Zen Master, Singer, Actor, Theater Director

"There is a twilight zone that connects Zen Buddhism to theatre"


By Sameera Khan

MUMBAI: In one short, brief, impromptu performance, Gil Alon  proves that theatre needs no language. It's an experience that can be universally shared. On a first visit to India, the 41- year-old Israeli theatre actor performs unrehearsed before a small
Mumbai audience in Hebrew. It's a role from the American playwright
Harvey Fierstein's play, 'On tidy Endings', about the death of an AIDS patient. The audience doesn't understand a word of what he's saying, but they are with him, following not lines but tone, rhythm and gesture.
"Although as an actor, I prefer doing narrative theatre, as audience I  prefer the theatre of experience," says Mr Alon. "I want to see dreams, nightmares, thoughts, ideas on stage rather than just a story."
For 25 years, theatre has been a hard-to-get-rid-of passion for Gil  Alon, who belIeves that "you don't choose to be an actor. If it's your
calling, you are forced to be one". Yet, for the next one year he is abandoning his first love in favour  of another-more specifically, Zen
Buddhism. On a journey to discover Zen and the art of theatre, Mr Alon will travel through Pune, Dehradun, Rishikesh, Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Nepal, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan studying meditation, yoga, Tibetan Buddhism and Zen on the way. At the end of it all, he hopes to put together a course that combines theatre and Zen Buddhism for a college in Tel Aviv. "My interest in Zen Buddhism began two years ago when I was approaching the age of 40 and wondered what I could do for myself", recalls Mr Alon. "I started studying Zen at a local school in Tel- Aviv and the more I studied, the more I realized that there is a twilight zone that connects Zen Buddhism to theatre. "In Zen, there's nothing like a past that is over, or a future that has still to come. Only this moment is for sure. Zen talks of the here and  now. So, too, for an actor. The line he said or is about to say does not matter as much as the line he is to say now. The actor has to be involved and uninvolved in his role  and Zen talks of this too. It helps  quieten the mind and improves concentration, both extremely essential to actors."
To find those vital connections between Zen and theatre, Mr Alon remains dedicated to his own vision and purpose of the theatrical arts:
"Going off to see a play and following it up with cake and coffee is not enough for me," he says. "I prefer something else.Seeing a play which does not let me sleep that night, maybe even the next night, one which makes me think even for a few hours, or troubles me in some way. This kind of theatre is important. As an actor, I want to stand behind a mes- sage and have something to say." In the age of television, where almost everything is dumbed down, this kind of serious theatre is also
endangered. "TV has  affected theatre in Israel in as much as
people choosing to do lighter stuff see lighter stuff and hire big-name TV stars for stage," says Mr Alon. 

"Also, we've lost some audience, but I believe people are getting fed
up with TV, which provides very homogenized entertainment, and they will return to theatre". That's said with the confidence of
an Israeli actor who knows that  eventually in Israel, more people go to the theatre than to a football game. "Theatre is an enormous industry in Israel. We have about 2,000 to 3,000 new productions every year. This includes serious, light, children's, puppet, shadow and other forms of theatre," says Mr Alon. Much of theatre is subsidised by the  government and people either buy  annual subscriptions to a particular
theatre, or a whole production is sold to the employees of a company or taken around to schools. "I like doing a variety of theatre, so that I get a new buzz every time," says Mr Alon, who recently starred in a production of Stephen Sondheim's 'Assassins' and has been on the road with a monodrama portraying the life of Belgian singer Jacques BreI.
"What's essential for me is that every day be a new discovery that enriches me. Theatre does that for me. So does Zen."