Puppets are people, too

Puppets converge on the capital for the 15th International Puppet Festival. None of the scheduled artists have cancelled.

puppet doctor 88.298 (photo credit: )
puppet doctor 88.298
(photo credit: )
Puppets converge on Jerusalem this week for the capital's 15th International Puppet Festival. Undeterred by the security situation, almost all the international artists scheduled to perform are still (as of press time, Tuesday) committed. Theater director Dalia Yaffe-Maayan sees this as a tribute to the organization's good relations with its international counterparts. "The puppet industry is like a big family," she explains. "Our guests don't want to let us down." Family is the recurring theme of this year's festival, which runs from August 6 to 11, featuring puppet shows, workshops and exhibitions for both children and adults. One highlight of the European shows is renowned German puppeteer Frank Sohnie's adult-orientated Flamingo Bar. The hour-long, wordless performance uses music and dance to portray the complexity of the relationship between puppet and puppeteer, focusing on dynamics such as seduction and deceitfulness. The dolls' delicate, almost ethereal appearances reflect the fragility of this relationship. Those looking for a lighter alternative can enjoy Bistouri, a comic creation by Belgium's Tof theater. Suitable for the whole family, the production uses objects to demonstrate the creative potential inherent in even the most banal items. Featuring two doctors performing surgery on a character from a famous children's story with the aid of objects including a bottle opener, a club and a video camera, the performance aims to enable people "to experience the freedom of passing beyond the confines of their imagination." Other European contributions include the festival's first show for toddlers, the Danish-produced The Way Around, a vibrant portrayal of a never-ending journey; and the German-Israeli collaboration Light House, a poignant tale of lost love and longing that explores the fine line between real and imaginary. The Train Theater, the landmark Jerusalem puppet theater organizing the festival, also offers an impressive selection of homegrown choices, including an updated version of Patricia O'Donovan's children's tale Head in the Clouds. Originally produced in the 1980s, the show centers on a vivid imaginary world inhabited by a bored young girl. It gained the theater recognition in Israel and abroad. Josette's dramatic depiction of her adventures, using bedroom objects, generates a sense of absurdity which ultimately leads to a light-hearted examination of the depths an uninhibited imagination can reach. Another Train Theater children's favorite this year is Fa Chu's Two Ladies and a Pepper, an amusing introduction to the creative potential of the senses. In celebration of the Train Theater's 25th anniversary, this year's festival features a variety of workshops alongside the performances. Particularly noteworthy is a day-long symposium entitled "The Bow: Memory and Renewal in Puppet Theater," at Mishkenot Sha'ananim on August 9. Among those addressing the conference will be Train Theater founder and curator of the Art Gallery at East West Center, Hawaii, Dr. Michael Schuster. "This is an important issue for puppeteers," says Schuster of the topic up for discussion. "Preserving the 'life' of puppets - be it through revival, regeneration or other methods - is a vital part of our work." In a lecture entitled "Continuity and Innovation in Traditional Arts," Schuster will bring examples of new interpretations of Indian folk traditions. For Schuster, the symposium also presents a welcome opportunity to revisit his creative roots. "The theater continues to adhere to the goals we established so many years ago, providing widespread access to the charm and beauty of puppet art, and that's great to see," he enthuses. Other speakers include guest of honor Margareta Niculesco, head of historical documentation at the renowned Charleville-Mezieres puppet theater in France, and Miri Pe'er, curator of the Holon Puppet Museum. The latter will discuss the "blasphemous" immortalization of puppets as lifeless, soulless beings in museums. An exhibition of the same name featuring an enchanting selection of marionettes standing on body parts will be shown at the symposium. Designed by Hadas Ophrat in conjunction with The Lab Theater, the elaborate display (which will also be shown at The Lab throughout the festival) examines the relationship between dolls and their makers, alluding to the idea that puppets have "lives" of their own. For the second time in a row, the festival expands beyond the theater. Following on from the success of last year's Public Works forum, this year's festival provides insight into Jerusalem's German Colony. The project, which focuses on the changing character of the area that was built in the style of a picturesque German village, offers a selection of historical and artistic workshops in its quaint alleys and charming back streets. Festivalgoers can explore what the future of this continually developing neighborhood may look like by taking part in a virtual real-estate workshop and a life-size Monopoly game, or enjoy a tour of its now-defunct water pumps and railway tracks that provide a taste of the German Colony of old. The worlds of puppet theater and geography meet in a lively children's tour of the area which encourages kids to test the limits of their imagination. "We want to show that you don't need puppets in the conventional sense to perform," explains Yaffe-Maayan. "Anything can be used as a puppet - from the leaves on the trees to the benches in the streets. Puppetry can be incorporated into every aspect of life." Performances take place at The Train Theater (in Liberty Bell Garden) and the nearby Khan Theater, as well as at The Lab (Ha'ma'bada) on Derech Hebron. Price is NIS 45 for children and NIS 90 for adults. Joining almost every other entertainment and leisure venue around the country, the puppet theater offers discounts to residents of the beleaguered North, who will receive one free ticket for each one they purchase. For more information, call The Train Theater at (02) 561-8514 or visit www.traintheater.org.il Tickets at Klaim (02) 622-2333/(057) 622-2122 or Bimot (02) 623-7000. From August 6-11, tickets can also be purchased by calling (02) 673-2033.