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October 21, 2011

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Donning an 'Overcoat'

Few people can deny the talent and creativity of Amit Lahav, a founder and the artistic director of Gecko Theater. He has been involved in four award-winning shows - "Taylor's Dummies," "The Race," "The Arab and the Jew" and "The Overcoat."

During the ongoing 13th Shanghai International Arts Festival, "The Overcoat," a success at the Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama in 2009, will conclude its world tour on October 28-29 at STA Theater.

Lahav, both director and lead actor in the play, read the original Gogol's novel "The Overcoat" just once, but he was totally impressed by the inner world of a man obsessed by love. He depicts the feelings of the man in an amusing and exaggerated way, hoping to spark the audience's imagination, awaken their senses and fill them with energy and vitality.

Lahav was born in Israel and trained as a physical theater performer before working with several dance, visual and physical theater companies. He has worked with Lindsay Kemp in his touring productions of "Variete" and "Elizabeth," Steven Berkoff, Ken Campbell and David Glass in "Unheimlich Spine," "Off the Wall" and "Blue Remembered Hills."

Over the years he has worked as a director, facilitator, writer and choreographer for numerous companies.

He was also a key member of "The Lost Child Project" working to create shows with disenfranchised children in Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Italy, Laos, Thailand, England and Vietnam.

Lahav and his friend Al Nedjari founded the Gecko Theater in 2001. They stick to a trade-mark inventive style.

Prior to the Shanghai performance of "The Overcoat," Lahav spoke to Shanghai Daily, talking about the creative process and concepts for the show.

Q: In the year 2009, "The Overcoat" took the stage in Edinburgh for the first time, and Gecko took this piece of work around the world. With it appearing for the first time in Shanghai, what changes and ideas will you bring to this performance?

A: I look at it a little differently. Theater is all about communication. The communication between the stage and the audience, in both directions! In this way, an imaginative interaction occurs in both, which means that we can all "re-imagine the world!" So the question might be, what new ideas will the Shanghai audience bring to the show?

I mean this quite genuinely. We are enormously affected by the audience and the show has been affected by audiences all over the world. It would be difficult to say what changed in what part of the world because sometimes the rhythm of the show changes and this is more subtle and delicate than a new scene. "The Overcoat" is always changing, it changes from night to night and undoubtedly, it will change and move as it gets infected by the hearts and minds of the Shanghai audience.

Q: Compared to the original novel, the characterization of Akkaki (the protagonist) is quite different. What do you want to express through these changes?

A: I wanted to make our own "Overcoat." A journey that was meaningful and truthful to me. Then all you can do is hope that it will be meaningful to everyone who sees it.

I was attracted to Akakki's plight, to his struggle and fight, to his challenges and dilemmas, and to how life changes around him. But I needed to find a journey that was meaningful to me and a journey that would challenge me, that connected to my ideas, challenges, passions, fears and desires.

Q: Some scenes in "The Overcoat" make the audience feel as if they're watching a Hitchcock movie. I wonder if "The Overcoat" has ever borrowed ideas from these kind of movies?

A: In some ways yes and in some ways no. The show has been growing and changing for three years. Everything I see and experience could have gone into the show including movies. But there isn't one movie that I can think of that has directly influenced the show.

Q: There are many different musical elements in "The Overcoat." There are also various Chinese elements: Cantonese, kung fu, traditional Chinese opera, ... Why did you use these Chinese elements? Any connections between all these musical elements?

A: Dave Price and I work very closely together on the music. Price composed lots of the music over one year of this process. We had a Chinese actor working on the show at the beginning called Tom Wu who created some movement that Dave responded to. Lots of this still exists even though we now have a Japanese actor playing the same role. This is a good example of how elements change in the show.

Q: A lot of Gecko's shows seem to have an open ending. Why is this?

A: I never say definitely what a moment in the show means or says from my point of view. This is because it is important that each moment or scene has the potential to mean something different to each individual in the audience. In a way, we are not trying to tell the audience a story. We are helping the audience to look at themselves.


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