Meet the Wizard
by Robert Hersowitz
When I went to meet Robert Binder for the first time, I felt like Dorothy and her 3 friends on their way to Oz. Having seen a number of Encore’s highly polished productions, I was expecting to step into a magical world of Broadway glitz and West End glamour. Instead, I found myself entering Unit 317 on Poalei Zion Street in Talpiot’s Industrial zone. There was no grand staircase or even a front door. I let myself in only to be greeted by a cheery Robert Binder who was wearing a blue tailor’s apron. He had been working on some of the costumes for the forthcoming production of The Wizard of Oz that opens at the Hirsch Theatre in Beit Shmuel on January 10th. Such is the man’s commitment to his craft.
“I’m a Jack of all trades, and master of none.” He smiled. Not true, I was to discover. He is indeed a master director and a Wizard of musical theatre.
I was fascinated to know more about this quietly spoken fellow who together with his genius musical director, Paul Salter has produced and directed some of Jerusalem’s most exciting community theatre.
I asked Robert how it all began.
“It started in Schenectady in upstate New York when I was 7 years old. I attended public school where I began writing plays. Every Friday I would write and produce a play on a different topic.” His passion continued until he found himself attending one of the US’s most prestigious Drama Schools, The Yale School of Drama, part of Yale University in Connecticut from where he graduated in 1969.
It was at about this time that Robert was drawn to a more observant Jewish way of life. He moved to New York, attended the Jewish Theological Seminary where he was ordained as a Rabbi. He spent a significant part of his early career as a pulpit Rabbi in Toronto.
Robert made Aliyah with his wife and children in 1983.
Fast forward to the year 2000 when Paul Salter, Encore’s Musical Director made Aliyah from Manchester England.
“It was a gift from heaven. We both shared a passion for Gilbert & Sullivan and our musical theatre collaboration just blossomed from then on.” Robert told me. “We are both perfectionists and maintain the highest standards for everything we do.”
I asked Robert about the choice of The Wizard of Oz for Encore’s newest production.
“It goes back to my early career when I wanted to blend musical theatre with Jewish ideas and values. Together with a colleague we co-wrote a Jewish version of the Wizard. It was an allegorical piece entitled the Gaon of Sambatyon about a Jewish girl on a quest to find what turns out to be a spiritual ‘pot of gold’ connected to Channuka.”
Robert explained that this year’s production was inspired by the success of Aladdin which Encore performed last May.
“It was a great success and part of our goal as a theatre company is to reach younger audiences. The beauty of ‘The Wizard’ is that it has an almost universal appeal. It appeals to every age group and attracts the whole family from grandparents to kids as young as 5 or 6. There will be 20 children performing in this new show.” He says proudly.
The show follows the plot of the famous 1939 movie very closely.
Robert then began to tell me a little about the Encore “family”.
“I see myself as the Grandfather of this company. We are blessed to have an incredible pool of talent right here in Jerusalem. We share a common goal, to entertain and provide the Anglo community with a thrilling, enjoyable musical theatre experience. My goal as director is to make sure that everyone who is part of Encore enjoys themselves whilst planning, rehearsing and performing every show. If the cast enjoys what they do it rubs off on the audience and the results are magical.”
The show stars veteran performers Miri Fraenkel as Dorothy, Sraya Goldstein as the Scarecrow, Yakir Abelow as the Tinman and Dvir Schler as the Lion.
Choreography is by Avichai Barlinski and Judy Brown-Davis and the sets are designed by Roxanne Goodkin-Levy.
The 120 members that make up the Encore team come from all over the Anglo Saxon world and comprise Israelis as well as olim from Holland, Russia and Venezuela.
Members of the company include religious and secular, Jewish and non-Jewish and ages ranging from seven to late seventies. One of the musicians, Clarinetist Alan Tshaikov was part of the original D’Oyly Carte orchestra in Britain in the early ‘50s. Today he is very much a part of the Encore musical ensemble led by Paul Salter.
During my tour of the Warehouse space, Robert showed me the space where he and his outstanding team rehearse and combine their talents to spin straw into theatrical gold.
He explains that Encore is only 60% self-funding through box-office takings and that the rest of the finances come through donations.
The company has achieved an outstanding reputation in Israel even amongst professional Israeli theatre directors who come to Jerusalem to see the productions. A great deal of attention is paid to the technology of providing user friendly Hebrew sub-titles. One Israeli who has made a major contribution to this aspect of the performances, is high ranking IAF officer Reuven Ben-Shalom whose Israeli son has also performed on stage.
The show promises to be another Encore gem, and its six shows run from the 10th to the 19th of January. On the eve of opening night, the show is 95% sold out, with the remaining tickets available for purchase on this website or by calling 054-578-9006.
Robert Hersowitz is an accomplished writer, management consultant, presenter and coach. He has contributed to books and journals in the U.K, Europe and the US. Since making Aliyah in 2014 he has had several articles published in the Jerusalem Post. He is an award winning short story writer and is about to launch his own Jewish short story website.
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