Take a spoonful of innovation, mix it with chutzpah, satire and dance, then cut it into short sketches and you’ve got Israel’s most creative performance ensemble: Tziporela. This nine-person troupe recently raised the curtain on its first English-language production, “Tziporela Worldwide,” to standing ovations in Tel Aviv.
The young actors poke fun at everything and everyone. They serve up a different kind of theater whereby every movement, every spoken word and every intonation is essential.
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There’s no one plot. The new show comprises 16 skits. Every few minutes there’s another short story, song, dance or joke being told or acted out on stage.
There’s a great skit that mashes lines from famous songs into one ballad; a funny airport immigration scenario that pits two flamingly gay officers against a traveler; and a dance routine in which a girlfriend helps her boyfriend understand how to treat her.
“Crazy skits somewhere in between theater and the circus. It’s physical comedy. This is crazy, funny — come laugh yourselves to death,” actor Ben Perry tells ISRAEL21c.
And though one may not expect Hebrew-speakers to launch a slapstick English-language indie production, that’s exactly what these hilarious young women and men have done.
But playing to an Israeli audience can get stuffy, so their eyes are now trained on a global audience.
“Humor is a global concept,” says Lotus Etrog, who acts and helps manage the group. “Sketches that are funny in Tel Aviv are also funny in London, New York or Paris. We want to go abroad.”
Birds of a feather flock together
Watching the nine-member collective on stage is energizing. It is obvious that these 30-somethings are so familiar with one another that the fun they have on stage is contagious.
They met as students 12 years ago at the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio, Israel’s preeminent drama school. Though each hails from a different background, their mix of culture and personalities have made Tziporela what it is today.
“We are very representative of Israel. Tamara [Klayngon] was born in Ukraine, I had my childhood in all kinds of places in the world, but we’re all Israeli,” says Perry. “Everyone is so different and has different influences. I like British humor, others like Israeli humor. Everyone brings something with them.”
Tziporela members also include Efrat Aviv, Dana Ivgy, David Golan, Omri Doron, Tomer Nahir Petluk and Gal Friedman. Six of them are married and balance family lives alongside their growing fame.
“We are very different than from where we were at the beginning,” says Etrog. “We really know one another; there’s a language of creation.”
There is no leader. Everyone brings ideas, writes the material and performs both in English and in Hebrew. The skits are brainstormed together and then developed. Most of the zany sketches are takeoffs of everyday life but there are also noticeable jabs at Shakespeare.
“When we studied acting, the whole first year is dedicated to Greeks and Shakespeare,” says Etrog. “[Our references] are more of an inside joke. This is our takeoff of our studies.”
The troupe performs all four of its shows on a rotating basis – “Akitza Tivit” (“Born to Bite”), “Derech Hagav,” Heart Attack” and “Tziporela Worldwide.” The next English-language performances are on June 23 and July 25 in Tel Aviv. Marketing manager Talli Koren says she is working on an international tour for the autumn.
Tziporela’s theatrical approach to skewering daily life has fueled a cult-like following in Israel. The latest show is aimed at the international community here – and everyone from new immigrants to foreign diplomats to visitors is snapping up tickets.
“We’ve been attracting a very international audience. This is meant for all cultures,” Koren tells ISRAEL21c. “Tziporela’s goal is to go international with its theater. It tries to give an off-Broadway flavor and that’s where we’ll go.”
Earlier this year, Tziporela Ensemble was selected as one of 20 innovative startups by the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Support Program (EISP). Though startups are usually thought to be technology related, Tziporela was chosen for its “innovative approach to theater which has changed the Israeli theater scene.”
EISP is run by the 8200 Alumni Association — a non-profit organization of alumni of the IDF’s prestigious Intelligence 8200 Unit — whose mission is to aid entrepreneurs in their early phases and accelerate the fulfillment of new ventures while promoting the unit’s legacy and projects for the community.
The EISP startup designation affords the ensemble a workshop series designated to build their venture, expand their network, offer a creative environment and generate leads.
“They got in touch with us,” Koren stresses. “They’re looking for innovators and stressed the innovation that Tziporela has brought to the Israeli theater.”