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Theatre in Spotlight -Theatre Company Jerusalem Director :Gabriella Lev
By Moti Sandak

October 2003

Name of Theatre: Theatre Company Jerusalem

Director: Gabriella Lev

Theatre MISSION: Theatre Company Jerusalem focuses on exploring ancient Jewish texts and oral traditions through the performing arts and related media. It aims to evolve a particular Israeli art form; one which is reflective of Jerusalem’s cultural and geographical context; sensitive to the unique diversity of Israeli society and the sounds that exist within the Hebrew language and the fabric of life in Jerusalem.
TCJ aspires to recreate the most ancient art of theater, that of oral tradition.
This spiritual tradition always aimed to uplift its listeners, (and did not merely entertain). It concerned itself with the desire to reach the deepest layers of human existence.
Parallel to the creation of productions, TCJ has developed a unique and powerful educational method, which interrelates and exchanges with the artistic works of the company. TCJ strives to create and implement many innovative educational programs in co-operation with many of Israel’s institutions of higher learning.

Theatre History:
Over the past twenty years, TCJ has produced over twenty works and has performed to over 300,000 people in Israel and abroad. Like living organisms, these plays are constantly evolving to fit contemporary realities, their shape and content pliable (as are the polemics of Jewish study) yet their core strength and essence, eternal.
Theatre Company Jerusalem was born twenty years ago when Gabriella Lev, a professional actress, teacher and the director of the Jerusalem Drama Workshop conceived the idea of dramatizing and performing the story of Bruria, as it appears in the Talmud with the paradoxes it presents. She began exploratory work alone. Then she involved a poet and dramatist Aliza Elion –Israeli. Later the two were joined by Ruth Wieder-Magan a singer and an artist. Together they pioneered the realization into theatre of the Jewish Sources by creative theatre methods coupled with intense study of the sources. Joyce Miller, a University lecturer and pioneer of alternative theatre in Israel was invited by Lev to join them as director and she became a pivotal member of the creative team, imparting to the group many methods and techniques that they use to this day.

National and International Cooperation:
1. International Festivals
· The Edinburgh Festival, Scotland
· Kulturhuset, Stolkholm Sweden
· The Festival for Mediterranean Theater, Lyon France
· The Woman’s Festival for Performing Arts, Jerusalem
· The Festival for Theater from Ancient Myths, Hungary
· The Israel Expo, New York
· The Israel Festival, Jerusalem
· The Festival of the Promised Land, Lodz Poland
· Sacred Music Festival, India, Thailand and England
· The Acre Festival for Alternative Theater, Israel
· Master classes and performances, Japan

2. International Projects
· Residencies USA &Sweden
With a generous grant from the Covenant Foundation, and in cooperation with the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, Theatre Company Jerusalem developed a new concept for the enhancement of Jewish culture in American communities. A residency of TCJ extends from 4 to 7 days during which the Company becomes an artistic and dynamic Israeli presence within the community. The programs include multiple events and a variety of performances, lectures, workshops and study sessions specifically designed to meet each community‘s needs. Residencies have been carried out in Millwakee, Boston, Baltimore, Stolkholm, Sweden, and more.

· Bridges of Co-operation with Third World
Theatre Company Jerusalem participates in Festivals in India, Thailand, and Japan. These connections have demonstrated what art can do to foster understanding and build bridges of co-operation between cultures that seem very different from each other. Through these experiences a co-operative project with the Tibet House has been developed. The aim is to create cultural exchange, which will foster new understandings about diverse peoples. This we see of paramount importance today when the world seems to be ever more divided in general and when Israel’s image in particular needs to be enhanced.

3. National Projects
· Seminar for Educators: “The Jewish Narrative as a Theatrical Experience”
Theatre Company Jerusalem was approached by the National Jewish Studies Center for Teachers In-Service Training to create a unique program, which trains educators in the use of dynamic communication and artistic tools in the exploration of traditional Jewish Texts (Torah, Talmud and Midrash). This program has reached over 100,000 teachers and students throughout Israel and has affected a major change in the way traditional Jewish texts are taught in the Israeli school system. TCJ works in co-operation with the Ministry of Education and all the major teacher Seminaries in the country. (The New York Federation generously helps fund this program.)

· Women’s Leadership via Theatre-Beit Midrash

A forum in which the archetypes of the great women in the Jewish sources are internalized in order to foster leadership. The course was created in co-operation with Bar Ilan University, the Center for the Study of Women in Judaism, and is being executed with the generous sponsorship of the Hadassah Foundation. Since its inception 2 years ago TCJ has conducted courses for the Israel Defense Forces as well as the National Teachers Training Center. Over 40 groups from the Galil to Eilat are involved in this indigenous project.
Work with Underprivileged Women: The course has proven itself an exceptionally powerful tool for the population labeled “women in distress”. A number of these young women were integrated into the first course and their personal growth was noticeable from seminar to seminar. They, in turn, made significant contributions to the program and enriched other participants with their experience

· Odem-Mentorship for Young Artists of Excellence
Specifically during these difficult times, as an affirmation of the faith in the restorative power of art Theatre Company Jerusalem is carrying out a mentorship project, ODEM that helps young highly gifted artists in Israel. Groups of young artists receive monetary, artistic and technical assistance and guidance in producing and presenting their works. A three-day Artistic Happening held both in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in co-operation with the Israel Fringe and the Gerrard Behar Centre of the performing Arts was held to packed houses. The program is continuing with on-going events in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Prizes and awards:

· United Nations Prize during The International Year of the Woman
· Meir Margalit Prize for Outstanding Theatrical Achievement
· Acre Alternative Festival Prize
· Edinburgh Fringe First (at the Edinburgh Theater Festival) 

Repertoire 2003-4:
1.Sara Take2 (also plays in English)
The mythic mother of the Jews dies as the New Year is born.
Through a dizzying world of feeling, soul-searching, forgiving and asking for forgiveness, memories and unanswered questions, we see Sara confront the Sacrifice of Isaac, her only child.

In a retelling which transcends time, place Gabriella Lev’s Esther stands beside a ragtag trunk and challenges our collective memory. With pieces of velvet and silk and gold lamé she recreates the elements of a story in a voice, which has a thousand faces. Lev transforms instantaneously from storyteller to performer to shaman as she seamlessly weaves into the archaic story, her own family anecdotes as a child of Holocaust survivors. Thus myth collapses into reality and Esther’s ancient tale becomes a personal story

3.Maaseh Bruria
Ma’aseh Bruria is an innovative composite of ancient Talmudic and Midrashic texts, in which the original language of the Talmud is interwoven with contemporary Hebrew into a distinctively new idiom. The play is based upon the controversial and tragic “act” of Bruria. The enigma of the death of Bruria remains a perplexing and unsolved mystery to the present day.

4.Noshek B'zman
A female Cantor, a musician and a dancer.
Ruth Wieder-Magan sings traditional prayers in an untraditional manner. The sounds of prayer fragment into raw sound and then into energy. Together, the performers with audience embark upon a ritual uncovering the power embodied in Women’s Prayer and seeking to open the enigma of dialogue between mortal and deity.

5. Sota
The performance is a fresh and contemporary interpretation of the Biblical rite in which a woman suspected by her husband of adultery, drank bitter waters to dispel his jealous obsessions. Eros and intimacy in Judaism are perceived through drama, song, music, humor and projected visual effects.

And more.
· Afilu Hatziporim
· Etzel Roza Bacafe
· Siftotav Shoshanim

10 Questions to the Director

Q: What makes a good Theatre Director?
Gabriella Lev :A good Director is someone who listens-this is especially true for a director who works with “holy” texts as we have the privilege to do. All holy texts are not merely transmitters of information; the form in which they are written, the sounds they use, have a deep effect on the consciousness. You must listen with stillness, and with no preconceptions, in order to allow these texts to work on you. It is as if you are allowing a voice to speak through you.
A good director is aware at all times of both the people in front of her (actors, technical staff, designer, musician, author) and the people and elements speaking inside her, and the energies of the particular time that she is directing in.
This ability to be multi-focused is helpful. The ability to create something “alive” is essential.
I have been fortunate to work with extremely talented people so my task becomes that of a collator and editor. I try to interfere as little as possible with the creative process-taking place around me. In fact when I am doing too much I know something is wrong. I see myself as an initiator, a person who allows and inspires creative work in the group around me.
Q: From your perspective, what is the future of Jewish Theatre?
Gabriella Lev :To me this is like asking what is the future of the Jewish People. Theatre so accurately describes the psyche of a particular time and people. What can I say? – The future is good! Of course Tov Meod!
Q:Career highlights
Gabriella Lev :Love of what you do is a gift. I am grateful for it -- all of it. And allow me to thank all the people I have worked with, and all my students, for making my life richer.
Q:·Career disappointments
Gabriella Lev :I try not to be disappointed. I would have loved, by this time, to have a permanent team of artists that the company could afford to pay on a monthly basis, who are working constantly. The employment of artists on a project basis restricts both the artistic excellence of the theatre and the economic rights of the artist.
Q:Best business decision
Gabriella Lev :To create what my colleagues and I passionately believed in and to trust that the money would appear. After 20 years and the dubious distinction of being the “oldest” fringe theatre in Israel still operating, I suppose it was a good guide to activity.
Q:Best advice you received
Gabriella Lev :To continue, not to give up and to follow my heart.
Q: Best advice to offer
Gabriella Lev :To continue, not to give up and to follow your heart.
Q:· If you weren't doing this, you'd be…
Gabriella Lev :Doing this.
Q:· What friends would be surprised to learn about you
Gabriella Lev :Classified Information
Q:· My Office paraphernalia
Gabriella Lev :Whenever I work, I am always reading many books, newspapers and Internet tidbits- simultaneously.
The present project has me delving into: Bereshit, Masechet Brachot, Masechet Kiddushin, Steinsaltz “Jewish Prayer”, Anne Michaels’ ”Fugitive Pieces” and Calderon’s “Life is a Dream.”
I work in a kind of a collage, Talmudic way with my main collaborators, Aliza Elion –Israeli-author, and Ruth Wieder-Magan- musician. They in turn bring their own core inspirations, texts, musical recordings, whatever. These layered references slowly emerge into a working score. It is with this score that I begin the journey with actors, designers, musicians and work towards a final script, often completed only after many performances.

Email: gltcj@hotmail.com   theatrec@netvision.net.il

Web: In progress.


If you wish to get your theatre in Spotlight - Please send a short overview about your theatre to the Editor ncmisrael@bezeqint.net  -and you will be invited to have a full interview to be published in  2004 !


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