Hebrew theater, unlike literature, did not exist in
ancient Hebrew culture, nor did it grow out of the Yiddish theater so
popular in Eastern European Jewish communities up to World War II. It
began with the founding in 1917 of a Hebrew theater, Habimah (The Stage)
in Moscow, under the guidance of Russian director Constantin
Stanislavsky and with the acting talent of Hanna Rovina (1892-1980), who
later became the 'First Lady of Hebrew Theater.' In 1931, the company
set up its permanent home in Tel Aviv.
Theater in Israel is composed of many different elements -
contemporary and classical, indigenous and imported, experimental and
traditional - with playwrights, actors, directors, and producers of many
backgrounds merging the foreign with the local and thereby gradually
creating a distinctive Israeli theater. The theater scene is very
active, with many professional repertory and other theaters and dozens
of regional and amateur companies performing throughout the country to
large and devoted audiences. In recent years, a number of Israeli
companies have toured Eastern and Western Europe and the United States,
and have participated in international festivals, including the
Edinburgh and Berlin Festivals, and appeared in major theater events in
Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. A number of semi-professional
and amateur groups perform in English and Russian.
Leading playwrights, several of whom have received international
recognition, include the late Hanoch Levine, Yehoshua Sobol, Hillel
Mittelpunkt, and the late Ephraim Kishon. The major professional
companies are located in the country's four largest cities.
Habimah, the national theater, is housed in a three-hall
complex (total of 1,520 seats) in Tel Aviv, and has an average
attendance rate of about 90 percent, due in part to its over 30,000
annual subscribers. Its repertoire includes traditional plays on Jewish
themes, works of contemporary Hebrew playwrights, and translations of
international classics, dramas, and comedies, with internationally
acclaimed directors sometimes brought in to stage productions.
The Cameri Theater, the Tel Aviv municipal theater since 1970,
was the first company to stage realistic portrayals of Israeli life and
has continued to contribute to the development of Hebrew theater with a
lively repertoire, including a major series of original Israeli dramas
and adaptations of major classical and modern hits. The Cameri Theater
is located in a new state-of-the-art compound which comprises four
halls and is adjacent to the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. The Cameri
Theater's production of Hamlet, which starred Itay Tiran as Prince
Hamlet, garnered huge critical acclaim both here and abroad. This
award-winning rendition was presented as part of the Shakespeare in
Washington Festival of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The Haifa Municipal Theater is a repertory theater featuring Israeli productions, as well as foreign plays, both classical and modern.
The Be'er Sheva Theater is a repertory theater featuring contemporary, original works, as well as translated classical and modern foreign plays.
The Beit Leissin Theater in Tel Aviv is a repertory theater featuring Israeli works, as well as translated contemporary foreign plays.
The Arab Theater is a professional Arab-language theater for
adults, featuring original works from Arab countries, as well as
translated contemporary works.
The Beit Hagefen Theater is a professional Arab-language
theater for children and youth, featuring original, contemporary plays,
also from other countries.
The Khan Theater, Jerusalem's only repertory theater, offers a mixture of contemporary and classical works in a unique hall situated in a restored, centuries-old Turkish inn.
Photo courtesy of the Jerusalem Khan Theatre
The Gesher Theater, founded in 1991 to provide an artistic
outlet for new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, first offered
high-level productions in Russian. Following its success and critical
acclaim, it has now entered the mainstream of Israeli theater with
Hebrew plays. It has represented Israel in prestigious festivals all
over the world.
The Clipa Theater was founded in 1995 by Idit Herman, dancer
and director, and Dmitry Tyulpanov (Russia), actor and musician. Their
company weaves the arts of theater, dance, design, and music. The group,
whose works are mostly wordless, debuts two to four new works a year.
Most are performed for a limited period, and some are performed only
once, at a unique location.
The Children's and Youth Theater stages plays
for three different age groups at schools and cultural centers
throughout the country, conducts drama and theater classes, and provides
instructors for special school workshops.
The Akko Festival is a fringe theater festival, where new and
experimental Israeli work is premiered. It consists of a competition of
indoor performances; outdoor and street performances; and international
The Children's Theater Festival takes place in Haifa. It features new works for children, includes a competition and hosts international guest performances.
Performance at the Train Theater (Photo: F. Sklar)
The Train Theater was established in Jerusalem in 1981 as a
puppet theater. It offers a variety of plays from full-length
performances to colorful story-telling for very small children, as well
as street festivals for the whole family. The theater also produces the
annual International Festival of Puppet Theater.
Training in acting, directing, and allied stage professions is
available at Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
the Beit-Zvi School of the Performing Arts (Ramat Gan), the Nissan Nativ
Acting Studio (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), and the Kibbutz Seminar's
School of Drama.
Poster, The International Festival of Puppet Theater in Jerusalem
(Courtesy of Navon Art)