Life on a string

Puppets from all over the world take the stage at the annual International Puppet Festival in Holon.

Puppets 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Puppets 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ilan Savir may be the artistic and general director of the Israel Puppet Center of Holon and its puppet festival, but he also considers himself to be a missionary, bringing puppetry to the greater Israeli public. Being a puppeteer himself, Savir believes that puppetry is an art that requires extensive multitasking skills and versatility.
“Puppetry is one of the arts that combines all the others,” Savir explains.
“It combines the plastic arts, all the stage arts… You don’t need to be an actor yourself, but you need to have the qualities of an actor. You have to know how to move your body, know how to transfer it into some kind of a tool, which is the puppet; you need to have voice qualities… So I think that puppetry is a ‘junction’ where all the arts meet.”
In order to make the Israeli public appreciate this underground theater technique as not just simple entertainment but as an artform, the thirteenth annual International Puppet Theater and Film Festival will include a wide range of shows and activities, taking place from July 21-25.
Aside from the shows, the center will offer workshops, art exhibits in the museum and films, all relating to puppetry.
Savir says that all these activities are necessary in order to get the full scope of the art, and are not any less important than the puppet shows themselves.
“Within a show you only get to see the puppets or the creation in the amount of time the creator wants you to see it – approximately 45 minutes,” he explains. “But if you want to explore the tool – the puppet itself – then you can take your time in the museum after the show or before the show.
“There are hundreds of different kinds of puppets at the museum, from different cultures and different countries. Or if you want to experiment how to manipulate a puppet, you can do that in the workshop. And in the film section, you get to see the puppets in a completely different light.
To manipulate a puppet in front of a camera is very different than to manipulate it in front of an audience.
So this festival is the festival of the puppetry experience from each and every angle possible.”
The festival also includes shows that are targeted for older audiences in an attempt to prove that puppetry can appeal to all ages. Savir says that the common misconception in Israel that puppet shows are only for children is rooted in language.
“In Hebrew we use the same word for puppet and for a doll,” he explains. “English has separate words, French has separate words. In Hebrew nobody thought there would be a need for a special word. So I think whenever we say ‘Te’atron Bubot’ – that is, theatre of the dolls – then immediately you think about childhood… I think it’s appealing for adults. The problem is to get the adults to see it.”
The festival will also present different puppetry techniques throughout the shows. One of them is the opera – a 45-minute puppet extravaganza, featuring a 40-piece orchestra, seven puppeteers from the center’s school of puppetry, and three singers from Spain.
“The opera is called Master Peter’s Puppet Show,” says Savir. “It is based on an episode from Don Quixote, where Don Quixote enters the inn of Don Pedro [Peter] and he watches a play and at some point he attacks the puppets.”
Another form of puppetry used in the festival is that of marionettes, which Savir claims is a technique related to traditional puppetry, which is mostly used in Eastern Europe and is not very popular in Israel.
One of the shows, called The Audition, will feature yet another puppetry technique made popular by the performer Jeff Dunham (known for his puppets Walter and Achmed the Dead Terrorist) – ventriloquism.
The ventriloquist in The Audition is Dr. Allan Blumenstyk, who is also a practicing pediatric dentist. In his daily work, he incorporates both professions by using puppets to teach children dental hygiene in the office. But The Audition is targeted especially for adults, the setting being a jazz club.
Blumenstyk will be performing along with a jazz ensemble, which will be playing popular tunes by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, among others “I use four different characters – four different puppets – throughout the show,” says Blumenstyk. “And during the performance, these characters come on and off stage and they’re coming for auditions to become singers for this jazz club.”
Blumenstyk claims that through the media and modern technology, children are often exposed to entertainment that makes ventriloquism less exciting, and it is therefore more appealing to adults.
“On television, you can see on any channel a couch talking, a potato talking,” he explains. “So the child is used to seeing inanimate objects talking. When I do it in my office, most of the time, the person who enjoys it the most is the mother or father. The kid is enjoying it but the parents are the ones who are really enjoying it and really appreciating it.”
Outdoor puppet shows and the museum are open to the public free of charge. Other activities and indoor shows cost between NIS 25 to NIS 90.

For tickets, call (03) 502-1552.