A few years ago I was assigned to write a magazine feature about English-language theatre groups in Israel. It’s a subject close to my heart since I’ve been performing with the Light Opera Group of the Negev (LOGON) since moving to the Negev from Jerusalem in 1999. Doing research for the piece I discovered, to my astonishment, that there were at least 20 amateur theatrical companies performing in English in the country – seven of them in Jerusalem alone.
Since then some of these have disbanded – almost always for financial reasons – and others have sprung up. Some of the groups are – shall we say – more polished than others. Some have their own loyal fan base who come to performances, no matter what.
Considering that native English speakers are a tiny percentage of Israel’s population, the number of English-language theatre groups here is a mystery. Clearly, there is hunger for English theater, or, at least, a hunger for performing in English theatre. How DO all these groups manage to fill the halls?
Whatever the level of professionalism, what all the groups have in common is the social aspect, their role as a kind of family and support group – the “community “ in community theatre.
Sadly, the oldest of the English-speaking theater companies in Israel, TACT – Tel Aviv Amateur Community Theater –closed down two years ago. But LOGON, the second oldest group (whose acronym was formed long before the Internet age) is still staging annual full-scale productions of Broadway musicals throughout the country, from Haifa to Be’er-Sheva.
Following LOGON’S lavish production of Beauty & the Beast last year, this season’s show is more somber: the musical drama Man of La Mancha, which will run in February and March.
Earning ones livelihood by performing in English in Israel seems an impossible dream, though there have been some brave attempts. Most of the English-speaking groups are non-profit organizations. We all scramble to raise sufficient funds for our productions from ticket sales, membership fees, occasional grants from the Education Ministry and private donors (read Mom and Dad). LOGON is the only group whose ticket sales support local charitable organizations.
As is the case with most of the other English-language theatre groups, while the performers are amateurs, LOGON’s directors, choreographer, costume designer and musical directors are all professionals. They’re not just professional; these are people who know how to work with non-professionals, which means having an almost saintly degree of patience, as well as skill at using whatever talents a person has to advantage. It often means working with children, who, while a delight on stage, can be pains in the butt during rehearsals.
LOGON’s budget may be bigger and our reach longer than the other English-language theatre companies, but down here in the Negev, out of the loop geographically and far from the Anglo talent pools of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, our challenges are much greater.
Man of La Mancha is a play within a play that’s inspired by Miguel de Cervantes‘s classic masterpiece Don Quixote, and portrays multiple levels of reality. Set in a dungeon of the Spanish Inquisition, Cervantes has been thrown into prison with his manservant Sancho Panza. as he awaits a summons from the Inquisition, Cervantes plays the delusional knight Don Quixote, in a performance for his fellow prisoners Ultimately, Don Quixote’s fantasies turn an unspeakably evil, corrupt world into something splendid.
“To Dream the Impossible Dream” is the most well-known song from the show. That song, from the Hebrew–language version of the play staged in Israel in the 1960’s, became a local popular hit, interpreted, as it was, as symbolic of the success of the Jewish state.
I admit that at this point in our intense rehearsal schedule that idea seems a bit lofty. We’ll be happy if WE remain standing for “another opening of another show,” as a lyric from one of our earlier shows goes.
Click here for ticket and location information. And here are some highlights from previous LOGON performances: