As the spring quarter launches into full bloom at the University of Washington, the Stroum Jewish Studies Program prepares for a special visitor to arrive on campus from Israel. Selected as one of 10 sites nationwide to participate in the Schusterman visiting artist program, UW will be hosting world-renowned Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol from April 15 through June 10.
With a vast amount of playwriting under his belt, Sobol is most famous for his work, “Ghetto” (1984), which has been produced in over 25 countries and won the London Critics’ award for Britain’s best play of the year in 1989. His work has been internationally recognized and acclaimed over the last 30 years.
Bringing an Israeli artist on campus to share both his work and his experience gives the program the opportunity to reach across campus and work with other departments, in this case the UW School of Drama, to create a calendar of classes and community events featuring Sobol throughout the spring quarter.
The Schusterman visiting artist program was created to build and share Israeli culture with Jewish communities in a variety of ways. Founded in June 2008 as a project of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, this program brings Israeli artists in a variety of disciplines to North American institutions.
Jewish Studies Program leaders say they are excited about the opportunity to share the wealth of knowledge, experience, artistic wisdom and — possibly most important — the Israeli and Jewish culture Sobol brings to the community and campus.
“We see this as an opportunity to expand across the university to expose other programs to Israeli and Jewish culture,” said Jewish Studies chair Noam Pianko. “One of our missions is to take what we study and research and share that with the community.”
The Jewish Studies program’s Hannah Pressman, who is in charge of coordinating events during Sobol’s visit, agreed.
“Hosting an Israeli artist is an ideal way to expose students, faculty, and community to the ways that a creative mind mediates the socio-political complexity of life in Israel,” she said. “We hope that Mr. Sobol’s presence during spring quarter will help to highlight Israeli culture for those curious about the role of the artist in this complicated part of the world.”
Aside from the 60 plays Sobol has written, he has also authored several novels and non-fiction books and taught workshops at a number of Israeli Universities.
“Though teaching has never been my main occupation, I have always kept a working contact with drama departments at various Israeli universities and training schools for actors,” Sobol told JTNews. “I find the working contact with students very stimulating and inspirational.”
While working with the UW School of Drama, Sobol plans to share with students his experience “in approaching text as a point of departure for improvisation and using improvisation as a basis for creating and approaching text.”
He plans to work with students on exploring many aspects of dramatic interpretation, along with introducing students to the form and the open structure of the so-called Polydrama, “a form I developed in cooperation with the Austrian director Paulus Manker,” Sobol said.
Having worked primarily with Israeli students in the past, Sobol said he looks forward to his upcoming work with American students.
“I am quite curious to meet young American students,” he said, “and to get an idea about the values, the taste, the ideas and the beliefs and convictions that animate them, in one word — to capture the Zeitgeist of the present rising generation of young Americans.”
Odai Johnson, head of the UW’s School of Drama Ph.D. program and associate professor of theatre history, will be co-teaching a playwriting class with Sobol. Like Pianko, Johnson said he looks forward to working across the university with other departments during Sobol’s residency.
“We are delighted to have a professional playwright of international reputation here in residence working with students in the School of Drama,” he said.
Beyond teaching classes with the drama and Jewish studies programs at UW, Sobol will be spending his visit working with other Jewish organizations throughout the greater Seattle area to share his artistic and cultural experience. Currently, community events that will feature Sobol and his work include a reading at the UW Bookstore on May 8, and an invitation-only evening of staged readings on May 15.
“We have reached out to Seattle Jewish organizations to allow Mr. Sobol to engage with the community here,” said the Jewish Studies Program’s Pressman. Programs so far include engagements with UW Hillel and synagogues in Seattle’s Northend.