Pulling strings in Jerusalem

The International Festival of Puppet Theater is designed to entrance the audience and advance the medium.

July 26, 2012 13:00
4 minute read.
Puppet Theater

Puppet Theater. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The annual International Festival of Puppet Theater, Jerusalem has been doing brisk business for 21 years now. For more than two decades, entertainment consumers of all ages have been flocking to the Train Theater to catch quality indoor and outdoor shows that take in a wide swath of storylines, esthetics and material and technological means.

This year’s festival takes place August 5-10, with the lineup featuring top-class acts from the US, Spain, Italy, Holland, France, Switzerland and Belgium, as well as plenty of excellent homegrown shows.

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Train Theater general manager and festival artistic director Dalia Yaffa Maayan says the event is designed to achieve two main objectives. “As a creative body, the Train Theater aims to provide its audiences with enjoyment and cultural inspiration and to develop and advance the medium of puppet theater.”

Judging by the achievements of Amit Drori in recent years, the latter is being duly achieved. Drori is going great guns across Europe with his Savannah show, which recently had a highly successful run in Germany.

Savannah is a fascinating production that tells a story loosely based on interaction between human beings and animals – principally elephants – with the onstage characters played by robots. The machines in question do not exactly give the impression of cutting-edge technology which, explains Drori, is by design.

“I do not try to create the illusion of real elephants. Rather, they are a metaphor for the real thing. The illusion is the result merely of imagination and association.”

The rough and ready ethos, says Drori, is his way of making his characters more accessible and imbuing them with appeal. “We’re used to encountering cold machines that come from the world of mass production and industry, but these robots are built by hand, and they are very personal machines.”

Drori’s training for this line of work is of the grassroots variety. “I come from visual theater and I always try to animate objects in my work,” he notes. “To begin with, I operated puppets using conventional techniques. But over time and as my skills developed, I started became more involved in the mechanism of the puppets. I started using the mechanism as an esthetic approach.”

While Drori furthered his puppeteering mastery, technology was marching on. “The technological development of the last few years, and particularly the Internet, have enabled me to use robotics for poetic ends, basically to expand my creative toolbox.”

For him the technology is a means to an artistic end. “I don’t have any formal training in technology,” Drori declares. “The technological work is the result of self-learning, trial and error, particularly the esthetic approach that I and my co-designer Noam Dover have developed for using robotics in our craft.”

Drori gets his ideas from images and the world of myth. “For Savannah, what motivated me was an image of a lost Paradise, and I started to create animals around that,” he says.

He adds that he tries to keep things as loose as possible. “The project aims to take object animation as far as possible and places the objects center stage. So it was important for me not to offer a ready-made story but to work with the animals and discover how they express themselves.”

There are also strong ecological messages to Savannah. “I knew I wanted to tell a story of a fall from paradise through a situation of death,” says the director. “This is the principal story of the elephants, a very tragic animal that also sheds light on the destructive nature of mankind. This work moves in circles between man’s creative force and his destructive force.”

Over the years, technology that not just impacted on the way creators their artistic wares it has also conditioned the way audiences relate to entertainment formats, and the way we perceive storytelling.

Constant exposure to mass media and the Internet has, by and large, made us accustomed to getting information at the click of a button.

That, presumably, has made inroads on the work of people like Drori, who tend to convey their intent at a more gentle pace.

Drori begs to differ. “We are certainly less innocent today, but I try to be less blatant. I look for theater that feeds off high sensitivity, that pays great attention to detail and asks the spectator to get involved.”

There are eight domestic works premiering at this year’s puppet festival. There are also a number of free street performances, including shows for children and adults on August 6 as part of the Balabasta program at Mahaneh Yehuda, and a number of puppet shows at Hutzot Hayotzer.

For more information about the puppet festival: (02) 561-8514 and www.traintheater.co.il/puppets–festival/ f–about.php

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