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This article by Jesse Fischer was prepared for the April 6, 2005
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Beatbox Therapy: Humanizing the Israel-Palestinian Conflict
Close your eyes and you will hear the voices of 15 people in heated
conversation and the sounds of as many old boomboxes, set against the
backdrop of two bustling cities. Open your eyes and you will see one
man, one microphone, two chairs, and an empty stage. It’s "From Tel
Aviv to Ramallah,"a one-man show with Yuri Lane, who integrates
various performance techniques to portray daily life in the twin
Middle Eastern cities. Lane performs the 60-minute narrative drama on
Saturday, April 9, at the Passage Theatrerin Trenton.
The show follows the parallel lives of Amir, a Tel Aviv deejay and
delivery boy, and Khalid, a Ramallah Internet cafe owner. Both
characters are young men pursuing their dreams of fame and fortune,
yet both encounter distinct difficulties stemming from the underlying
While the show displays the complexities of modern living in Tel Aviv
and Ramallah, the principal theme is the similarities between the two
characters and their cities, and by extension, the two cultures. This
vision of harmony is underpinned by the cross-cultural collaboration
behind the play itself, which features musical direction by the
Jewish-American Lane and live multimedia projections by Sharif Ezzat,
an Egyptian-American Muslim.
Growing up in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco in the
late 1970s, Yuri Lane was awash in many different cultures. He learned
beatboxing, the art of imitating electronic drum machines using only
the human voice, which allowed him to mimic the various music he heard
throughout the day. "I would take public transportation all the time,
just get on the bus and listen to the sounds," says Lane. "I would
always mirror my daily life with beatbox, take each environment and
repeat my experience in beat." Lane’s beatbox talent turned into a
beatbox career one day in math class, when the instructor mistook his
clowning around for a real radio. "That’s when I realized, ‘Aha, I
have something here!’"
At first, Lane’s acting life seemed separate from his hip-hop life,
which also included teaching breakdancing at middle-school parties.
His first stage role came at age 12, in a production of "Floating
Lightbulb" at San Francisco’s prestigious American Conservatory
Theater (ACT). Encouraged by his parents – his father is a painter and
his mother a violinist – the young actor spent his teenage years on
the stage and screen, performing with ACT and Berkeley Repertory
Theater. Lane then earned a degree in classical and musical theater at
the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts in southern
It was only after college that Lane’s two artistic worlds connected.
"I had this epiphany one day, this light bulb went off, and I realized
that this is what I need to do – combine all my talents and use
beatbox as a narrative, use mime, acting, beatbox, dance, and my
acting skills to tell a story." He performed his first fusion of
beatbox and musical theater, "Soundtrack City," one scene at a time at
clubs, bars, coffee shops, and small theaters in the Bay area. That
production, in which each character is identified by their own
distinctive beatbox soundtrack, eventually enjoyed a four-month run at
Spanganga, a theater in San Francisco’s Mission district. "Soundtrack
City" also travelled to New York for the 2003 NYC Hip-Hop Theater
‘From Tel Aviv to Ramallah" is Lane’s second beatbox theater outing
and was inspired by travels to Israel and the West Bank with his wife,
Rachel Havrelock, in 1999 to 2000. A professor of Jewish Studies at
the University of Illinois at Chicago, Havrelock is also the play’s
writer and director. During their travels, Lane recalls being struck
by the similarities between the two communities. "There are so many
things that are closely related, yet what we find in the news and what
people talk about are the differences." Lane cites the accelerated
pace of living, the "kinetic energy," the international draw, the
"unbelievable music, art, and theater scene," and the focus on family,
hospitality, and honor.
Spending six days in Tel Aviv and Ramallah, Lane and Havrelock
absorbed the high-energy culture of both cities. At the end of each
day, Lane remembers, "I would play back the entire experience at night
to Rachel in beatbox." Returning to the United States, they searched
for a way to embody their experiences in performance. They were intent
that the production humanize the conflict and point out similarities
despite the impenetrable border between the two cultures. "These
images of violence that we see on television and what we read about in
the paper is a reality, but it is also just one part of what makes up
Palestine and Israel," says Lane. "People have these dreams and people
live their lives, and they laugh and cry and go to work and do their
Originally seven minutes long, "From Tel Aviv to Ramallah" is now an
hour-long production and has been touring the United States for two
and a half years. Havrelock, Lane, and the multimedia artist Ezzat
worked together to create the play: Havrelock wrote the script and
directed the play, Lane composed the beatbox soundtrack, and Ezzat
designed a set of projections for live display from a laptop.
While Havrelock remains in Chicago, where they live in the Bucktown
section, to teach, Lane and Ezzat travel together to perform the show.
Lane also plans to independently release a self-produced beatbox
record this summer. Asked if he is making a living at beatbox theater
he says he supplements his income from performances by teaching
hip-hop theater/beatbox and biblical improv.
Lane hopes to reach many distinct audiences with his play: Westerners
whose only impressions of the Middle East come through television
news, Israelis who have only been to the West Bank while serving in
the military, and Palestinians whose only experience with Israelis is
with those soldiers. In each case, the show aims to reach beyond the
expectations of those accustomed to seeing the Middle East through the
lens of armed conflict.
Ultimately, "From Tel Aviv to Ramallah" does not take an ideological
stance on Israeli-Palestinian relations. Instead, says Lane, the drama
underlines the struggles and aspirations of its characters. "It’s
funny, it’s serious, but it is not a big political statement. The
statement is that these people are human beings, and they have dreams,
and the message of the show is peace."
at the Passage Theater in Trenton. $20. The show will also be
performed on Wednesday, June 15, at the NYC Hip-Hop Theater Festival.
Lane also presents "King Solomon Builds the Temple," a new show for
kids, on Sunday, April 10 at 3 p.m For more information, visit
yurilane.com, passagetheatre.org, and hiphoptheaterfest.com.
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