Impressively, the history of theatre in Israel predates the creation of the state. The country’s first professional theatre group, Habimah (Hebrew for ‘The Stage’), was founded in Moscow in 1917 and then moved to Palestine in 1931 following a hugely successful product of The Dybbuk.
The group changed its name to the National Theatre and were contemporary with another group called the Ohel Theatre. The Ohel Theatre was founded by an actor and director called Moshe Halevi. It was a worker’s theatre that aimed to explore Jewish and Zionist themes. Most of the productions from that time were focused on the idea of creating a Jewish state and the difficulties faced in doing so.
Once Israel had been established the plays began to focus on the realities of life in the young county. The two biggest themes were the holocaust and the Israel-Arab conflict, issues that are still explored at length in contemporary productions.
Over the coming decades there were a number of plays that examined the difference between the dreams of the state’s founders and the difficult realities of setting up the country. They explored issues such as contemporary political problems, the conflicts between different groups of immigrants and the day-to-day struggles of the average person.
A number of prominent Israeli playwrights came to the fore including Hanoch Levin, who wrote 56 plays many of which were successful abroad as well as domestically. In the 1970s and 1980s there were many more successful playwrights such as Yossef Mundi, Hillel Mittelpunkt and Yehoshua Sobol.
The theatre scene in Israel is still as vibrant as ever. There are numerous theatres across the country and new works are staged regularly.
A great example of the modern scene is the Akko Festival for Israeli alternative theatre. The Festival has been running for over twenty years and each year about ten plays are presented. The festival aims to examine the most pressing issues in Israeli society and normally does so extremely successfully.
On a day-to-day basis you will find a number of theatres that you can visit, many of which will stage productions languages other than Hebrew. Occasionally you will also be able to find Hebrew plays with English subtitles.
There is an argument that Israeli theatre is not as ‘polished’ as in major European capitals, however, the acting is normally superb and the plays often try to engage with some of the most difficult issues faced by modern Israeli society.
While on your gap year in Israel you should have plenty of chances to see a variety of productions. Visiting your local theatre provides you with another opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of modern day Israel and at the same time you can work on your Hebrew language skills and hopefully have a thoroughly enjoyable evening out. Make sure you don’t miss out!