Habima gets facelift

January 23, 2012 - 12:05 PM by

The renovated Habima Theater (Photo: Haaretz)

The national theater of Israel, The Habima, unveiled an extravagant facelift on Sunday in Tel Aviv, following four years of renovations that cost around $20 million.

The Habima was one of the first Hebrew language theaters, emerging out of Russian origins after the 1905 revolution. Because its performances were in Hebrew and it dealt with issues of the Jewish people, it met with persecution by the Czarist government. Beginning in 1918, it operated under the auspices of the Moscow Art Theater and in 1926, the theatre left the Soviet Union to tour abroad, with some members staying in New York and others taking the company to mandated Palestine. The first play in Tel Aviv was staged in 1928 – Der Oyster (The Treasure), a play in Yiddish by Sholom Aleichem.

In 1945, the company built the Habima Theater in Tel Aviv, which has been officially considered the national theater of Israel since 1958, the year in which it received the Israel Prize for theater.

Sunday’s grand re-opening, occurring some two months after the theater began to stage productions again, was attended President Shimon Peres, Culture Minister Limor Livnat, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, and many dignitaries from the acting world.

Despite the big budget and lavish attention that went into the renovations, the management was surprised a few hours before the opening, when the heavy winter rains sweeping Tel Aviv caused the ceiling to leak in a few places, resulting in water dripping onto the actors during rehearsal. By show time, the rain had stopped, but there was still other controversy.

A few dozen people stood outside the theater protesting against the allocation of funds for the renovation, which they claimed came at the expense of those in need of housing in Tel Aviv.

“On the one hand we are protesting against a lack in public housing and on the other hand we see in front of our eyes the opening of Habima, with nicely dressed people enjoying refreshments,” one of the protesters told Ynet.

It was a fitting dramatic debut for the theater which will continue to lead Israeli theater into the coming decades.

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