Curtain Rises Over Acre's Abundantly Diverse Fringe Theater Festival

This year's festival, now in its 32nd run, highlights a gamut of productions covering everything from the social protest movement to black comedy.

Zipi Shohat
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Zipi Shohat

Between October 16 and 19, the 32nd Acre Fringe Theater Festival will feature over 500 curtain calls, and 68 different productions by 350 artists. This year's festival, the third under the artistic direction of Smadar Yaaron and Moni (Menashe ) Yosef, is being produced on a fairly low budget of NIS 3.47 million, of which the Culture and Sports Ministry provides NIS 1.6 million and the Acre municipality NIS 1.1 million shekels, with the remainder coming from the Tourism Ministry (NIS 120,000 ), the Galilee Development Authority (NIS 170,000 ), the Mifal Hapayis national lottery (NIS 100,000 ) and sponsorships (NIS 100,000 ). The expected income from ticket sales is just NIS 100,000.

This leaves rather small sums for running the festival, around NIS 40-50,000 for each production in its most prestigious part, the competition. This sum includes sets and props, costumes and accessories, actors' and playwrights' wages, so in other words, this is practically volunteer work for the artists and actors, who are apparently motivated by the desire to create art.

MelakhMayim: A very personal work by Noa Lev. Verbal dance theater. Credit: Eyal Landsman

The competition has two sections this year: Acre 1 competition plays and Acre 2 competition plays, and there are a total of 14 productions competing. Why the separation? According to Yosef, the division is based on submission dates, with the late entrants entered in Acre 2, and stems from the artistic management's desire to provide a platform to young artists even if their works are not perfect. However, the option of combining the two sections is being considered.

Yosef and Yaaron say the artistic focus is on "the necessary connection between the social experience and the world of theater." Yet after a review of the plays it seems that the determination whereby the productions would be the heralds of the social uprising and protest movement was exaggerated. However, Yosef argues that the festival's primary objective is to establish a new language of theater with productions that are location-dependent.

If so, what will happen with the productions after the festival ends?

"To our surprise, last year most of the plays continued outside Acre - at Tzavta, the Tmuna Theater and also the Cameri. It will be hard to do some of the productions outside Acre and they will have to be adapted accordingly, as last year's productions were."

What characterizes your artistic direction?

"We strive for an approach that 'shatters the fourth wall' completely, with materials from the here and now, or materials that emerge through the performance, with the text not being set in several plays. We position the artist in the center."

As the festival's opening approaches, the most talked about productions are Naomi Yoeli and Galia Yoeli's "Nafitz" (Explosive ) about war tourism; "Melakh Mayim" a verbal dance theater performance by Noa Lev produced by the HaZira Performance Art Arena; and "Mein Kampf," the Israeli premiere of George Tabori's play, in a translation by Shimon Levy and directed by Gil Alon. The race for the prizes, it is said, will be between them, but as in any competition, anything could happen.

In "Nafitz" the mother-and-daughter team of Naomi and Galia Yoeli focus on an Israeli family's journey in the wake of Israel's wars, from the 1967 Six-Day War through Operation Cast Lead in 2009, the year when three daughters and a niece, Bessan, Mayar, Aya and Noor, of Dr. Izzaldin Abuelaish were killed by shelling from an Israeli tank. The tragedy of their deaths told from the perspectives of Naomi and Galia Yoeli is an attempt to discuss personal responsibility for the collective forgetfulness, and to a certain extent is a production that talks about the Israeli experience.

Unlike "Nafitz," "MelakhMayim" is a very personal work by Noa Lev, who uses movement and texts to review the reciprocal relations that evolve between the body and the spoken word the moment they are formed. The attempt, in this work, is to create an associative syntax organized as a conscious musical continuum that changes from a state of order to a state of disorder and exposes fears. This piece features Tal Bursztyn, Yael Tal, Hadar Talmor, Mor Mendel and Naama Redler.

"Mein Kampf," which is being performed in Israel for the first time, also does not belong in the category reflecting the Israeli experience. George Tabori, a Hungarian-German Jew, and controversial and intriguing playwright active in recent years, wrote about the meeting of giants - the wandering Jew Herzl and the art student named Hitler - and told the story of the Jew who turned Hitler into Hitler. The play, which won the German literature award, depicts a fictitious meeting between the two - Hitler (Roy Assaf ) and Herzl (Shlomi Bertonov ) - in a forgotten cellar beneath a butcher's shop used as a shelter for the homeless. The homeless Herzl supports himself by selling bibles and the Kama Sutra, and is trying to write his own book; the homeless Hitler is trying to get into the academy of art. A possible and impossible relationship develops between Hitler and Herzl, with the audience being part of the people in the homeless shelter.

Philosophical questions

In "Let's Play" defined as "a crazy cabaret about legislation and social games," the audience also becomes part of the event. The focus is on a television-like game show host (Yaron Sancho Goshen ) who includes the audience in social games that become increasingly cruel. Nadav Fridman's "Ketamim" (Stains ), which he wrote and directed with Hagar Ben Zaken, and also performs in, relates the story of how he coped with the injury and shell shock he experienced until he resumed a normal routine. "R U There" creates an international, Internet encounter of a reserve soldier (Guy Kapulnik ) and his Dutch lover (Laura De Boer ) over Skype. The audience becomes part of the event. For the reserve soldier, the audience is the audience at the performance, and for the Dutch woman in Holland, the audience consists of actors and friends. The lovers chat pleasantly over the phone until the moment the soldier tells his lover that he received a distinguished service medal for killing a terrorist. The act perceived as heroic here is greeted with grating tones there.

Emmanuel Amichai's "Ha-etzev Shel Ha-shachen Amok Yoter" (The Neighbors' Grief is Always Sadder ) is a dance theater performance that touches on 1950s performing arts associations and takes place in a typical kitchen that is for some reason reminiscent of a television studio where four housewives are in relationships that reveal disturbed worlds.

Jason Danino Holt's "Lev" (Heart - a Play in Four Chambers ) is about a man on the operating table as a whole life of loves and disappointments passes before his eyes. It is a personal play where Holt plays the role of the son of the man being operated on, and Eyal Schecter plays his father. Udi Nir's "Torah Shel Eshet Hashagrir" (The Ambassador's Wife's Turn ), directed by Sivan Ben-Yishai, is a tragic farce of the near future, about the ambassador's wife who is arrested during a tour on charges of "cowardice and leaving the country during a time of war." "Saddam Hussein," written and directed by Yonatan Levy, is about the Iraq tyrant who together with four doubles waits in a bunker for the arrival of the American forces.

Anat Katz and Erez Maayan's "JustKatzit" is a kind of fundraiser for a dance performance that reflects the difficult situation of artists in Israel. "Plishato Hashniya shel Napoleon" (The Second Invasion of Napoleon ), written and directed by Marat Parkhomovsky, tells of Napoleon's soldiers who come back to life and conquer Acre, whose residents, i.e. the play's audience, become the occupied people. The Arabic-language "The Bilibilibel" is an absurd theatrical production written and directed by Bashar Murkus, a young artist on whose shoulders the Acre Festival pins great hopes and who is worth keeping an eye on. The play, inspired by Beckett and Mahmoud Darwish's book, "A Memory to Forget," presents three intertwined stories about the existential state and philosophical question of being in a waiting pattern.

"Tsfirmiyahu" (Jeremiah of the Siren ) is a political play written by Nataly Cohen Vaxberg about a young and united settler couple who give birth to a son they did not expect: He is an Arab.

The festival features dozens, if not hundreds of other performances, including street theater under the direction of Jackie Bacher, guest performances, an exhibition of the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design (as part of the Resident Artist Project ) and the main symposium of the festival (named after Dr. Shosh Avigail ) which will focus on the portrayal of the social protest movement in Israeli theater, with Dr. Diti Ronen moderating, which is recommended.



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