Both Upon a Time

Herzliya Theater Ensemble in conjunction with the Haifa Municipal Theater
Premiere: July, 2011

Concept, editor and director: Ofira Henig
Adaptors, writers and translators: Yosefa Eben-Shoshan, Taher Najib, Shimon Bouzaglo
Sets and costumes: Miriam Goretzki-Bilu
Lighting: Jackie Shemesh

Cast: Yussuf Abu-Warda, Icho Avital, Albert Iluz, Nimrod Bergman, Sylwia Trzesniowska-Drori, Yoav Hait, Yoram Yosephsberg, Orna Katz, Salwa Nakkara, Odelia Segal-Michael, Naomi Promovitz-Pinkas



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A Theater Project Founded on Folktales

The art of the theater is based on two central motifs: drama and story.
Western theater technique emphasizes drama-conflict and situation, whereas the technique of Far Eastern and Arabian theater highlights the story.
In my first years as a director I based my work mainly on “well-written plays” and sought my own theatrical language. In recent years I have moved away from the written play and based my work on fragmentary texts: poetic and documentary texts and quotation pieces. The connection between them and creating the required narrative are what became the key to my work.
Two years ago I rediscovered my longing for the simple story, the longing of a child waiting in anticipation for a good bedtime story. I began reading short stories, and from there the way to an encounter with the folktale was short; the story related orally down the generations, over hundreds of years, by father to son and mother to daughter.
The encounter with the folktale revealed familiar myths and cultural narratives that still exist in modern discourse, myths that transcend the limitations of time and place. They can be easily identified in the structure of modern society as well; myths that came into being to protect society from its demons, cautionary narratives that served as educational drivers, and stories that were processed and interpreted in different ways in accordance with time and place, but essentially remained as they were originally conceived.
Israeli-Arab society is one of immigrants and minorities. It is essentially multicultural and contains numerous narratives. For those who ask questions, the political situation and the struggle of diverse cultures and minorities to reveal their own narrative is an inexhaustible source for research and inquiry.
I ask questions, and art by its very nature poses questions rather than provides answers.
I found myself sailing in a new cultural space of stories deeply rooted in the Arab countries. In our political situation this cultural space is blocked to us because of language barriers and prejudice, and consequently this voyage of discovery becomes one of a big ship in a stormy sea.
On this voyage I was joined by actors and creators whose parents’ cultural origins are different, whose mother tongue is different: but all of us speak the same language, the language of the theater.
The big transition from the folktale and folkloristic material to the stage and the language of the theater is the objective of this project.
It began with collecting and selecting the stories, first according to their source, the Arab countries: Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Morocco, Palestine, Israel, and so forth.
Then the stories whose characteristics and structure were suited for adaptation to the stage were identified. After reading some one thousand stories, fifty were selected.
In the second stage we approached three writers with different attitudes toward writing, who adapted the stories, each according to their worldview.
In the next stage the stories were divided according to subject:

Part One: Men telling stories about women.
Part Two: Women telling stories about men.
Part Three: Men and women telling stories about class exploitation, racism, attitudes to the weak and the poor, and so forth – social themes.

When the initial material was ready, we came together for a workshop.
The encounter between actor and folktale is fascinating. The actors are required to work on several levels and employ various techniques. During the workshop we were joined by the designers who responded to this nascent world with sketches. Studying and understanding the material based on cultural roots, and adapting it to artistic language became the workshop’s greatest challenge.
The final stage will commence in June 2010 with the start of rehearsals.

At present we are working on twenty-five stories and their initial editing, which is unquestionably creating a sub-narrative connecting all the stories.

  • A group of men tell stories about women, and in their stories any vestige of political correctness is shattered; the stories reveal an ancient terminology that even a progressive liberal society cannot hide: domineering, castrating, stupid and deceitful women.
  • A group of women tell stories about strong, exploiting, cowardly and disloyal men.
  • Men and women gather together to tell stories about the ills of society, classes, the gap between rich and poor, racism, and prejudice.

The work will be interspersed with classical Arab music, singing and dancing, and will be primarily in Hebrew interspersed with scenes in various Arabic dialects.