David Zinder, avant-garde dramatist and sought after acting coach, talks about his method and the magic of the stage
You may read about David Zinder — his childhood in Israel, years as a conscript, his work in Manchester, his writings and his productions in Romania. Or you could watch him, listen and learn to imagine the workings of his mind. Characters in most proscenium plays you see today are developed using the former approach. Zinder is a practitioner of the latter.
“Whatever works,” he says, plucking out a couple of sugar cubes, glistening in the sunlight, and dropping them in his espresso. He wanted a double espresso but India International Centre only serves single ones. Whatever works.
Zinder, an Israeli with an active engagement in Romania, is in the Capital to talk to students of the National School of Drama about his method called Imagework. His method trains actors to use the Michael Chekov technique which uses imagination as the foremost tool for an actor to get into his character. Gestures and the body take primacy over the script.
After his mandatory tour of duty in the Israeli Defence Forces, Zinder says he joined Tel Aviv University’s Theatre Department in the early ’60s.
“After my time in the army, my parents, like all other Israeli parents, sat me down and asked what I wanted to do with my life. I had acted in plays in school and had even won a prize for a mime. So, theatre.”
A year later he dropped out and went to Manchester University where he did a BA in Drama. He went on to work with a number of Israeli troupes, including one where he was mentored by Jacqueline Kronberg of Chicago’s renowned Second City Improvisation Group. “I picked up what worked for me along the way. My university studies were academic. They didn’t tell me how to or how not to act. Frankly, how can one act like that? I’m lucky I did not go to acting school.”
Through his eclectic choices, trial, error and discovery he created Imagework. “At a workshop in the U.S. in ’93, a lady told me that I was actually doing Chekov. I had not realised until then the intuitive link my ideas had with Chekov.”
For Chekov the feeling of beauty was paramount. This does not work with imposition, says Zinder. “I work with what actors give me. I put them through a workshop, explain the concept and technique to them. I teach them my language and never tell them what they’re doing is wrong. If it’s not working out, we find an alternative.”
He explains that Chekov is not necessarily a tool for only physical theatre. It is an approach to enrich all kinds of theatre.
Last year he directed Blood Song, an adaptation of Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca’s tragedy Blood Wedding, with Hyderabad’s Samahaara Theatre. Surprisingly, actors from all the countries he has worked in respond to his method in the same way, he says.
Eastern Europe, where he works, has a long tradition of theatre which is institutionalised and subsidised from the Communist era. Theatre critiques are long and intelligent.
Israel too has a tradition of theatre, which even before the formation of the country was used as a vehicle to teach Hebrew to Jewish settlers who spoke different languages.
Theatre companies enjoy some public funding but have to do TV shows to survive. Theatre reviews are shorter, but the country has a very high theatre attendance.
“Twenty to 25 plays are being staged in Tel Aviv on any given night,” he says. He adds that though a large number of Indian Jews migrated to Israel in the ’60s and ’70s, they aren’t visible on stage — which of late has seen the entry of many talented Israelis with Ethiopian roots.
In Hyderabad, however, he realised that the presence of cinema was so overwhelming that a professional theatre company was not an economically viable venture. “The films were actually quite bad. There is overacting and very simple craft.”
His advice is: “For theatre to become an alternative to cinema, you have to start with the kids. Theatre lets a man express himself or discover his imagination in a way unlike any other activity. You have to create an audience by bringing children on the stage, expose them to modern and rich drama, if theatre has to become as successful as it is in the western world.”