To Be an Actress

By (author) Nava Shean Translated by Michelle Fram Cohen

Paperback - £34.00

Publication date:

13 April 2010

Length of book:

196 pages

Publisher

Hamilton Books

ISBN-13: 9780761850274

In To Be an Actress, Nava Shean tells about her life on the stage: from children's theater in Prague to traveling theater in the Czech countryside, to performances of prisoners in Terezin concentration camp, to Israel's national theater, Munich State theater, and her one-woman shows. The common theme that runs through the memoir is Ms. Shean's passion for the theater and her dedication to acting despite excruciating circumstances.

The memoir provides first-hand account of life in Terezin concentration camp and the incredible artistic activity under the shadow of the transports to the death camps. It also portrays the author's reconnection with her Jewish heritage against the background of her family's assimilation. Upon her arrival in Israel in 1948, Ms. Shean took part in the development of the Israeli theater, an alliance that continued into the 1980s and culminated in her one-woman show
Requiem in Terezin.
To Be an Actress provides a glimpse into the pre-Holocaust Czech theater scene, the life of the arts in Terezin concentration camp, and the world of Israeli drama in the early years of the state. The struggle to follow one's vocation and practice one's art despite fascism, sexism, and migration is clearly delineated throughout the book. Nava Shean is an impressive person, and Michelle Fram Cohen did an admirable job of translating this work. Having been prompted by the well known Israeli novelist Nava Semel to write her memoirs, Nava Shean may not be a seasoned writer, but therein lies some of the book's charm. For those particularly interested in the place of displaced European actors in early Israeli theater culture, or those who want to better understand how theater thrived at the heart of a concentration camp, this book is extremely valuable. Nava's depiction of the attitude of the kibbutz movement toward its resident artists in the 1950s is also fascinating, as is her discussion of trying to raise her daughter as a single mother while meeting the arduous demands of her dramatic profession. I enjoyed the book and am thrilled that it is now available to an English-reading audience.