Jerusalem's Khan Theatre begins new season despite budgetary woes

by Rachel Bell

June 1999


The interior of Jerusalem's Khan Theatre


JERUSALEM -- Serious budget shortfalls face Jerusalem’s inventive Khan Theater from the past year, and funding uncertainty may continue into their upcoming season. The budget has not been a reliable animal in the Israel art scene: the Ministry of Culture and Sport has had to consistently postpone payouts of funding to theaters across the breadth of the Israel.

Yaron Sadan, Managing Director, said that receipt of budget funds from the Jerusalem municipality and the Ministry of Culture and Sports is in arrears since last year. The Khan theater is not alone in its budgetary woes: many other theaters, dance companies and small performance companies are suffering from budgetary difficulties. The Khan however relies on assistance for more than 70% of its budget.

“Clerks have bent over backwards to assist us, but we are not being paid except sudden emergency rations. We are still owed over 1million NIS from 1998. This year we have received no funds whatsoever, and a third of the year is over. That’s another 1.15 million NIS we are missing. The total amount that we are owed is 2.6 million NIS with no idea when we will receive it,” said Sadan.

“This makes it very difficult for us to make artistic decisions.” added Sadan. “We don’t know if or when we can fund projects.” The Khan theater relies on public funding for at least 75% of its budget this year. However, in spite of the severe shortfall, five or six plays are planned for the coming season, with another in reserve.

The Khan theater is a stronghold of what might be termed psychological theater. Examine one’s self? Think widely and deeply? Shred roses in search of meaning? Yes.

Starting off the season is “Some Voices” by Joe Penhall, which premieres June 23, and is directed by Ben Levin. It tells the story of a young, sensitive, ill man afflicted with schizophrenia, who is released from a psychiatric hospital and moves in with his brother Pete. “Some Voices” will be on of the two primary plays of the season, the other being “Freddie-Temporary Title,” a place name for a play by Michael Gorovitch which is already in rehearsal and is set to premiere on September 30.

The Khan divides its acting cadre between two central productions, which are the main plays of the season. Ofira Henig, Artistic Director for the Khan, is passionately interested in the theater of “self-conscious” theater, the concept of theater within theater, which she thinks is very important part of bring audiences to a new awareness of what inspection and consciousness is all about.

Henig says: “News and writing is not the only form of communication, however whole or partial it is. There is no difference between art and communication, period.” Henig does not want her audience, whom she speaks of almost as if they are an entity, a consciousness of intelligent Jerusalem, to overlook the way in which the theater, the actors, we all, pass on intelligent and lively meanings to each other. To Henig, theater is the locus where communication can examine itself for what it is.

“We started this process with Skies, and continue it with Pirandelo’s work, which although it was written in the middle of the century has renewed itself and has a very contemporary message about conveying information,” said Henig. “We think this issue of communication should not just be taken up in Israel in the ivory tower of academia. Our productions have been chosen with this focus in mind.”

Of the other productions in the works are several translations, including “Six Souls” by Luigi Pirandelo, “Love of Seven Dolls” from a well-known work by Paul Gallico, adapted by Tzurya Lahav and Gedalia Besser. Gallico’s work examines the life of marionettes, enacted by human beings, surrealistically emphasizing the anthropomorphic quality of puppet theater.

The new Israeli play “Anatomy of Repentance” by Yosefa Even-Shushan is to come out late in the season. “Les Autres” by Jean-Claude Grumberg, is expected to come out just before Anatomy of Repentance. Waiting in the wings is “Falsch,” to be directed Henig, the story of a Jewish German family whose name means all of the following: false, fake, untrue. This is a family which navigates life and memory from 1938’s Berlin to modern New York. “Falsch” is on hold as a season alternative. “We would like to bring it out at some time but at this point it will only be staged if another play does not pan out.

Despite budgeting problems, like many companies in Israel, the Khan is fiercely dedicated to its independence. Much of this has to do with a mortal fear of being supererogatory, irrelevant, imitative, and thus being consigned to artistic oblivion, an unfunded state of no exit. When asked about the future of cooperative efforts, Sadan replied that cooperative efforts might be made for artistic considerations, but that the Khan needs to retain its independence. “We are a very different theater, and if we do not maintain our own identity, there is no reason for our existence. We do and must do experimental theater.”

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