We are grateful to those in our group who contributed so much, but have since died, leaving a great gap in our active membership and, most of all, in our hearts.
Guy Cafrey, Joyce Livingstone, Eric Sotto, Haynes Carter McFadden, Edward Cogan, Celia Kelman, Laura Sivan, Robin Fowler, Ralph Buchbinder, Marcia Siegal, Lew Adler, Stanley Jackson, Sidney Davis, Rose Shulman, Naomi Horowitz, Marjorie Cooper, Hadassah Bat Haim, Shlomo Juster
How It All Began by Edward Cogan
Late in the Spring of 1981, my wife Rose and I were invited for coffee by Sandy and Isaac Aaron, the parents of our son’s friend. During the conversation—the men in the living room, the women in the kitchen—Sandy mentioned to Rose that what she really missed about the USA was amateur theatre. Rose, little realizing she was opening a Pandora’s Box, remarked that I had been in community theatre, had headed a little theatre group in the USA, and had also appeared on a TV series and in US Army shows.
As if she had just seen a snake, Sandy let out a shriek, ran into the living room, repeated what she had said to Rose, and begged me to help set up an amateur theatre group in Haifa. She said that she would do all the leg work. In answer to her pleading, I replied that I had just been in Oscar Wilde’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, directed by Joyce Livingstone and put on by English-speaking students at the University of Haifa.
We decided that Joyce, Celia Kelman (who had worked on ERNEST), Sandy and I would be the Committee for the Haifa English (Community) Theatre Players. After much consideration, the first play chosen by the Committee was Joseph Kesselring’s ARSENIC AND OLD LACE.
Looking for operating capital, Sandy and I approached Annette Cohen at the Haifa Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. She offered us a base of up to 500 Lirot, use of their telephone number for ticket sales, and rehearsal space. Overwhelmed, we decided to call our group the AACI Haifa English Theatre, and at the end of each season make a donation to the AACI. Later, a plaque in the AACI office noted this.
As a location, we decided on Beit Rothschild’s Cinematheque, whose stage (lights, curtains, dressing rooms, stage depth, loading platform) was ideal for performing. The hitch was that it was booked nearly solid for film screenings, with only a few spots open for us. Rehearsals were held mainly at the AACI, and at various apartments.
Rose, who was taking a first aid course, mentioned to one of her fellow students that I was directing a play and unable to cast one of the leads. Her fellow student responded that she had been in theatre in the USA and would like to participate. Thus was hatched a continuing relationship with Marjorie Cooper, former drama professor and member of Broadway Equity. She got the part, and was made a member of the Committee. With this productive nucleus, we were on our way!
Relying on word-of-mouth advertising, our ticket sales were beyond our expectations. We quickly sold out and our minimal expenses were easily covered, with no need to cash in the AACI’s offer. After the performance, we vacated the stage just in time for the scheduled film to be screened. When the film crew tore our set from its moorings, even though it wasn’t really in their way, we decided to find another venue.
Meanwhile, news of our success had spread. We were invited to perform in Nahariya, and as a benefit for Haifa’s Beit Hahayal. We played to packed houses everywhere.
While talking with Beit Rothschild’s director, a young lawyer friend of his joined the conversation. He suggested we try the Haifa Museum which had a virtually unused stage, saying that he would be happy to arrange a meeting for us.
His name was Yona Yahav—now Haifa’s Mayor!
He drove me to the Museum. Within half an hour, we had arrived at a basic plan covering rehearsals and performance conditions. Our first production there was Woody Allen’s DON’T DRINK THE WATER, which played to full houses, as did subsequent plays—testifying to the good luck of our new home.
Rena Shapira, who handled the day-to-day running of the small auditorium, scheduled try-outs and rehearsals on the spot. A tour and a handshake wrapped it up and that’s how it stood for over 20 years!