Master manipulators

This year’s International Festival of Puppet Theater in Jerusalem includes a host of giant puppets that will stroll through the streets of Nahlaot.

Puppet 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Puppet 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While some of the theater productions in the 19th annual International Festival of Puppet Theater Jerusalem (August 8-13) take place within the confines of several theater venues across the city, the main focus is to take the stories and the characters to the streets.
For that purpose, the Train Theater organized the Public Works project this year, calling the puppets to come out and play in the neighborhood of Nahlaot on August 9, 11 and 12. Debby Farber, the production representative of the Train Theater, describes the project as an interactive journey in which the audience can explore the world of puppetry by simply strolling through the neighborhood.
“This part of the festival is built like a tour,” Farber explains. “It takes the audience from station to station.
Every station presents a different work.”
The Public Works project features shows for children and adults. Some stations in the children’s tour offer workshops, where the children can take a dream-tracker’s course and receive a certificate at the end. The adults’ tour takes the audience into the fairy-tale world of Sleeping Beauty in a contemporary adaptation of the classic story, incorporating puppetry, story-telling and illustration.
Farber says the festival uses these different elements of theater to present the audience with a unique combination of the traditional use of puppets with contemporary methods and a wide variety of techniques, including music, art and props with imaginative themes and story lines.
And if taking theatrical works out of the theater and bringing it into a single neighborhood is not enough of an exposure, Adam Yakin reckoned that giant puppets would do the trick.
Yakin initiated the first Here Come the Giant Puppets happening. The central event of the festival, takes place in the Mahaneh Yehuda market starting at 6 p.m. on Monday. A communal group of 60 built the enormous puppets, which stand five meters tall or more, and put together a captivating performance that exudes charm and wonder.
The participants are not professional puppeteers.
But Yakin says that the “professional amateurs,” as he calls them, all have a lot of imagination, inspiration and a great amount of creativity, which is the most important aspect of this form of art. As a result, Yakin forgoes the title of sole producer or director of the event.
“All the participants are producers and directors,” he insists. “They used their own initiative and were even invited to give their own creative input in the production.”
The event celebrates the Mahaneh Yehuda market in that the puppets are made of items purchased from the various shops in the area. Cardboard boxes, plastic ice-cube containers, fabrics, plastic bottles and plates, wooden sticks, plastic bags and other recyclable items form these surreal, colorful and charismatic characters that are truly larger than life.
Each puppet requires up to five or six people to maneuver it. A puppet is sometimes mounted on one person while the others manipulate the hands, legs and head. Some are placed in shopping carts for easier locomotion. All of them call for a vivid imagination and were clearly created with that mindset.
“Giant puppets do not speak,” Yakin says, “but they are very energetic and movable.”
The festive event features live music by the Marsh Dondurma brass band, while the giant puppets dance. There will also be a puppet made of baguettes. At the end of the event, the puppet will be broken up and the baguettes will be distributed to the people in the market.
Aside from the street shows, the festival includes indoor theater productions from around the world, such as Italy, Belgium, France and Korea. One of the plays, Salto Lamento, produced by well-known German puppeteer Frank Soehnle, is a dark and mysterious play inspired by the medieval Dance of the Dead.
“When you’re there, you totally forget it’s a manipulator with a puppet because you’re hypnotized by the performance,” says Farber.
Due to the international aspect of the festival, many performances will have no text, very little text or gibberish. For the few shows that are text-heavy, there will be a translator.
“One of the goals of the festival is to expose local audiences to puppetry and the world of visual theater,” Farber says. “I think it’s a fascinating experience for those who don’t come from the small milieu of the School of Visual Theater, who don’t come from the scene or attend shows organized by artists from around the world.”
The street shows are free of charge. Indoor shows will take place at the Train Theater, the Khan Theater, The Lab, The Bell Park Amphitheater and the School of Visual Theater. Tickets range from NIS 25 to NIS 90. For more details: (02) 561-8514 or