The Show Must Go on for Israeli Troupe Hounded Out of Edinburgh Festival in 2014
Do they think the reception they’ll receive will be different this summer? “We really hope so,” Ulman shrugs. “Couldn’t be worse,” adds Lilien. One place the five Israelis have no plans to revisit is, unsurprisingly, Edinburgh. “No Israeli group, at least not one with any government funding, is planning on being there,” says Ulman. “To be fair, it’s like Disney World for theater in Edinburgh,” waxes Lilien. “There’s so much to see. When I arrived I thought it was a dream. But by the end, it was just traumatic.”
9 August 2015
This time last year, a rap opera created by three Israeli friends was about to hit the proverbial big time with a month-long run at the legendary Edinburgh Festival Fringe. But what happened next was almost as surreal as anything they could have made up for their rhyming policemen, sultry singers and other film noir-influenced cast of characters...
...faster than one could say “Wow! You’re actually performing in Edinburgh!” the ensemble got booed, abused and hounded out of the festival. All after one, much interrupted, curtain rise. The theater they had booked, The Underbelly, quickly canceled their run but kept the troupe’s money. No other venue could or would touch them.
It was, instead, about the Gaza war that raged last August, and the objections a growing number of protesters had to Edinburgh hosting a troupe sponsored, even in small part, by the Israeli government.
Dozens of Scotland’s most prominent arts figures backed the protests and called for a boycott of the Israeli performance – including playwright David Greig and Scotland’s national poet, Liz Lochhead.
“Yes, we did accept funding from the government. We needed it. It helped us pay for the plane tickets, for starters,” says Ulman, nearly a year on. “And we were not about to deny that.”
Edinburgh’s Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival and hosts thousands of shows every August. Last year, more than 3,100 shows were staged, from 51 different countries. “The City” was the only one to be forced out. In fact, in its entire 68-year history – the fringe was founded a year before the State of Israel – no other show had ever been kicked out of the festival for political reasons.
Before leaving the Scottish capital, the five Israelis spent their time looking, vainly, for a venue that might host them, before finally performing out in the street, silently, as a symbolic act. Hundreds of protesters (some wearing T-shirts depicting a bomb with a Star of David on it, flying toward a baby carriage) responded by again interrupting the performance, standing directly in front of the actors and cursing them, calling them killers.
A dance troupe from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which had planned to participate in the Edinburgh festival later that month, watched from afar – and decided to stay home in Israel.
“It was one of those rare situations where the saying ‘No publicity is bad publicity’ was just not true,” says Lilien. “Because, basically, while everyone was talking about us – no one actually saw the show. And we are actors. The whole point was to perform.”
“Edinburgh was going to be our break: it was great international exposure. We were hoping it would give us a leg up to the next level professionally. But it didn’t happen that way,” recalls Ulman. “It really slowed our momentum. And it was frightening,” adds Lilien. “It’s hard not to take it personally.”
A year on, the troupe is hard at work and rehearsing in English all over again. It will stage two English-language performances of “The City” in Israel this week – at Tel Aviv’s Tzavta on August 11 and Jerusalem’s Beit Mazia the following night). And early next month, the group heads to a theater festival in Tbilisi, Georgia, after accepting an invitation to perform there. Ulman says they’re hoping other international festivals will follow suit with further invitations.
Do they think the reception they’ll receive will be different this summer? “We really hope so,” Ulman shrugs. “Couldn’t be worse,” adds Lilien.
One place the five Israelis have no plans to revisit is, unsurprisingly, Edinburgh. “No Israeli group, at least not one with any government funding, is planning on being there,” says Ulman. “To be fair, it’s like Disney World for theater in Edinburgh,” waxes Lilien. “There’s so much to see. When I arrived I thought it was a dream. But by the end, it was just traumatic.”
The full article is in Haaretz 9August 2015