Harlem Joins Hands With Southern Israeli Town for Theater Outreach

Reciprocal visits between New York and the Negev aim to make theater accessible to underprivileged community.

The Dimona Cuturalab theater and New York’s Classical Theatre of Harlem have agreed to a long-term cooperation program, including a visit by the Harlem theater’s artistic director, Ty Jones, to Dimona next month, where he will give a theater workshop.

The cooperation includes a plan to “twin” the two theaters that is expected to produce two weeks a year of joint programming. There will be reciprocal visits by the two institutions’ artistic directors over the coming months, with Jones’ visit to be followed by a visit to New York by Noa Raban Knoller of the Dimona theater.

On October 7, the Dimona theater is to mount a production called “Afehadbeshumakom” (known in English as “No(se)onenowhere”), to be performed in Dimona in Jones’ presence. Jones’ theater workshop in Dimona will be open to the local community as well as actors from the Culturalab Theater.

Dimona is home to many of Israel’s Black Hebrews, a group that initially came to Israel from Chicago in 1969 and claim ancestral roots in ancient Israel. The Classical Theatre of Harlem was founded in 1999 in the northern Manhattan neighborhood that has been so closely associated over the decades with African-American cultural activity. The Dimona theater was established eight years later.

The New York theater emphasizes classic American plays and has a much larger cast than the five actors at the theater in Dimona, in Israel’s south. Nonetheless, the two institutions have a lot in common, says Raban Knoller. “[The Harlem theater has] a very professional cast which presents classical productions and works within the community in the belief that at a theater located in a setting in which there are also underprivileged populations, its art must be made accessible to the community in a convincing way. We share that social approach. Part of our desire is to be innovative [and] original, but also to make our work accessible to the community.”

A week-long visit to Dimona by members of the Harlem theater cast is planned for next year, when they will perform a production in English with subtitles in Hebrew. A theater workshop is planned in connection with that visit as well. A reciprocal visit to New York by the cast of the Dimona theater will follow in 2015, featuring the performance of a play and a workshop for the Harlem community.

Jones is a versatile figure who has appeared in a range of acting roles on stage as well as on television and in film. He has also been involved in writing and theater production. He was in the cast of the Broadway production of the play “Enron” and produced the Off-Broadway hit “Creation: A Clown Show.” He was also in the cast of a Tony Award-winning production of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” with Ethan Hawke and Kevin Kline and a production of “Julius Caesar” with Denzel Washington. He has appeared in “Macbeth” and “Hamlet” as well. In 2006, “Time Out New York” magazine featured Jones as “One of the 25 to Watch” for the year. He also starred in Brian de Palma’s 2007 docudrama film “Redacted.”

Olivier Fitoussi