Curtain call?

Ra’anana’s Center Stage theater under threat of closure

English-language performance space built by South African immigrants was open for just 107 days prior to the pandemic

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The 104-seat theater built by Grant and Daniella Crankshaw for their Ra'anana Center Stage venue, is under threat of closure due to the pandemic (Courtesy Center Stage)
The 104-seat theater built by Grant and Daniella Crankshaw for their Ra'anana Center Stage venue, is under threat of closure due to the pandemic (Courtesy Center Stage)

When they created their own English-language performance venue in Israel, veteran theater professionals Daniella and Grant Crankshaw wholly believed that if they built a theater, audiences would come.

And audiences did fill the 104 cushioned seats for the first 107 days of Center Stage’s existence, when they staged some dozen productions and shows, including plays, poetry slams and standup comedy evenings.

“It’s really a cultural center,” said Daniella Crankshaw.

But by March 2020, the Ra’anana theater built by the Crankshaws was forced to close, and it stayed closed during the first 14 months of the pandemic.

Now Center Stage is under threat of permanent closure, due to the debts and costs accrued in building the business, and all those months of no income.

“The timing was terrible,” said Daniella Crankshaw. “But we don’t give up. We feel a kind of responsibility to the community who have embraced us. They need it so badly.”

Daniella and Grant Crankshaw, South African immigrants who built Ra’anana’s Center Stage and are now under threat of foreclosure (Courtesy Center Stage)

The Crankshaws, both originally from South Africa, met at university drama school when they were still in their teens. They immigrated to Israel in 1997, and worked in different professions — building and renovations for Grant, marketing in the high-tech industry for Daniella.

While they spent their free time acting and participating in community theater, they still dreamed of finding work as professional actors in English, their native language.

Finally, in 2019, with the help of two angel investors and a bank loan, they rented and renovated a space in Ra’anana’s industrial zone, calling it Center Stage. It consists of the 104-seat black box theater and a bar-lounge space in the entrance, where they can seat another 40 guests.

“We said, ‘If we don’t do it, we’ll always regret not trying it,'” said Daniella Crankshaw.

The timing, however, was terrible, as they were forced to close during the extended lockdowns of the coronavirus, despite having already hosted and produced some 12 plays and shows, as well as a teen theater program.

Photos from some of Ra’anana’s Center Stage productions in its four months of operation, before the pandemic hit (Courtesy Center Stage)

They reopened late last spring, and have adjusted to include digital shows for those still squeamish about sitting inside, in addition to live performances. Still, Grant is back to renovation work to make ends meet while Daniella focuses on the theater.

Now, just as things were looking up, their landlords shut off their power — which has since been temporarily turned back on — and are granting them a few months to repay their debts.

The Crankshaws aim to raise $40,000 and are reaching out to anyone devoted to arts and culture, including investors, donors and theater professionals interested in participating in a benefit show.

“We are determined. We are here to stay,” said Daniella Crankshaw.

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