The power of the stage
The power of the stage
In a disadvantaged part of Tel Aviv, children and teenagers act in the plays of a Performing Arts Studio. Their parents and the studio’s adult students benefit as much as the neighbourhood children.
The setting resembles a fashion show: When 12th-grade student David Sianov gets on stage, wearing a top hat and a suit, the audience welcomes him with applause, and within minutes he becomes a crowd favourite. During the first scene he seemed half asleep, but every entrance of his in the following scenes makes it clear that in front of us stands a great acting talent, someone who only needed to get a chance to present himself.
“That’s exactly how he was during the last month. Lethargic during rehearsals, and here on stage he simply explodes”, Yair Mossel proudly recounts. He has been teaching David and his six group members for the past two and half years. The meetings with Mossel, a graduate of the Yoram Loewenstein Acting Studio in the Hatikva neighbourhood in south Tel Aviv, are part of the studio’s community project, in which second- and third-year students of the acting studio tutor theatre groups with participants from the neighbourhood, a socially disadvantaged area.
King Lear in a disadvantaged neighbourhood
The community project was born in 1998 when neighbourhood boys snuck into the hall every time the studio played King Lear. “King Lear here in a poor neighbourhood – we were wondering who would come to watch that elitist play?”, Halil Yitzhak looks back. Today, he is the head of the Hatikva project. At the time, there was no indication of the studio opening up to the community. “But after 5 shows or so, the boys, who had watched the play over and over, began to throw texts back to the actors, and so we noticed that they weren’t bored a bit.” To the surprise of the studio’s team, the Hatikva neighbourhood welcomed them with a warm hug. “They brought us food and candies, there was lots of curiosity from the children and the adults”, remembers Yitzhak.
Then there was an offer of leasing a building in Hatikva. ”I discovered the amazing potential this neighbourhood has to offer us. I understood what our actors can gain from the cultural and human wealth to which they are exposed”, Yoram Loewenstein, the founder of the performing arts studio, recounts. Today, the project is giving acting classes to endangered youth, children of immigrants, mentally or physically disabled children or those with learning disorders. But Loewenstein sharply explains: “We are not a treatment facility. We teach them acting, in its entire meaning, including for example discipline. It’s a profession which requires discipline. At-risk youth come here, they are late for the meeting and make excuses: ‘my father is in prison, my mother is such and such’. We tell them we don’t care, it doesn’t matter”, Loewenstein emphasizes. “We will teach you how to tell your personal story, we’ll provide you artistic tools in order for you to tell it on stage, you’ll get the applause, and that’s your strength and not your weakness”.
First refuge in a case of emergency
Indeed not only the participants of the community project benefit from it, but also the studio itself and its students, of whom the vast majority do not hail from the neighbourhood – young actors whose training is deeply influenced by the important human dimension, one which they will be able to integrate when they work as actors at the theatre or on television one day.
The participant’s parents, too, have things to gain from the project: “Through the children I also reach the parents, they come to see the plays on which their children worked and the plays of the other students of the school, and they are the core of our subscriber base”, explains Loewenstein. Most of these parents would not go to the repertory theatres in the city centre, and neither would they be able to pay the high ticket prices. At Loewenstein’s studio, the cost of an annual subscription is approximately the same as a pair of tickets for a play in an established theatre.
Of course not everything is a picnic. Every group also has fallouts and – as is natural in group work – there are difficulties. For this reason, the theatre guide offers far more than just acting supervision. “One day one of the girls went home and found the door locked. Her mother had gone to Haifa. Without any notice, without leaving her daughter a message or clothes or something to eat”, says Halil Yitzhak. “There is no immediate solution to such a problem, but we instantaneously get on board with help until welfare steps in and permanent solutions are found.
Halil is enthused how much the children change on stage: “From the first meeting in which he doesn’t raise his eyes, until he becomes a star in a play. There are teenagers here with real and serious troubles; at first they are dragged into it, but at the end of the process they become leaders of their own.”