Boycotting Settlement Show Could Cost Habima Actors a Third of Their Salary

One actor has opted not to appear in Kiryat Arba on November 10, but replacement has agreed to step in as one-off, meaning actor will not be hit financially.

Yair Ashkenazi
Yair Ashkenazi
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A performance by Habima of S.Y. Agnon's "A Simple Story," April 2016.
A performance by Habima of S.Y. Agnon's "A Simple Story," April 2016. Credit: Gerard Allon
Yair Ashkenazi
Yair Ashkenazi

Any actors from the Habima national theater who choose not to appear in the company’s production of “A Simple Story” in the West Bank on November 10 may lose a third of their following month's salary.

Habima will be performing “A Simple Story,” based on the novella by S.Y. Agnon, in a community center in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron. The decision has drawn harsh criticism from artists and academics, who called on the theater company to cancel the performance and asked actors to refuse to perform in the settlement.

As a rule, actors at Habima who request to be replaced for a performance, for whatever reason, are required to give a third of the following month’s performances for that same play to their replacement – which in effect costs them a third of that month’s salary if this is the only play they are appearing in.

Last week, the actors, producers and others involved in “A Simple Story” met to discuss the trip to Kiryat Arba. Director Shir Goldberg told Haaretz that her view differs from that of Habima, but that once the play began its run, the authority to make such decisions belonged to the national theater – and every actor must act according to his/her conscience.

One of the production’s actors has already informed Habima he does not intend to perform in Kiryat Arba. His replacement, Shahar Raz, says he has told Habima he will decline to accept a third of the following month’s performances. “It is not connected to punishment by the theater, fascism and such things, but an ethical rule between colleagues,” he said.

This is what usually happens in every theater and children’s theater, added Raz, because it’s a matter between friends. “The theater honored my decision,” he said.

It’s possible that other actors who oppose performing in Kiryat Arba are afraid to say they won’t perform there because they’re worried about losing money, as well as the effect on their professional status within Habima and elsewhere, said sources in Habima.

The actors performing in “A Simple Story” have yet to speak publicly about the Kiryat Arba show. Dr. Haim Weiss – a senior lecturer in Hebrew literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, whose protest post on Facebook last week started a storm over the matter – sent a letter to Habima’s management on Tuesday. In it, Weiss wondered about the actors’ silence.

“The fact that in every public discussion the voice of the actors themselves is not heard in the press and on social networks is surprising,” Weiss wrote in his letter, which Haaretz has obtained a copy of.

Weiss proposed that Habima’s management clarify if it is preventing its actors from expressing their opinions, as well as stating that actors who choose not to perform in Kiryat Arba will not be harmed in any way – financially or otherwise.

Habima said in response: “This is an arrangement between actors and not between the theater and the actor, and certainly not a fine or punishment. Any actor who requests a replacement, the replacement – in return for learning the role at the expense of their free time – is asked to appear in some of the [subsequent] performances. Therefore, a custom exists of providing a third [of the shows] for the replacement, and two thirds for the original actor.

“If an actor who requests a replacement finds a replacement actor who is willing to replace him for only one appearance, the theater will approve it,” Habima added.

As for the allegation of silencing actors, Habima said, “In every large institution, the spokesman’s organization coordinates the media requests on the various matters related to the theater. But there is no one clear-cut directive on the issue.”

Habima’s policy on replacing actors – which has been in place for years and is also the policy in a number of other repertory theaters – usually involves cases where the actor requests in advance to be replaced, for a variety of reasons. Such a replacement increases certain costs for the theater, which occasionally has to hold additional rehearsals of the entire cast with the replacements.

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