‘As I Like It’…. But Really ‘As You Like It’

Some 13 years ago I walked onto a stage in Merkaz Hamagshimim’s Center Stage Theater in Jerusalem’ German Colony never knowing that I would not only one day run the place, but that I would have one of the most revolutionary experiences of my life while taking part in a play.

The play was called As You Like It by William Shakespeare, and it was directed by the one and only Shannon Kisch, a woman who went on to become a legend in community theater in Jerusalem, especially when it comes to all things Shakespeare. Shannon also became a personal mentor of mine in all things theater. Although I played a bit part, (there are no small parts, only small actors) that involved mostly throwing apples at Shimi Weiss and playing two recorders out of my nose in harmony with each other, the experience was one that was eye-opening for me. Here was a group of talented actors and performing artists who put on a production that was heart-warming, richly entertaining, and true, in its own way, to the bard’s vision of entertaining the masses while getting a few messages about life across. (See Jacques speech “All The World’s a Stage” and Touchstone’s “Upon a Lie Seven Times Removed” and Rosalind’s “A Lean Cheek Which You Have Not…)

The current cast of As You Like It by Jerusalem Public Theater. (Ita Arbit)

That production saw at least three participants go on to become professional actors, and the director open her own professional Shakespeare company which lasted for a few years afterward in Jerusalem and inspired many other artists.

I cherish the memories I made performing with such a group of talented actors in that show and I learned a lot from my experience, so much so that I ended up opening my own theater company in Bar Ilan University, before taking over Merkaz Hamagshimim when Shannon departed, before that closed and I had  the opportunity to open up J-Town Playhouse at the AACI.

Fast forward some 13 years to this past spring. A  new group in town, known as the Jerusalem Public Theater being run by Jerusalem community theater veteran Toby Trachtman and others, decided to mount their first production a year and a half after I retired my position as Artistic Director at J-Town Playhouse. And would you believe it, their opening volley into the foray of Jerusalem Community Theater Scene would be the same show that really jump-started my career back in 2005. ( I had previously been in a few motley college productions and one musical “The Pirates of Penzance” with JEST, but I attribute most of my early learning of how to interact with a cast and how to put on a high-quality play to my experiences at Center Stage in As You Like It)

My purpose for producing and directing theater was always to put on shows that I myself as an audience member would like to see. While some performances were blockbusters, others weren’t always popular choices. But one type of show always brought a crowd, Shakespeare.

So, without thinking twice I signed up for an audition. As I came in, I must say that I was quite emotional, knowing my particular history with this show, and I was also a bit gung-ho about doing it in a way that pays respect to the performance that I hold ever so dearly in my mind from 13 years ago. The directorial team of Toby Trachtman and Dinah Elashvili, appropriately reigned me in at times when I needed it and let me loose at times when I was able to add a flourish to the performance under their guiding hand. After 13 years in the Director’s chair, I can honestly say that it feels good to be on the other side of the lights once again, and that this show, is on that I would want to share with an audience.

The directorial team made the show their own and took an extremely talented cast, of many community theater vets and some newbies and blended them together in a way that would make Shakespeare, as well as critics like myself, smile widely when they walk out of the theater.

As the show is set to open this Tuesday with four performances over a week, it is set to be a true gem set in the crown of Jerusalem community theater.

I must say that the show is cut down significantly from Shakespeare’s original script and runs just under two hours to make it family and kid-friendly. There is a lot of humor, both slapstick and highly witty for people of all ages and senses of humor. And yes, there are even a few tips of the hat to the performance I had some 13 years ago (I randomly play an instrument for one, I won’t tell you how or where you’ll have to come to see it for yourself to find out) as well as other performances of Shakespeare over the past few years in Jerusalem (namely 12th night by Theater int he Rough and Winter’s tale by J-Town Playhouse) that have been thrown is as theatrical “easter eggs” if you will.  (I personally will buy a beer for the person who can find both)

The cast in this performance is no less talented and no less driven than the one I shared the stage within my days as a theater rookie. I have the utmost respect for them, the camaraderie that we have shared over the past few months is wonderful and I hope it continues long past our final curtain call on June 26th.

So as my own acting career comes full circle in yet another fashion, I ask myself, what lies in store for the future? In truth, I know not the answer currently, as few do, but I know that whatever projects I will take part in, will be ones that I hope come out as wonderfully as this one did. I hope that I get the chance to work with a cast and crew as talented and easy-going yet full of dedication as this one was. And above all, I hope that this is a show that the audiences will want to see as much as I do and that they will learn from seeing the piece as much as I have by performing in it.

While this time, I am but a small cog in the wheel for this production, I know, that thanks to the terrific cast and crew, that this show will come out as I like it, and As You Like It too.

The show stars: Tamara Trachtman, Evan Gadol, Layla Schwartz, Nachum Hackett, Simon Montagu, Michael Ben Eliezer, Robin Stamler, Gilad Petranker, Rivka Deray, Yisroel Levitt, Ella Ben Emanuel, Ruth Stiebel, Eliezer Friedman and myself.

Performances of As You Like It by the Jerusalem Public Theater will take place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, June 19th, 20th, and 21st as well as Tuesday, June 26th at 7:30 p.m. at the Small Khan Theater in the heart of Jerusalem. For tickets please call 02-630-3600 or visit the theater’s website.


About the Author
Raphael Poch is a Canadian-Israeli playwright, producer, director, actor and journalist. He is the International Media Spokesperson for United Hatzalah and runs the First City Improv Troupe.
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