Bat-El Papura has brought her solo show I am Bat-El to the Edinburgh Fringe, following huge success in her home country of Israel. The show is a piece of autobiographical theatre telling the stories from Bat-El’s childhood growing up as – in her own words – a ‘tiny’ person. The Student caught up with her just after her first show to ask about its history and why she wants to tell her story.
That was the first time you performed the show in English, is that correct?
Yes, it was my first ever time performing in English and it is my first time performing at all abroad outside of Israel.
You have done about 300 performances in the last two years. How intense did you find that? It must have been a lot of work.
It is amazing, because sometimes I have four shows a day and sometimes I don’t have any shows. But it is amazing to free myself from being dependent on theatres or directors. [Now] I make my own living and it’s only growing, so it’s very liberating to do that. I don’t mind the hard work. It is what I love. The thing that amazes me the most is that when I started [acting] I just thought, ‘I want to be an actress.’ Most of the things I hear from the audience after the show are that they are not talking about the show and they are not talking about me. They talk about themselves, and their experience. They see themselves inside the show and they relate to that. It’s not a show about someone who is tiny. It is a show about someone that has big dreams and overcomes prejudice. It was so amazing to me because I didn’t think, ‘I am going to be an inspiration’ and I didn’t try to be an inspiration.
What do you want the audience to take away from your show?
Firstly, I just want them to have a good vibe. I just want them to enjoy it and feel happy when they are in [the audience] and to have a good time. I want them to feel like there is nothing that they cannot do, and that if they really want something… I am a small girl from Israel, and not even from an important part of Israel. Now I’m in Edinburgh! For me it is amazing. It just shows you how the world can be small if you really persist with your dreams. I just want them to believe in themselves, and not to let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. Only you know what you are capable of.
Why did you want to bring this story to the stage?
I have been acting since I was eleven. The stage is where I feel at home. I love everything about it; the smell, how the wood feels. I love the lights. I love everything. For me it was the most organic process to do. I am now working on a TV show about my story but it is more developed [than the play]. I don’t have any props… I feel like the story is the main actor and I don’t need other effects to do it.
You’re doing a TV show as well?
I am writing it. I am writing a TV show based on my life in Israel. Sometime, hopefully, it will be broadcast. But yes I am working on it now.
When you first performed the show in Israel…
Wow. It’s actually a good story. My first performance was in my sister’s high school in front of 700 teenagers… who were a really intense crowd. I threw up the whole night before. I was so scared to do this, but the impact from that show amazed me. A lot of girls came to me after the show and they told me that their whole perspective about their body changed, and teachers said that there are some girls at school with eating disorders and that it really affected them. After the show at school, my show became part of the curriculum from the Ministry of Education. They are teaching my story to fifth graders and I am doing my show. I am traveling from school to school and I am telling my story to teenagers.
In the show you mentioned your first acting role, when you were in a production of Oliver! Tell me a bit more about that.
It was amazing. First of all… I was eleven; I really was a little girl. I travelled the country to [be in the show]. It’s like if you were to travel from a suburb in England to London every day. I felt so independent and so big. There were fifty kids in that production and it was very refreshing to meet people who were like me. They loved the stage like me… I wanted to sing, I wanted to dance, and to have that platform. My mother threatened me, like, ‘if you’re grades change [for the worse] I am taking you out’, so I was studying on the buses so my mum would keep me in. After the production ended, I was so depressed. We call it PPD – post-production depression [laughs].
You also mention in the show your time working on the radio. How did you get involved with that?
It was part of my military service. In Israel every boy and girl over eighteen has to go into the military. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you are fighting on the front lines. I have never held a gun. The very first radio station in the country was the army radio, and it is the only one without commercials, so everyone listens to it. I knew that if I was going into the army then this would be the only job that I wanted to do. However, they wouldn’t accept me because they have to go through a lot of tests. So I just said, ok I will be a secretary and I will clean… I slept there on the floor.
Why did you decide to come to Edinburgh?
Because of the festival. I just love it. For me, as an independent actress, the festival is about people who are not dependent on companies… they are really doing their craft. It is something which makes me feel so inspired just being a part of it. It’s actually very famous in Israel. I heard about it, and I thought that it was a great opportunity because it is not that far from Israel. It is only a four or five-hour flight, and I heard so many good things about the people here. About Scotland, about how people are so nice and how beautiful the city is. It is even better than I had imagined. I am here and it is the most beautiful city ever. It is so nice, and so loving. It’s exciting, it is really exciting. It really warms my heart. So I will definitely be back.
In three words, how would you NOT describe your show?
Boring, serious, scary.
I am Bat-El
Greenside @ Royal Terrace (Venue 231)
Until 26th August (not 20th).
Image: Avishag Shaar Yashuv / Yedioth Ahronoth