a ritual exorcism inspired by kabbalistic principles, performed within a dominant cultural context
Enter the gates of the Venice Ghetto of the 17th century and go on a journey of dominance, separation, and survival that spirals down through the pits of Gehenna. hell prepared: a ritual exorcism inspired by kabbalistic principles, performed within a dominant cultural context takes place in multiple locations on the campus of the Philosophical Research Society, allowing you to be immersed in the secluded world of the Ghetto and dissolve into places beyond the corporeal.
Featuring a landscape of choreographed movement, poetic text, shadow puppetry, and choral scoring, hell prepared follows a spiritual leader as he endeavors to exorcise the dominant culture and its influence on his world. In the process, he is driven down through the pits of hell where he sees visions of a challenging past and an uncertain future.
The project is inspired by "Tofteh Arukh," a dramatic poem written in the 17th century from within the Jewish ghettos of Italy by rabbi, poet, and mystic Moses ben Mordecai Zacuto.
The performance incorporates choreography by Kai Hazelwood, shadow work and production design by Leslie K. Gray, and a live vocal score composed by Fahad Siadat in collaboration with Michael Jay Skloff. The production is written and directed by theatre dybbuk's artistic director, Aaron Henne, and was developed with the ensemble. The play features a cast of three performing alongside a vocal sextet.
Written and Directed by Aaron Henne
Developed with Martín Carrillo, Leslie K. Gray, Kai Hazelwood, Erith Jaffe-Berg, Julie A. Lockhart, Flori Schutzer, Fahad Siadat, Michael Jay Skloff, Dylan Southard, Diana Tanaka, and Jonathan C.K. Williams
Inspired by an English translation of Moses Zacuto's "Tofteh Arukh" by Michela Andreatta, PhD
Conceived in collaboration with Erith Jaffe-Berg, PhD
Moshe – Jonathan C.K. Williams
Sarah – Julie A. Lockhart
Dybbuk – Diana Tanaka
Members of the Confraternity / Vocal Ensemble:
Monika Beal, David Conley, Molly Pease, Rebecca Rasmussen, David Saldaña, Fahad Siadat
Stage Manager: Danny Crisp
Choreographer / Movement Director: Kai Hazelwood
Composer / Music Director: Fahad Siadat
Music Consultant: Michael Jay Skloff
Lighting Designer: Brandon Baruch
Sound Designer: Martín Carrillo
Production Designer: Leslie K. Gray
Costume Designer: Kathryn Poppen
Technical Director: Bobby Gutierrez
Dramaturg: Dylan Southard
Assistant Director: Gabrielle Bonder
Assistant Stage Manager: Adrienne Johnson-Lister
Sound Mixer: Christopher Bosco
In 17th century Italy, rabbi, poet, and Kabbalist Moses ben Mordecai Zacuto wrote "Tofteh Arukh," a dramatic poem exploring a journey into hell from a Jewish perspective.
Born in Amsterdam, Zacuto traveled to Poland then ventured to Padua, Venice, and Mantua. Zacuto likely began "Tofteh Arukh" – which translates to "l'inferno allestito" in Italian and "hell prepared" in English – while in Venice, and completed it in Mantua.
From 1516 until the Napoleonic conquest in 1797, Jews in Venice were compelled by the government of the Venetian Republic to live in the Venice Ghetto – the first ghetto in Europe. During the day, Jews - such as Zacuto – were allowed to leave the Ghetto to work and interact throughout the city. At night, however, the gates were locked and guarded by watchmen.
In spite of being geographically separated from the greater - predominantly Christian – population of Venice, Italian culture did have an influence on Zacuto's writing. "Tofteh Arukh" was almost certainly inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy – Zacuto reflects Dante's subject matter of the afflictions of the soul in hell while also incorporating ideas from Jewish mysticism. Zacuto imagined hell as an abyss at the center of the earth, subdivided into seven sections; Dante's Inferno includes nine.
hell prepared: a ritual exorcism inspired by kabbalistic principles, performed within a dominant cultural context premiered on July 26, 2019 at The Philosophical Research Society, where it ran in a limited engagement for two sold-out weekends.
Two lecture and discussion events were held at The Philosophical Research Society on the hell prepared set that covered themes and writings associated with the project.
On Tuesday, July 23, 2019, Erith Jaffe-Berg – hell prepared's collaborating scholar – presented "Jewish Theater Makers of Renaissance Italy: Spiritual Inquiry on and off the Stage." Erith is a professor of theatre in the Department of Theatre, Film, and Digital Production at University of California, Riverside whose expertise is in commedia dell'arte.
On Tuesday, July 30, 2019, PRS President Greg Salyer presented
"Passages: Texts, Contexts, and the Ways to Wisdom – Dante's Inferno." This lecture and discussion was also part of the PASSAGES Tuesday night summer series at PRS.
photos by Taso Papadakis
“Good artistic work should upend our expectations, leave us thrilled or provoked or upset. That’s the way we forward our society.” — Aaron Henne
Learn more about theatre dybbuk and the history and process of making hell prepared in this Jewish Journal article!
Leora Blum spoke with Aaron Henne and Erith Jaffe-Berg about hell prepared and the process of adapting "Tofteh Arukh."
Read the full conversation on Jewish Currents!
SCENES FROM THE PROCESS
Our vocalists create a shadow figure in rehearsal for pit 3 of Gehenna.
our process starts with a series of script development meetings with the actors, designers, writer/director, and dramaturg
Throughout the development process, our actors met 2-3 times a month to explore themes on their feet. These meetings also included our choreographer, writer/director, and puppetry expert.
HELL PREPARED – A FILM BY TASO PAPADAKIS
We collaborated with our long-time photographer, Taso Papadakis, on a short film that explored the themes present in the hell prepared theatre production. You can watch the film below – please note that the film deals with adult themes.
theatre dybbuk is generously supported by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.