‘AL HAGIVAH’ (On the Hill).  (photo credit: SHLOMI YOSEF)
‘AL HAGIVAH’ (On the Hill). (photo credit: SHLOMI YOSEF)
Israel's Int'l Fringe Theater Fest returns for the 43rd year

If you prefer your theatrical fare a little on the left-field side, and like to get a visceral feel of how the thespian pulse is beating, the Akko International Fringe Theatre Festival is for you.

This year’s edition takes place, for the 43rd year, in the northern port town on October 11-14 and, from the looks of it, incoming artistic director Dalia Shimko has put in a shift or two on the programming side. The bear statistics indicate that the four-dayer encompasses dozens of productions, including six Incubator projects, eight off-Akko productions, six guest works and four offerings from abroad. And there’s a bunch of free al fresco entertainment slots.

Shimko says she is delighted with the way the festival has panned out thus far, particularly in light of trying financial conditions. “We are looking forward to a rich and broad program, despite all the budget cuts the festival has been through. That is very satisfying.”

“We are looking forward to a rich and broad program, despite all the budget cuts the festival has been through. That is very satisfying.”

Dalia Shimko

Introducing new theatrical content

An old adage has it that a new broom sweeps clean and the debutante honcho has duly introduced some fresh theatrical content to the festival lay of the land. “I came in with a number of initiatives that were important to me,” says Shimko. She is clearly keen to maintain the event’s cutting-edge ethos and to help keep the Israeli theatrical sector on its toes. “One of my initiatives is the Incubator program.

There will be six shows, each around 30 minutes long. This offers a stage to youngsters who recently graduated from various schools.” And presumably, give them a taste of what life is like in the real world, after leaving the cloistered environment of their academic surroundings.

 PIT IS BASED on ‘The Trial of Pythagoras’ by Israel Prize-winning poet and playwright Natan Alterman. (credit: SHLOMI YOSEF) PIT IS BASED on ‘The Trial of Pythagoras’ by Israel Prize-winning poet and playwright Natan Alterman. (credit: SHLOMI YOSEF)

Shimko goes along with that take, although not fully. “That’s right but it is not the real world in the full sense of the word. The graduates get funding for this, and there are people here who can advise them and help them out if they run into a creative or logistical dead end.” Still, it is an important step in the desired direction and provides the novices with a chance to show the public what they are made of. “They get an opportunity to present themselves and their work,” she says.

Shimko had her work cut out for her in the run-up to the festival. OK, that’s par for the course, as any event organizer will tell you. But Shimko really went through the grinder trying to keep the artistic program down to manageable proportions. “The second project I introduced is The Tent.” That was largely a matter of necessity. “We received so many submissions [for productions] this year – 326!” Not that Shimko’s predecessors had it particularly easy but the current artistic director had the heaviest load to date. “We broke the all-time record,” she laughs. “There were all sorts of special works that are not aimed at competitions and that sort of thing. They are really cool and can attract different kinds of audiences.”

THAT IS a pertinent point. As classical music folk know only too well, it is hard to put bums on seats for concerts with material that strays too far from the straight and narrow of the familiar hits of the discipline. But art, by definition, has to evolve and that entails treading – warily or otherwise – out of our comfort zones.

“We came up with the idea of having a tent, with two performances a day,” Shimko explains. And it is not just about spreading the theatrical net as far and wide as possible. “We will have all sorts of things, including dance and music. We have ventured out of the strict sphere of theater. It is wonderful.”

That is a healthy mindset. In a world awash with information, it is easy to get lost in the finer details and end up confining ourselves to ever-narrower fields of interest. But art cannot live in a disciplinary ghetto, and artists take on influences from every which way, consciously or otherwise.

The eclectic line of programming attack, Shimko believes, also makes marketing sense. “If you have, say, a couple who come to the festival. She likes really special theater and he is not into that. He can go to a music show or dance or something else, while she works her way through productions that may be more challenging and for more specialized tastes.”

Shimko is clearly up for taking the odd leap of faith, including on the community-oriented side of the program. There is, for example, a choreographed outdoor dance work involving local Jewish and Arab women. It seems it is not just the public who may be surprised by what they get up to in Akko next month.

“I don’t know exactly what the women will be doing,” Shimko confesses. “All I know is that they will create some kind of dance-theater or movement happening. It is very intriguing.” Certainly sounds so.

The inclusive-leaning festival content also features the A Musical Fantasy into the Wonderland Show, which will be performed by hearing– and visually-impaired actors and musicians. The production is directed by Hadar Galron from the MRSL Center in Ramat Gan, which caters to the blind and visually impaired. “That is also a unique festival venture,” Shimko notes.

The Akko festival also provides culture consumers with a first sighting of eight hot-off-the-press works, including Al Hagivah (On the Hill), subtitled A Satirical Musical about a Never Never Land. The storyline of the comedic work, crafted by Keren Shefet and directed by Eliana Magon, tells the story of five young girls looking to fulfill a dream to create a utopian community in Israel. The narrative is based on interviews with settlers.

Elsewhere on the first fruits roster, PIT is an intriguing play based on The Trial of Pythagoras by Israel Prize-winning poet and playwright Natan Alterman. PIT goes out on a conceptual limb by referencing the original futuristic play, which pondered philosophical and existential issues relating to encroaching technological advancements at a time when computers were almost unheard of in this part of the world. Maayan Even’s script looks at the folkloristic backdrop to robotics and how technology is replacing core human values with clinical unfeeling scientific thinking.

The non-Israeli lineup, the first for a couple of years, includes a punk rock-inspired choreographed piece from Italy, a Greek-Ukrainian coproduction, and a wild and woolly family-suited offering by award-winning Polish company Teatr Ad Spectatores.

There will also be a fitting tribute to the late celebrated theater director, producer and media personality Yaakov Agmon. His numerous achievements and bio landmarks include heading the Akko festival for many years. His widow, iconic actress Gila Almagor, will be in attendance and will present the first Agmon Prize for lifetime theatrical achievement.

For tickets and more information, visit: https://www.accofestival.co.il.

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