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Teaching Theater in Israel; Hoping for Peace

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Associate professor David Kaye in his office at Ben Gurion University. Courtesy photo.

David Kaye is an associate professor of theatre and dance who also happens to be an actor and a playwright.  He has written, directed and produced films and television programs that have been shown on PBS. He has a history of production gigs that include New York City's Julian Acting Company, the Hackmatack Playhouse, the Maine Stage Company and several summers at the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth.

Not once in any of those experiences did he have to gather his family and make it into a bomb shelter in less than 45 seconds.

Until he got a Fulbright Award to go to Israel.

Kaye, his wife, Mary, and their two daughters spent four months living in Be’er Sheba, a city of about 200,000 located in the desert region of Negev a little more than 20 miles from the Gaza Strip. He taught two classes at Ben-Gurion University.

Kaye’s research, his creative endeavor, was his collaboration with fellow Fulbright scholar Sara Brown. Together they developed a one-woman play that she wrote and performed and he directed. "Bloodshed, Miracles, Deliverance, Good Food!" premiered at Theatronetto Festival in Tel Aviv.

He also worked as a consultant at the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies, which brings Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians together to explore the environmental issues of the region.

“I have a real interest in culture and sustainability,” Kaye says. “You can’t confront environmental issues without confronting them on the cultural level. It all comes down to the question: What is a good life? You know you need water but you also need peace.”

Kaye does a lot of work focused on peace. He is the co‐founder and trainer of WildActs, the UNH social justice theatre troupe.

“The common denominator is social justice,” Kaye says of his teaching, his consulting, his creative work. “An unsustainable world will likely lead to the greatest social injustices we have ever seen. When we start fighting about water, we will be in real trouble.”

And just what does all of this have to do with acting, with teaching theater?

“It all comes down to relationships. Working through conflict is at the heart of theatre,” Kaye says. “Acting is the art form that most resembles life itself.”

While in Israel, Kaye taught his classes in English. For all but one student, it was their second language. Despite that barrier, he found them to be very articulate. 

“They challenged me. At the core, they were the same as the students in New Hampshire,” he said.

Except that they have grown accustomed to the sound of rocket attacks. While Kaye and his family were in Be’er Sheba, there were four.

“Americans are quick to think they can solve the problem. Living there, even for that short a time, you realize quickly how complex it is. But that’s not an excuse not to do more.”

Part of the scholarly ‘more’ that Kaye had planned on was to teach a workshop at the Freedom Theater in the West Bank. He had been e-mailing with director Juliano Mer-Khamis, whose mother founded the theater. She was Jewish. Her husband was a Palestinian.

Kaye was to collaborate with Mer-Khamis but before they had a chance to meet, Mer-Khamis was gunned down outside the theater by masked Palestinian gunmen.

That kind of news sobers you, Kaye says. It brings out your naiveté; makes you realize you thought it was all so simple. At the same time, you know that as the rockets are being fired, you’re leaving in six months; the people you are working with are staying.

“It is so complex,” he says again. “It challenged me, to be teaching people living under such different circumstances. It forced me to ask questions about how I teach; maybe even why. But I don’t know if I could give you a simple answer if you asked me what I learned.”

“The experience forced me to walk away more dedicated to teach, and I think I’m much stronger as a teacher,” Kaye says. “I feel a little less optimistic but I still have that faraway hope for peace.”

“In my job, I get to ask the fundamental question: What does it mean to be human? Through questions, maybe someone will gain insight that will help produce a leader of tomorrow who might take us a step closer to peace.”