Corrections or additions?

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

political conflict.

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

California.

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

Festival.

‘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

thing."

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."

"From Tel Aviv to Ramallah," Saturday, April 9, at 8 p.m.

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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