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.