Passover, the Festival of Freedom and Children's Theater

Two theater festivals that take place throughout Passover offer plays that stimulate young minds.

The Haifa International Children's Theater Festival and the Theatroneto Festival, which will be taking place during the intermediate days of Passover, are different in essence and spirit. The Haifa festival, which is more establishment, presents itself as the outstanding theater festival for children and youth in Israel, whereas the veteran festival for one-man shows, which has expanded and in the past five years has also been staging works for young spectators, is more intimate and subversive.

But despite the differences, two plays by young playwrights that are being performed in the two festivals are surprisingly similar. The similarity between them is reflected not only in the similar plots or the adaptation of children's books, but in the playwrights themselves: They are promising writers and directors who are just starting out, Shira Fine and Roni Brodetsky.

Fine, who adapted and directed the play "Only Galia Can See Them," which will be performed in the Theatroneto in Jaffa and is based on the book by Tami Shem-Tov, says that she immediately connected with the heroine, who deals with her problems with the help of a special sense that enables her to imagine the adults as they were in their childhood.

"Something about the girl's special ability greatly interested me," says Fine, 28. "As a child I also had quite a few fears, to a great extent due to curiosity. I couldn't accept that things are self-evident. The enchanting aspect of the story is that Galia switches between reality and her fantasy as a way of dealing with problems. I was also like that: I used to make a play out of everything, dramatize and fantasize a lot."

Fine completed her studies about a year ago in the directing and teaching theater track at the Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College in Tel Aviv. "I felt that I really love to deal with children's plays, but there too my point of view was adult," she says. "I noticed that I don't bring standard children's plays to the audience, but come to it from different places to which I connect personally."

While she was studying and afterwards, Fine worked as a director's assistant in various Theatroneto productions for adults last year. "Only Galia Can See Them" is her first independent directing job.

Brodetsky is behind the play "Noona the Mind Reader," which will be performed at the Haifa festival and is based on the eponymous book by Orit Gidly. Brodetsky, 29, a graduate of the same track in Seminar Hakibbutzim, felt a connection to the girl in the story, whose mother gives her a gift of a magic device with which she can read beyond the words to see what people are really thinking. She came do the book via the writer herself, after studying in her writing workshops.

Brodetsky has already directed several plays, including "She's For Real," about kibbutz society, which was performed at the Tzavta Theater in Tel Aviv, and "The Legend in the Laboratory," which she wrote based on a story by Haim Nahman Bialik, which is performed at Bialik House in Tel Aviv. She is now studying for a master's degree in an interdisciplinary program for the arts at Tel Aviv University.

This year's Haifa International Children's Theater Festival is characterized by the wide variety in styles of the plays in the competition: from a visual play of puppets and objects in "The Sewer of Dreams" directed by Galia Fredkin, to an operetta for children "There's a Dragon in the Yarkon" by Michal Porat and Noa Lev, and up to the play "Will You Hear My Voice," written and directed by Gadi Tzedaka, who brings together a deaf actor with hearing ones.

Another interesting play on the bill is "Maybe an Elephant," a collaboration between writer Eldad Cohen and actress Yarden Bar Kochba, who is becoming prominent in directing children's theater.

The Theatroneto Festival for Children is presenting three plays in the competition this year, which focus on the inner world of children. Aside from "Only Galia Can See Them," other plays will be "Libi's Program" by Galit Singer and Dana Kaila, who also acts, about a girl who invents a television program of her own while she's alone at home; and "Pearls of Summer's End" by Eitan Moshkovsky with actor Michael Charney, about a boy who is waiting for his father and meanwhile develops an entire imaginary world of his own.

Despite the differences between them, the two festivals offer an opportunity to expose children to original culture and creativity, a world that is disappearing in all the surrounding commercialization.

It is worth noting the fact that five of the six plays competing in the Haifa festival and two of the three in Theatroneto are the work of women. It's encouraging to see that the female majority evident in theater and drama departments in Israel is actually being reflected in practice.

Susan Thompson
David Bachar
David Bachar.