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This year's Acre Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre opened yesterday, in a giant tent in Acre's Old City.

During yesterday's opening ceremony, special awards were given to Dr. Shimshon Shoshani and Prof. Shimon Levi for their contributions to the festival.

Shortly before the ceremony, an intriguing photographic exhibition by Eyal Landesman opened. Entitled "Acco-Avignon - 15 Minutes," it focuses on the 15 minutes before performing artists take the stage. This summer the exhibition will be displayed at the Avignon Festival.

The festival, also known as the Israeli Fringe Theatre Festival, will run through Thursday. This year is different in nearly every possible way from the preceding 24: The festival was originally scheduled for October, during the intermediate days of Sukkot, but was moved to coincide with Hanukkah after riots broke out between Jewish and Arab residents of the city. The entire festival has been scaled down, with only 4,500 tickets offered for sale - about one-third that of previous years.

Ticket prices, too, have been scaled back, to NIS 50, while groups and students pay NIS 30. The street performances will take place inside the festival tent, with local performers only. Entrance will be free, in a departure from past years.

The nine plays in the competition will be staged at the Knights' Hall in the Old City. The festival's budget this year is only NIS 3.4 million, and ticket sales are expected to garner only NIS 40,000.

Despite the difficulties, which include forecasts of rain, about 35 percent of the tickets have been sold already, and some shows are sold out. These include "The Madwomen of Jaffa," written by Chava Ortman, Roi Naveh and Yael Navi, as well as tonight's performance of "Two-and-Twenty Pictures," written and directed by Ruthie Osterman.