In its 26th season, the Traveling Jewish Theatre (TJT) takes on its most challenging project to date, addressing the conflict in the Middle East. Spark visits the TJT’s ensemble cast of “Blood Relative,” a collaboratively created play about Israel/Palestine from both perspectives.
TJT’s artistic director, Aaron Davidman, began work on the “Blood Relative” project in 2002, with a research trip to Israel and to the Acco Theatre Festival. There he met actors Ibrahim Miari, a Palestinian who is the son of an Arab Muslim father and a Tunisian Jewish mother, and Meirav Kupperberg, who is Jewish. Both had ensemble theater experience and had worked on projects that dealt with Arab-Jewish issues. Miari’s story became the central theme of “Blood Relative.”
The characters’ stories in “Blood Relative” were developed using TJT’s unique, collaborative technique, which derives stories from a combination of external and internal sources. Interviews were conducted with families on both sides of the conflict. Material was also created from the personal lives and feelings of the play’s actors as well as from meetings with the Jewish Palestinian Dialogue Group, documentary films, and the two holy doctrines of Judaism and Islam — the Torah and the Koran.
All of this research and discovery yields materials that are finessed into a script through discussion and improvisation that goes through many revisions until a final draft takes shape. This process is one that the TJT has been following for more than 25 years — a truly collaborative process through which the performers are deeply invested in the content and the production.
The TJT was founded in 1978. It has created more than 20 original works for the theater and has performed in more than 60 cities worldwide. Its works have covered a range of issues, from the legends of the Hasidim to the assassination of Trotsky; from the politics of the Middle East to African-American/Jewish relations. The TJT acquired its present home in San Francisco’s Project Artaud in 1994, completing a renovation of the space in 1998. The company and its artists have received critical acclaim, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and a Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays award for “See Under: LOVE,” by Corey Fischer — nominated by the American Theatre Critics Association as one of the best American plays of 2001.