English-speaking Immigrant Directs Hebrew-speaking Students

“I sometimes feel very frustrated at not being able to express myself more precisely,” Glendyr Sacks said. “But that frustration is a great spur in making me learn Hebrew.” Glendyr is teaching the first undergraduate Directing Course in Israel, which started in the University’s Theater Department in 1996.

“We learn from each other,” Glendyr remarked. “In the Directing Course I have two students, a 24-year-old Jewish female student and a 38-year-old Arab male student. It makes for an especially interesting course, as the three of us can compare the perception of an aspect from different cultures.”

The South African-born Glendyr Sacks admitted that language can be a problem, “but with the combination of my Hebrew and my students’ English, we manage.” She finds it far easier to communicate when explaining directing and practical acting work. Glendyr’s Hebrew is not yet up to giving theoretical lectures and seminars, but she’s working on it. When she has to make theoretical points, she either struggles in Hebrew or speaks English and one of the students translates.

Glendyr, who has both academic and practical experience in professional theater, arrived in Israel in Spring 1995, a long time after most of her family had made aliya in the 1970s. After gaining a First Class Honors B.A. in English and Drama at the University of Cape Town, she studied for a post-graduate Performer Diploma. Glendyr then went to Britain and gained an M.A. in African Theater and Directing from Leeds University. She accepted a post as lecturer in the Department of Drama at Exeter University, where she remained for the next thirteen years.

After a couple of years traveling the world, she decided to make Israel her last stop. Glendyr studied Hebrew at the absorption center in Ra’anana for five months and then began to think about work. She was advised to apply to the Ministry of Science Program for Immigrant Scientists (and academics). Impressed, the Ministry sent out her resume to places they thought might have a suitable vacancy. One of these was the University, and Glendyr Sacks’ resume landed on the desk of Dr. Avi Oz, Head of the Theater Department. A short time later, she was teaching the Directing Course and also an Acting Course.

“During my first interview with Avi, when he discussed his ideas regarding the new Department [the first student intake was in October 1995],” she recalled, “I realized we had similar perspectives about the importance of theater within the social and educational context.”

Glendyr’s approach to theater studies is to bridge the artificial gap that people make between practice and theory. “Theater is not a single art form,” she explained. “It is broad based and incorporates all aspects of history, culture, and entertainment.” In her opinion, only when students absorb both theory and practice can they begin to learn and help one another to develop.

The University’s Theater Department is now in its second year. According to Oz, next year will see cooperation with the Faculty of Education, leading to a diploma for teaching theater in high schools. The program has received the approval of the Ministry of Education.

Oz’s own theater career has encompassed many aspects, ranging from translating Shakespeare into Hebrew to being a theater critic for papers and radio. Prior to coming to the University, he was, among others things, associate artistic director of the Cameri Theater, literary advisor to the Habimah, and dramaturge at the Haifa Municipal Theater.

Building up the new department, especially when faced with a lack of theatrical facilities, presented a challenge to Oz. His good relationship with the Haifa Municipal Theater has proven extremely helpful. In fact, when this article was being written, Oz’s translation of Bertholt Brecht’s Arturo Ui was being performed at the Wadi Salib Theater in Haifa. The play’s director, Sinai Peter, is artistic director of the studio theater at the Haifa Municipal Theater and teaches acting at the University.

The courses on offer in the Theater Department include acting, directing, costume, set design, and lighting. All subjects inter-relate; as a result, all second-year students will assist with the end-of-year production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The play will be put on at the Haifa Municipal Theater. Glendyr’s role is to oversee her two directing students and help them with any problems they encounter. According to Oz, it is hoped that a display of work by the theater students will be held in the Municipal Theater at the same time as The Crucible.

In May, members of the 25th Board of Governors Meeting will be able to watch a special puppet performance. The show’s puppets were all designed, built, operated, and directed by students during workshops on puppet theater.

Hindering rehearsals for any production is the absence of a stage complete with general theatrical requirements, such as lighting and sound facilities. At the present time, the Department uses a converted cafeteria as a studio. This “studio” is also used for all workshops. Another problem is the lack of storage space; whether for large items, such as stage sets or furniture, or for keeping secure the small properties needed in a performance.

“Yes, lack of facilities is a continuing problem,” Glendyr admitted. “However,” she added optimistically, “I realize it does takes time to build up a new department and obtain resources. For the students’ sake, it is important that it is sooner rather than later. I think, though, that we have planted the seeds for a very positive future.”

In March, the second-year acting students performed scenes from Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya as a summing-up exercise. “Being so familiar with the text in English, I found it was strange to work with Uncle Vanya in Hebrew,” Glendyr said. “I recognized that there are difficulties in capturing cultural connotations in translation. From the students’ perspective, the Hebrew used was occasionally too formal and not written in every-day language. It was also the first time I had directed in a foreign language.”

She continued, “Despite the drawbacks of not being familiar with the language and, most particularly, with the rhythms and stresses of Hebrew, I found it curiously liberating. There were many things that I rediscovered.” The experience proved more creative and positive than she had thought possible.

Glendyr has already left one very important mark on her students--time-keeping. When she first started teaching here, she encountered a cavalier attitude toward starting classes on time. “By the end of the course,” she said with a smile, “I had no complaints: the student had all learned punctuality!”

Avi Oz and Glendyr Sacks are, respectively, editor and assistant editor of JTD--Journal of Theatre and Drama, published by the University. An annual publication, it was originally devoted exclusively to Jewish theater and drama. Though stress is laid on these aspects, the scope of this English-language professional journal has been extended to all topics related to theater and drama.

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