Israeli theater is a well established domain of Israeli culture, with a large number of internationally-renowned actors and actresses, such as Gila Almagor, Yisrael Poliakov, Chaim Topol and Lior Ashkenazi, to name but a few. Israel has a number of prestigious theater venues, mostly situated in Tel Aviv — particularly Ha’Bima, Ha’Kameri, and Gesher. There is also an ever growing number of performing arts schools, partially a result of the growing number of Israeli productions in recent years and their newly found success overseas.
I want to discuss a specific kind of theater today, one which is already present strongly overseas, but is gaining widespread interest only in recent years. I am referring to improvisation theater, and especially to such methods as Jonathan Fox’s Playback Theater and Jacques Lecoq’s Physical Theater Method. Former Israeli students of these two innovating performers opened their own schools in Israel with accordance to their teachers’ unique style.
As regard to the Lecoq method, an acting school in the southern Tel-Aviv neighborhood of Florentin offers a three-year structured education in Physical Theater. It is still a small place with not too many students, but the school is already offering the local scene a chance to watch a type of performance that is outside the circle of mainstream theater.
Somewhat related, Playback theater has currently more followers in Israel, all across the country, though no official school exists yet. Several teachers have opened their own intimate groups, usually both practicing and performing inside different universities. The Playback theater offers more than just pure entertainment, it is also a type of therapy for both the performers and viewers. In a normal playback setting, there is a host who invites a person of the audience to share a personal story, and watch it being improvised on stage. This projection of inner conflicts and memories onto the performers can be a very powerful experience, and can be considered “recreational therapy”.
The scene is not very large yet, but the word is spreading among friends and classmates, and more and more people turn into impro acting for the pure purpose of having fun, not necessarily aspiring to become professional performers.