says.
Jerusalemites, it seems, responded energetically to the alfresco sociopolitically charged shows.
“People were hurting back then, and our performances struck a good chord with some and outraged others,” he says.
The members of the group began to find an increasingly cohesive common language.
“We started to explore our way forward,” explains Ariel. “We all brought different skills to the scene – acrobatics, puppetry, clowning and other things.”
It was a steep learning curve, but one that all concerned traversed with great enthusiasm.
“Each time we’d come up with a new project, which was based on something we didn’t know, and we’d learn it together.
That was how we searched for our way,” he says.
Those were pioneering days.
“It was the very beginning of what is now called visual theater, but it didn’t have a name back then,” Ariel continues.
It all went swimmingly for the youngsters, but at a price.
“We had lots of success – too much, in fact,” notes Ariel. “We suddenly felt we were too young for all this, and that it was only a matter of time before we’d get gobbled up by the powers that be, and the industry. We had shows that ran 300 times all over the country.”
It seems that Israeli culture consumers were happy to be challenged back then.
“I put together a children’s production, which was very different from mainstream entertainment, and it was very popular,” he adds.
Ariel says that things are very different now, and he bemoans the stultifying hold of commercial TV on what is considered to be palatable entertainment.
“Unlike today, audiences were very open. When Channel 2 came along, that closed a lot of creative avenues,” he says.
Considering the seemingly infinite eminently accessible entertainment possibilities offered by the Internet, one might have expected the cultural palette to take in new colors and shades over time.
“Unfortunately, people are less open today,” Ariel observes. “That goes for all age groups, sadly including children.
That’s a great shame.”
FOLLOWING THE Jerusalemites’ unexpected and overpowering run of success in the 1970s, the members of the group dispersed to different parts of the globe.
Most returned here within 18 months, while Ariel toured the world with a oneman show for four years. The production kept running after he came back to Israel, and he performed it here and abroad for 15 years.
By now, Ariel’s theatrical approach had diverged from that of his former cohorts, who meanwhile had set up the Train Theater in Jerusalem. Ariel did some TV – including working for three years on the Hebrew version of Sesame Street – and eventually moved to the Tefen region of the Western Galilee. While most entertainment professionals would balk at the idea of being based away from the environs of Tel Aviv, Ariel says there are advantages to living and working far from the madding crowd.
“The Western Galilee is a marvelous place,” he notes. “There is a mosaic of people from all ethnic communities, religions and cultural backgrounds living side by side. I find it very inspiring.”
Ariel has been busy since he relocated northward. He has produced a series of educational films about human rights that are shown in schools across the country. And peace and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have exported the film to many other countries.
Ariel has also done stints as artistic director of Street and Fringe Theater for the Israel Festival, the Acre Festival and the Haifa Children’s Theater Festival. He also collaborated with various symphony orchestras here and abroad as a stage director, actor and scriptwriter of children’s concerts.
He says he prefers to work without dialogue, as it offers him more freedom for maneuver, as well as getting the audience on board.
“I like to work with a creative audience – particularly with regard to children, but not exclusively. I like to get their input, and everyone brings their own input to the show, based on their individual life experience. I feel a different energy when that happens,” he says.
It is something that Ariel would like to see happening more often.
“Part of the problem is that today’s audiences are not used to being active. If you look at a child who is watching television, there’s nothing going on with him. His eyes look dead,” he laments.
Ariel also feels that words have been all but pummeled into non-dimensional submission.
“These days, words have been almost completely emptied of meaning. The visual medium is more immediate and can transport an audience to a different place and mind-set. I use all the elements of the plastic arts, together with theater and movement. In a way, it is a bit like dance. I think it is a better way of getting ideas across,” he says.
For tickets and more information about Three, Four and to Work: (03) 510- 5656; www.suzannedellal.org.il and www.zikit.info.