Habimah theater returns home

New Habimah foyer encloses original iconic columns that characterized the entrance when the theater first opened.

The new Habimah foyer 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Habimah)
The new Habimah foyer 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Habimah)
Habimah is home again, at last.
When the curtain rises on Monday evening (November 21) on Hanoch Levin’s Morris Shimel playing on the mainstage in Rovina Hall, the Habimah National Theater will take possession of its newly refurbished home after five years of nomadic existence in Tel Aviv.
“Habimah will once again be a cultural focus, as was the original intent, but this time within a 21st-century context,” Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said at Sunday’s press tour of the theater, adding defiantly “I think that [architect] Ram Carmi has created a most beautiful space.”
While on the outside much of Habimah looks a bit like a sparkly, white fortress, inside it is all light and sweeping spaces, except for the passageways connecting the various theaters, which have low ceilings, a bit like a subway tunnel.
Tel Avivians have become accustomed to the vast new wraparound glass windows that surround Habimah’s main lobby. The new front encloses the original iconic columns that characterized the entrance when the theater opened in the 1930s. Now, painted white, they soar the entire height of the lobby atrium, which is indeed a thing of beauty.
This version of Habimah is open to the outside, both on its Tarsat Street side and along the length of the new public space – replacing the old parking lot – that complements both Habimah and the Mann Auditorium, itself now undergoing renovations slated for completion in October 2012.
“The building is now part of the urban experience because those outside can see the activity within [the lobbies], and those inside are still connected to the city outside,” Huldai said.
The new Habimah now has four playing spaces. Rovina, Messkin and Bertonov halls have all been thoroughly redone with new seating – made locally – new color schemes, up-to-the-minute technology and a new intimacy.
Rovina Hall now has 930 dark blue seats. The steeply raked balcony is now closer to the stage and the stage itself has been extended, at the expense of the orchestra pit. An orchestra, if required, will now have its own space in the rear, or be on the stage itself.
And, unprecedented in Israel, Rovina has six VIP boxes, two of them right next to the stage.
Moreover, tucked into an alcove near the hall will be Mishkan Rovina, featuring a dressing room and living room and etched glass portraits of nine Habimah founders.
The 320-seat Messkin Hall, with rich aubergine seats, now also has a balcony, bringing the audience closer to the stage.
The basement Bertonov Theater retains its three-sided shape, but it too has been redone in a sort of yellow-blue with another exit “making it a safer space,” Habimah CEO Odelia Friedman said.
Next to it is Habimah 4, a two-story café-theater created in what was the former carpentry shop. It is designed for intimate presentations of theater, music and poetry.
Before the renovation, both Bertonov and Messkin had separate, outside entrances. Now all the theater’s spaces are inside, interconnected with handsome staircases and parquet flooring throughout.
There are two elevators, one on each side of the main lobby, but they are tucked away with not much space between wall and elevator door.
The renovation cost a total of NIS 105 million with NIS 57.5m. provided by the Tel Aviv Municipality and the rest coming from the government.
“It’s entirely untrue that there have been massive cost overruns,” Huldai insisted. “We have remained on budget but the scope of the work was extended beyond the more modest renovation planned originally,” the refurbishing of two halls.
Other shows going up are Amoz Oz’s The Same Sea at Messkin next Sunday, and at Bertonov, in early December, a new play by Avraham Raz starring Leah Kenig, Not in Daytime and Not at Night. The official inauguration will take place in January.
In a niche just off the lobby sits the original granite cornerstone laid in 1935. It was discovered during excavations for the current renovation.
What goes around comes around.