Israeli Theatre for All! Beit Lessin Theatre received a special award for cultural activity at the Shalem Foundation’s Outstanding Awards Ceremony for 2017      

 A number of new categories stood out during this year’s Outstanding Awards Ceremony. One such category was the Special Award for Culture, bestowed upon Beit Lessin Theatre for its theatrical initiative and action, sensitivity and uniqueness, in presenting the lifestyle of people with intellectual developmental disabilities to the public at large, placing them center stage in a most worthy public dialogue

 
Beit Lessin Theatre, under the management of Tzippi Pines, has transformed the topic of special people in society, including people with disabilities, into its flagship topic throughout the past four seasons. During a series of shows presented to the public, all of which received excellent reviews, the topic of people with disabilities was addressed from various perspectives. Among the shows: “They Call Him King,” by Savyon Liebrecht, telling the story of David, a kibbutz member, whose friends have difficulty accepting him due to his different behavior; “The Disabled,” by Gur Koren, about a theatre group made up of people with disabilities, and how the audience comes to cherish the members of the group as they become familiar with the difficulties the experienced by players; “The Strange Story of the Dog at Night,” telling the story of a teenage boy with autism confronting his surroundings for the first time when he sets out on an excursion
 
During the course of the shows, the audience travels the same journey as the characters on stage, coming to truly understanding the needs of people with disabilities, and finally, at the end, taking home a lesson which will stay etched in their conscious for the rest of their lives: acceptance of people with disabilities and offering assistance, together with proper attitudes. Recently, the play “The Disabled” earned the title, Most Viewed Play of 2016, with an audience of over 125,600 viewers this year
 
We met with Zippi Pines, director of the Beit Lessin Theatre, Avi Grayinik, one of the actors in “They Call Him King,” and Yaniv Levy, an actor in “The Disabled”
 
 

Tzippi, how is the decision reached to produce a variety of plays pertaining to the world of special people

 

 
Beit Lessin Theatre always attempts to expose the audience to numerous enthralling topics of intrinsically additional value. Taking up the issue of people with disabilities came about from our understanding that this important topic did not receive enough stage exposure, and that the general public lacks sufficient awareness of the day-to-day struggles of people with disabilities and their immediate surroundings
 
 

How do the actors evolve their characters

 

 
Actors’ processes are individual. Every actor investigates according to his own understanding, building the character he plays together with the director. That being said, the theatre does offer professional help to provide actors with the additional tools and assistance they need to understand the character from different and deeper perspectives. Likewise, for plays about people with disabilities the actors portraying the characters visit facilities for people with special needs, experiencing their lives up close
 
 

Avi Grayinik tells about portraying the character of David in the play “They Call Him King”

 

 
David is a new member of the kibbutz. Three veteran kibbutzniks want to help him adjust, but because of his different nature they are drawn into making jokes on his account. While working on the character of David, I taught myself to think like a person whose motivation is simple and pure. The child inside me directed my body language: open and happy in moments of joy, closed and introverted when threatened or sad. With the encouragement of director Alon Offir I accomplished all of this, making slight adjustments to keep the character from coming across as absurd. While actually performing before an audience, I came to understand that the most emotional and believable moments were those when David, actually when each of us, desires to belong, to have intrinsic worth. In my opinion, this is a universal story about our ability or inability to relate to those different from us equally with understanding
 
Yaniv Levy, portraying Yanon, who has intellectually developmental disabilities, in the play “The Disabled”

The play “The Disabled” involves a theatre group of amateur actors with various disabilities and their encounter with an organized-crime family. I developed the character of Yaniv according to my personal acquaintance with members of the theatre group Akim, with whom I collaborated in the past. The biggest challenge was attaining a high level of authenticity in portraying the characters, especially since we were dealing with a comedy and there was a concern that the audience would think that the jokes were about the people with disabilities, which, of course, was not true. Throughout the process, in order to keep myself from portraying the topic too generally, I sincerely tried to understand the significance of intellectual disability and its specific consequences on daily life. Much to our pleasure, audiences’ reactions were poignant. Above and beyond the immediate laughter due to the comedy, we received hundreds of responses from people professing that the play awoke new and thoughtful considerations about inclusion of people with disabilities, in society and in general. I am grateful that I had the privilege to take part in such an important play
 
Riva Muskal, Director, The Shalem Foundation

“The series of plays produced by the Beit Lessin Theatre was a great success and was performed before thousands of people of all ages - people who were privileged to get a glimpse into the world and daily challenges facing those with special needs in general and people with intellectual disabilities in particular. The plays created a social and cultural dialogue which brought additional viewers in its wake, thus hurling the issue of intellectual developmental disability to the forefront of public discussion and simultaneously launching a process of barrier and prejudice elimination. Our Excellence Awards constitute an additional method of encouraging and strengthening the trend of positive exposure which in turn advances acceptance and social integration.”