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.