HAIFA MUNICIPAL THEATER, Haifa repertory company, founded in 1961 by the Haifa Municipality. It was the first theater in Israel to be initiated by a public body, as well as the first with a paying membership (subscribers were guaranteed five new productions each season).
The theater was warmly welcomed by residents of Haifa, and from its inception had 12,000 subscribers. Unlike other theaters in Israel, the Haifa Municipal Theater began in a magnificent building with up-to-date stage equipment and a municipal subsidy which guaranteed its solvency. Its budget in 1967 was IL 2 million, of which IL 420,000 was subsidy. However, since there had never been a theater in Haifa before, it had difficulty in recruiting actors. Despite this handicap, it succeeded in presenting several excellent productions, among them Berthold Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which was performed with great success in Israel in 1962 and at the Venice Festival in 1963, and Shakespeare's Richard III (1966), both staged by the Haifa Municipal Theater's first artistic director, Yosef Millo .
The repertoire of the Haifa Municipal Theater consists of classical, contemporary, and original Hebrew plays. In 1970 it recruited the avantgarde group of young actors and directors, led by Oded Kotler, who constituted Bimat ha-Saḥkanim. The 1970s were the golden age of Israeli theater, and the theater preformed plays by Yehosuha Sobol , Hanoch Levin , Hillel Mittelpunkt, Yosef Bar-Yosef, Yaakov Shabtai , and others. During these years Nola Chelton and a group of actors called the Project Group joined the theater and preformed several major plays. After Kotler, the theater was led by Amnon Maskin and later by Omri Nizzan and Noam Semel. Under their management the theater focused on Jewish-Israeli plays, the best-known being Sobol's Ghetto and Jewish Soul. Jewish Soul was the first Israeli play to participate in the Edinburgh Festival. Ghetto was shown at the Berlin Festival in the presence of the president of Germany. Later, both plays were shown at other international festivals. In 1987 the theater established a stage for plays in Arabic.
In 1988 the theater found itself in the midst of public controversy over Sobol's politically charged Jerusalem Syndrome, a play written for Israel's 40th anniversary. The controversy led to the resignation of Sobol and Gedaliah Besser, the artistic directors. In 1990 Oded Kotler was reappointed to head the theater, a position he held until 1997. The theater continued to perform Israeli plays alongside foreign ones, but later faced financial problems, lost many subscribers, and failed to perform significant plays.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.