A Show of Unity

October 1, 2007 -- Living City

By Andrea Gagliarducci

A theater troupe in Galilee displays unity amid religious and cultural diversity.

Flowers spring up even in the desert, and one has blossomed in the hills of Northern Galilee in Israel. In the space of a few miles there are kibbutzim, moshavim and Arab Christian villages; Muslims, Circassians and Druse.
It is here that Angelica Edna Calò Livné works. An Italian Jew, born in Rome, she immigrated to Israel 30 years ago. After obtaining her degree in social theater and a masters program on integrating the arts into education, she had the idea of using theater to promote peace. With this in mind, she founded the Arcobaleno-Rainbow Theater Group. The troupe is made up entirely of young people; half are Jewish and half are Arab.
Their latest success, Anne in the Sky, is based on the story of Anne Frank, a subject close to Livné’s heart. There is also a mime-opera called Beresheet (containing just five spoken sentences), which explores how conflicts originate.

Many Colors, One Rainbow

Livné firmly believes that her theater group can help promote peace, despite all the differences and difficulties. “The idea of the Arcobaleno-Rainbow Theater Group,” she explains, “is that the spectrum contains many colors, each different from the other. And yet its beauty lies precisely in the fact that all these different colors appear harmoniously together.”
Livné always wanted to use theater for education, and she has managed to put together young people from completely different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. “At one time,” she says, “I was teaching in five different schools, and I decided to open a theater school. Lots of young people joined, but we didn’t have any Arabs. On the kibbutz where I live, there was a young Palestinian lad who worked in the kitchen. One day he saw me pinning up a poster for the school. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked. ‘I’m pinning up this poster. Why don’t you come to my theater? Come on, don’t worry, anyone can act.’
“I convinced him to come,” she remembers. “Now half the students are Arabs and half Jews. When you see them together, there are no obvious cultural or religious differences. And yet they lead completely different lives, with different languages, traditions and religions. There are even differences among the Jews themselves,” Livné says.
“We meet once a week for three hours,” she explains. “But the first half hour is always taken up with kisses and hugs and bringing each other up to date with what has gone on over the last week.”
The basic idea behind the theater school is very simple: “Every religion, every human being, every tradition has its own wonderful world. But because they don’t know one another, there is fear of the unknown and mistrust, and this creates conflict,” she says. “Somehow, through education, we have to bring young people together and let them get to know each other, so that they can pass their experience on to their people.”

Removing Masks

The first show is entitled Beresheet, (In the beginning), taken from the opening words of the Bible. Livné explains: “To start with, all the actors are dressed the same and are wearing masks. But after a while we discover that, underneath the outer costume, some are wearing orange suits. Very soon those in the orange suits are fighting those in the purple suits. Eventually, after suffering and deaths, two characters detach themselves from the group. They start to get to know one another, but the group turns their backs on them.”
At this point in the drama, Livné’s youngest son Or appears, dressed all in white, as if to say, “Do it for the children.”
“Then they all remove their masks, something which is not normally done in theater,” she says. “It is something we decided together. In fact the young people said to me: ‘We want to take our masks off.’ And I said to them, ‘You can’t, it’s a theatrical convention.’ They replied, ‘Perhaps if we break the convention something will happen.’”
And, in fact, something happened. “Our show has a prophetic quality,” Livné says. “There is a moment when the orange suits make a barrier. Then the purple suits make a barrier behind them, like the wall we built in reply to the wall of suicide bombers. Four years ago, when we first staged the show, the color orange had no particular significance, but now it has become the color of the Gaza disengagement plan.”
Public reaction to the show has been astounding. “At the end of the show, many in the audience are left speechless. They just don’t know what to say,” explains Livné. “At a certain point, the young people sit down on the stage and conduct a dialogue with the audience. I act as interpreter. What they say is just what they feel, and no one can make a judgment about it, because it is a show that speaks for both sides

Bread for Peace

Another point of encounter between Palestinians and Jews is the “Feast of Bread.” The idea came about through the friendship between Samar, a Christian from the Palestinian territories, and Edna. “Samar had opened a bakery in the Palestinian zone and she was always saying to me: ‘One day I want to bake bread with Israeli women.’ I lowered my head,” admits Edna, “But one day I said to her: ‘I will bring you some Israeli women.’ In fact, I brought her fifty. Samar had got everything ready, and there was even a Palestinian Scout band to welcome us. I also decided to write an article about the event. I opened the Torah to look for inspiration and eventually found a sentence in Leviticus: ‘And you will eat and be satisfied. The sword will pass no more through your land, and you will distribute the bread of peace.’ I copied it and sent it to Shalom (a Jewish monthly published in Rome). It was February and this thing began to circulate on the Internet. It gained official backing from the European Parliament and was given the go ahead in Italy. And on June 1, 2005 the first Feast of Bread took place in Italy, which was later repeated in Rome, Milan and Naples.”
Never short of new ideas, Edna has now started a radio program run by young people for young people, entitled All for Peace, which is broadcast simultaneously from Jerusalem and Ramallah. Who knows what she will come up with next.
Learn more about the Arcobaleno-Rainbow Theater