Members of the dance troupe TipaPupa perform at the Jerusalem Center for Performing Arts.Down the road from the imposing walls of Jerusalem’s Old City that inspired artists for centuries, sits the Jerusalem Center for Performing Arts. It’s a one-of-a-kind project that aspires to set its stage for a marriage of arts, business and technology for the benefit of all.
The brainchild of one of the country’s most successful venture capitalists, the Jerusalem Center hopes to stimulate actors, directors and computer programmers into creating a unique theater experience that lures artists back to Jerusalem and gives birth to cutting-edge software for Internet gaming and interactive advertising.
Erel Margalit, the managing partner of Jerusalem Venture Partners who grew up in Israel’s capital, was motivated to invest his personal wealth to build the project after living through the Sept. 11 attack on New York’s World Trade Center with his wife and three daughters.
He mentions in an interview how Robert DeNiro’s film festival, founded in Tribeca in 2002 to foster the economic and cultural revitalization of Lower Manhattan, became a turning point for the city and its residents after the debilitating attack.
“That was the first time my daughters were able to look downtown and walk through the neighborhood. The neighborhood was opened up through the arts, the artistic process,” he said.
His dream is for the Performing Arts Center, perhaps not surprisingly called the Ma’abada or “Laboratory” in Hebrew, to do the same for Jerusalem, which has been the site of numerous terror attacks in the last five years.
“Jerusalem has always been a place for creative people from different walks of life, inspired by religion, different spiritual movements, Jewish thinking, Christians, Muslims, a city where people studied arts and music. When you marry that with the creativity of technology, it can be a chance to change the direction of the city,” Margalit told ISRAEL21c.
Margalit, whose real expertise is in nurturing budding technologies into successful companies, brought that experience to bear in creating the theater, which he hopes will offer students of cinema, theater, dance and art an outlet that will keep them in Jerusalem and stymie the departure to Tel Aviv and New York.
“Whenever you create a company, whether it is in the media field or the software field or anywhere else, we always try to give it some differentiation in terms of long-term vision. When I created the theater I thought that one thing we could do was become the leading experimental theater that marries technologies with the performing arts,” he said.
The center, a transformed cosmetics warehouse, is built like an indoor Roman coliseum, with the seats rising up from the stage. Recently, artistic director Ophira Henig staged Salome there, her first production using video.
Members of the audience sitting in first row seats were close enough to touch the actors – Palestinians, Jews, Ethiopians and Russians – when they walked to the edge of the stage.
Henig, who Margalit hired away from more established, traditional theater says the center offers something special, a place to grow and develop in intriguing new directions.
“This is the first time I had the opportunity to make the connection between performing arts and video arts. This is the most significant thing, that the Laboratory allows this collaboration to take place,” Henig said. “I think that connecting different things can create something new, a new way of looking at something, find a new context.”
She is already spending hours brainstorming with Eli Wurtman, chief executive of Margalit’s technology incubator JVP Studio that focuses on the media industry.
Wurtman, who was a founder of the one of the first Internet calling company’s Deltathree Inc., is optimistic that his new partnership with Henig can lead to breakthroughs like the computer sound card which was originally spun off from the technology of the theater’s sound and light mixer.
The two have already spent long nights bouncing ideas off one another and Margalit intends to move Wurtman and the companies he fosters into the same building as the Performing Arts Center sometime soon.
“We had this great conversation about this new technology we are looking at with computer vision and projection technology and the ability of the computer to react in real time to what is happening in motion,” said Wurtman. “We kind looked at it from the same perspective and said ‘what can we do with this in a stage environment.'”
Wurtman’s dream is to find the “next big thing” in media technology, something that will bring JVP the same kind of success it had with Chromatis Networks Inc. that was sold to Lucent Technologies Inc. in 2000 for stock that was valued at $4.5 billion.
One possibility is a technology developed by students from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design that creates interactive screens for advertising. Margalit is encouraging them to stretch their imagination into the theater, to showcase their ideas on stage.
“You can’t just stay in your engineering mode of thinking. You have to come out to a multidisciplinary environment of creativity because some of the new ideas will come from unconventional places,” he said. “And helping to create that kind of environment is a lot of fun.”
“What we think will happen in an environment where the non-profit sector meets the profit sector is that you will have two kinds of profit. You may have better companies because better people will come to do things there. You may find a unique idea, but you can’t plan for it,” said Margalit.
“You don’t do this to gain monetary profit, but to profit in a spiritual way, a different way.”