Seven short original plays, written and directed by English-speaking teenagers and young adults, will be performed in Jerusalem at the Khan Theater later this month.
Many of those who have written and directed their own plays are also acting in scenes written by their peers in a unique, collaborative effort.
Each of those who wrote a play was mentored by an established theater creator from the US, via Zoom.
The plays are: The Aftermath by Hadassah Rapaport; Your Dark Sides by Alexa Myers; A Break-In and a Break-Through by Hannah Geitel Elbaum; Crossing Lanes by Livia Bienenstock; Off with the Script by Lizzie Edery; Don’t Cut the Lights by Eitan Konstantyn; and Dinner with the Don by Daniel E. Deutsch.
Meet the actors and creators
Many of the creators and actors for this theater festival have made aliyah with their families. This festival is the first theatrical experience for many of those involved in the process, while others have been in theater for years.
Konstantyn, who wrote a short musical for the festival, states that his work is a “dark comedy that plays with the archetypical, Disney-renaissance, Broadway-type musical. But, in the opening number, the main character sees the audience, and from there he’s not quite okay. So he sort of halfway breaks the fourth wall.
“This is the first project I’ve fully taken my hands on. I’ve helped with writing and direction, but I’d never created something and directed it and gotten to a point where it can be put on stage. I always fall apart somewhere earlier. I’m really proud to have something that I can release and say ‘This is mine, this is my creation before the army’ because I’m joining the army two days after the shows.”
“This is the first project I’ve fully taken my hands on. I’ve helped with writing and direction, but I’d never created something and directed it and gotten to a point where it can be put on stage. I always fall apart somewhere earlier. I’m really proud to have something that I can release and say ‘This is mine, this is my creation before the army’ because I’m joining the army two days after the shows.”Eitan Konstantyn
Elbaum, who is writing and directing her own play, is presenting a crime comedy-drama about a married couple who work the same job as security for a bank, when on one shift they find themselves in the middle of a robbery.
Shua, who is making his theater debut in this festival, said that he found out about the festival through a friend. “I always thought it was really cool being an actor,” he said. “When I got to do improv for the first time, it felt so easy. It just took me over and now I love doing it.”
Many of the creators say that the most difficult part of the entire process was to start writing the script and getting it done, while many actors said that the most difficult part was remembering their lines, as many of them are acting in more than one play.
“Whenever you’re learning lines for these short plays, they’re all so separate, whereas with one long play, you can sorta put the whole thing together,” said Ezzy, another actor in the festival. “If you want to rehearse with other people, you have to make lots of plans and coordinate with groups of people doing different plays.”
The theater festival is being put on by the Crossroads Theater Shed, a small faction of the Crossroads Jerusalem organization. The event will also include improvisation in between the plays and a talkback from the young creatives to the audience at the end of the event. All the plays are around 10 to 20 minutes.
What is Crossroads?
Crossroads, which first opened in 2001, is an organization that provides a therapeutic and supportive space to over 1,000 teenagers and young adults between the ages of 14 and 22 every year. Its mission is to provide programs for Anglo teens and young adults in Israel in order to help them reach their potential and thrive.
The organization addresses certain challenges, such as housing, mental health or general safety. People ranging from students to IDF soldiers to National Service workers all have sought out Crossroads for assistance. Some aspects of Crossroads, such as the Theater Shed or the late Thursday night hangouts, are open to those up to age 24.
“Crossroads is a safe place. You’re having a bad day or something else is going on, and you can just drop by and hang out with your friends,” Shua said.
“The Crossroads Theater Shed helps you work on your confidence because you can’t be an actor if you’re afraid of being silly. It’s a very freeing experience.”Hannah Geitel Elbaum
“The Crossroads Theater Shed helps you work on your confidence because you can’t be an actor if you’re afraid of being silly. It’s a very freeing experience,” said Elbaum. “I also have a bit of a stutter, and I find that when I’m acting or singing and focus on what I’m doing, I don’t stutter because it gives me the confidence to not think as much.”
The organization also offers educational programs, gap year services, and programs for creative arts, from which the Crossroads Theater Shed started.
In addition to the arts, the therapy, and educational classes offered, the main energy at Crossroads is providing a space where teenagers and young adults can drop in and hang out during the week.
The organization moved last year to 34 Jaffa Road. “The move to our new space has been a growth opportunity for Crossroads as an organization. All of our programs have developed and grown both qualitatively and quantitatively,” said Crossroads director Robbie Sassoon. “The Crossroads Theater Shed is an example of the teens expressing their voice, their creativity and leadership. Every one of the participants truly shines! It’s such a wonderful project.
“We are thrilled that the Jerusalem Foundation is our partner in this initiative,” Sasoon continued.
The organization has had its own music program and creative writing classes. It also assists young people in Israel to find employment.
The Theater Shed
Crossroads Theater Shed began in 2017 with a small group of teenagers performing scenes in English and honing their acting craft. The theater festival later this month will be the fourth that it has produced. Previous festivals include even one over Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic, in collaboration with the theater company Chickenshed, which is based in the UK. The first festival had around 10 people participating; this upcoming festival will have double the number.
The Crossroads Theater Shed runs programs that include acting improvisation, playwriting and putting on theater productions, all of which are run by artistic director C.B. Davies.
“It’s really great to have the playwright mentors from the US coming back, since they really enjoy the process of working with the youth on Zoom. That process is always really cool and special to watch,” said Davies.
“Getting the teenagers and young adults to join really depends on how many characters there are. This time we have seven plays, so there are many different characters, so there’s no small actor. There’s always something for someone to do, even if it’s a smaller role. Some have more roles than others.
“That’s what Crossroads Theater Shed is for me. It’s really inclusive. It’s bringing together youth of different ages and from different backgrounds. The youth who write plays trust other youths to create and become these characters; it’s great to watch,” he continued. “They’re all at different points in their lives. Some are in school, some are in Sherut Leumi (National Service).”
Davies did, however, note the difficulties of rehearsing for these shows.
“A really big challenge is space. Crossroads doesn’t necessarily have the space to have rehearsal more than once a week. We have minimal time. Just considering the busy schedules of the youth, not everyone is able to come all the time. Crossroads is built for people to drop in, so asking people to be committed is a challenge. But so far, it’s worked really well.
“Being an adult, we take things too seriously sometimes. Just watching them work, having fun, trusting each other, seeing them learn to trust each other is amazing. I’m overseeing everything, but they’re producing the plays for the most part.
“Having the ability to actually get these written works produced, for the youth to see the audience and all the people coming to support them, to see the faces of the playwrights when they get to talk about their experience with the audience and they get to be asked questions. It’s great to see how much enjoyment and wonder they get to do that. To share part of their stories with an audience is really special.”
Many of the youths participating in the festival praised Davies for his professionalism and for the opportunity he has given them to express their creativity.
The wider Anglo theater community in Jerusalem
The Crossroads Theater Shed is just one small part of the larger Anglo theater community that exists in Jerusalem. Other companies have put on community theater plays and musicals in English in the past few decades, ranging from plays by Shakespeare and Gilbert & Sullivan, to contemporary musicals.
One theater company, CBDB Productions, was founded by Davies with his wife, Dena.
More information on all the theater companies can be found at jetcommunity.org., the Jerusalem English Theater Community on Facebook, or @jetcommunity on Instagram.
Information about Crossroads can be found at www.crossroadsjerusalem.org, Tzomet Jaytown on Facebook or @crossroadsjerusalem on Instagram. ❖
The Crossroads Theater Festival will put on three performances, between March 21-23, each starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here: www.khan.co.il/events/409/Young-Playwrights