One of the most intimate and enduring relationships is that between author and reader: intimate, because the reader enters imaginatively into the world created by the writer; enduring, because even when the writer is dead, the words remain. Yet a writer’s published works do not represent the full spectrum of their words – there are drafts of manuscripts, journals, letters, and other written material that not only offer insight into the life and works of the author, but may be quite beautiful, moving, or thought-provoking in their own right. Archived (the title in Hebrew is “Gnuzim”) is a project of the Itim Ensemble in cooperation with the Gnazim Archive of Hebrew Writers. Under the artistic direction of Zvi Sahar, Artistic Director of Itim, and Anat Safran, the project focuses on letters written to and from Hebrew writers such as Haim Nachman Bialik, Yosef Haim Brenner, Rachel, Leah Goldberg, Yona Wallach and Avot Yeshurun. One aspect of the project has been imbuing the letters with new life through a dialogue with contemporary artists, filmmakers, and writers, who created works inspired by the letters. One of these projects is The Archivist, a site-specific theatre piece written and directed by Danielle Cohen Levy and performed by Alit Kreiz, that takes place in the Gnazim Archive at the Beit Ariela Library in Tel Aviv.
The Archivist is literally a chamber piece; a reflection on words and memory. This unique encounter is limited to an audience of 15, that takes place deep in the lower basement of the library, a place that is kept at the crisp temperature of 17 degrees in order to preserve its very fragile contents. The descent may be made by elevator or stairs. As one enters the small room, an entire wall is filled with numbered, white boxes that to this writer’s overactive imagination were a chilling memento mori, as if I was entering a mausoleum, and perhaps that feeling was not entirely misplaced. In a certain sense, the texts contained in the archive are buried, for they come to light and life only when someone reads them. Having never visited the archive, it felt rather strange sitting there in the dark with a small group of strangers, confronted by all those white boxes.
Enter the archivist, the enigmatic guide to the wilderness of words. Portrayed by performance artist Alit Kreiz, the archivist has a mesmerizing stage presence. She talks about the archive, imbuing her words with the gravitas of authority that is at once intimate and distant, her tone infused with a tremor of awe, suspense, passion, and a spark of playful mischief. Danielle Cohen Levy’s text weaves select passages from letters in the archive, written to and/or by the writers, traces of stories like markers on a trail, inviting the listener to consider the possibilities of adventure ahead. The visual aspect of the performance is creative and meticulously designed, evoking myriad associations and feelings.
Yes, I am the ideal target audience for this performance: a thirsty reader, so easily led on by words. But the great fun of this unusual performance is that even if you have never heard of any of these writers, even if you have never read a book in your entire life, the human drama of the letters is captivating. To enter this performance is to enter the lives of others through their words, and in them, find an echo of the murmurs, longings, and secrets of your own heart.
The Archivist is performed monthly at Beit Ariela; information on dates, times, and tickets may be found through the Itim Ensemble website.
Note: a fluent knowledge of Hebrew is necessary to enjoy this performance, however, no previous knowledge of Hebrew literature or writers is necessary. For someone who understands Hebrew, it could be a wonderful introduction to some of Hebrew Literature’s most intriguing writers.
Artistic Direction: Zvi Sahar and Anat Safran; Itim Ensemble Artistic Direction: Zvi Sahar; Gnazim Director: Adiva Geffen; Written and Directed by Danielle Cohen Levy; Performer: Alit Kreiz; Art Director: Tal Erez; Sound Design: Asaf Roth; Assistant Director: Yuval Maoz; Graphic Design: Studio Nerubay