At the End of the Rainbow Theatre.
In Italy they literally stop traffic. Police vans escort them through busy junctions, sirens blaring. Fans storm their busses, begging for autographs. They play to sell-out audiences of 1 500; overflow halls holding hundreds more have closed-circuit TVs broadcasting the performances. One tearful spectator approaches the actors when the lights come up and reveals that his life is divided into two: before he watched the play and after.
Gina Lollobrigida? Sofia Loren? Madonna? No – the actors who are reaching out and touching their audiences all over Italy are young Arab and Jewish school-children from the Galilee, who mime and dance and sing their way through electrifying productions of the story of creation and Anne Frank’s life. The most recent tour teamed up Arab university students and Jewish pre-army, youth movement members doing a voluntary year of service.
The performances are stark and dramatic. In “Beresheet” a spotlight falls on a hump, covered by a brown blanket. An arm shoots out from the mass. A leg. Slowly white masked, white cloaked figures emerge, and circle the stage,
revelling in the miracle of their creation. They admire each other, dance with each other, touch each other’s faces. But then they shed their cloaks, and break into two disparate groups: the purple and the orange teams. The purples shout at the oranges. The oranges hit the purples. Weapons are produced and used. And the killings begin.
The sketch ends on an optimistic note. One brave purple person, although repeatedly rebuffed, extends a hand of friendship to an orange. Her persistence pays off. Eventually the colours blend into a utopian harmony, and the actors remove their masks to reveal smiling, happy faces underneath. Except for two unbending representatives of each group, who stand in stony silence, brandishing their staffs at either end of the stage.
“Anne in the Sky” picks up on the theme of co-existence and tolerance. In a chilling sequence Anne Frank writes in her diary, while her persona acts out actual events on the stage. The audience watches a youthful, beautiful Anne dance out her childhood, her period of hiding, her infatuation with Peter and her capture by masked, black-suited Nazis. Actual documentary scenes from the time are screened onto the back wall of the stage. Dramatic original music underscores the boredom of the attic room, the tension, and the terror. And then the Jews are led off to their deaths.
But the play doesn’t end there. Young kids dance onto the stage, flip-flopping and twirling and cart wheeling in their exuberance. “I’m Paulo from Rio,” smiles one. “I’m Eden from Jerusalem,” grins another. The stage fills up with happy youngsters, rollicking to the music’s beat. Then come the familiar dreaded booms, the knock of Nazis searching at the door. The kids cower for a moment, as did the victims in the war. Then they defiantly straighten up. They face the audience square on, and address them directly. “Close the door!” they demand, of the adults in front of them. “Close the door to terror and hatred. Don’t let the murderers in!” The knocking recedes and disappears.
“The Rainbow Theatre” is the brainchild of Angelica Edna
Calò Livnè, an Italian living on Kibbutz Sasa, whose own mother was saved by Righteous Gentiles during the war. Most of her family was not so lucky. “I have lived in Israel for 30 years,” says Edna, “and I have 4 sons. I always hoped by the time they went into the army we would have no need for soldiers. When my oldest boy joined a combat unit at the height of the Intifada I simply cried for days. Then I decided to do something.”
This something was creating her theatre – a unique blend of Arab, Christian and Jewish youth from the Galilee, religious and secular, boys and girls. They have had several tours to packed houses in Italy, reflecting Edna’s close ties with the country and her ability to get local sponsorship. The performances have been attended by the representative of the Dalai Lama, the head of the Islamic European Movement, mayors, educationalists and dignitaries, as well as the grandchildren of Nazis. During the last tour Edna’s mother, who lives in Israel too, addressed the audience. The half hour plays are regularly followed by question and answer sessions, interpreted by Edna. “These are just incredible,” she says. “There is often a wall of hatred for Israelis at the beginning of the play. By the end of the evening, when the Arab actors have spoken about their love for Israel, when the Jews have explained their feelings about the conflict, there is an outpouring of love from every audience. It’s incredible.”
Helped by her kibbutznik husband, Yehuda, who is responsible for the technical side of the production, Edna has taken the theatre to new heights. They have been invited back to Italy for as many performances as they are prepared to give. In September they will perform for the UN in Geneva. Last year Edna was nominated for the 1000 women Nobel Peace Prize for her work, and reached the final eight candidates. She bubbles with enthusiasm for her group, and they respond in kind. “When I grow up, I want to be Edna,” says an eighteen year old who was on the last tour. If we could all be Edna when we grow up, the world would look a whole lot different.
For more details see www.breadforpeace.org
www.masksoff.org and www.arcob.tipo.co.il