Puppets for all

Sharon Marom is joint artistic director of this year’s edition of the annual International Puppet Theater Festival, which will take place, under the auspices of the Train Theater in Jerusalem

International Puppet Theater Festival director Shahar Marom with a puppet friend. (photo credit: KFIR BOLOTIN)
International Puppet Theater Festival director Shahar Marom with a puppet friend.
(photo credit: KFIR BOLOTIN)
Brits of a certain vintage may recall the childhood thrill of catching a Punch and Judy show, or watching Sooty and Sweep on TV, and, of course, there’s the ongoing global phenomenon of The Muppets. That said, Shahar Marom feels that puppets are not the exclusive domain of junior audiences.
Marom is joint artistic director of this year’s edition of the annual International Puppet Theater Festival, which will take place, under the auspices of the Train Theater, at various venues in Jerusalem from August 9 to 13.
The forthcoming five-dayer – the 24th edition of the festival – features no fewer than 38 shows, with productions from companies from seven countries across the globe, including Germany, Slovenia, Belgium and France. Marom’s counterpart in devising the festival lineup is Train Theater director Dalia Yaffe-Maayan.
There are two main focuses of artistic attention this time round: the youngest spectator sector and the intriguing cross-category confluence of theater and cinema. The former is well catered for over the five days, with performances such as Balloons by the Spirit Theater, Tic Tac Tic Tac courtesy of the Universi Sensibili company from Italy, and The Animal Train by Theater Waidspeicher from Erfurt, Germany.
The members of the The Animal Train audience will be right in the thick of the action, as they will sit in the middle of the stage, with a fun train track laid out around them.
Marom notes that it is not just a matter of providing kids with earnest puppet-based entertainment; he is also keen for small children to get in on the action.
The person who is bringing Tic Tac Tic Tac, Antonio Catalano, “is an amazing and inspiring artist,” says Marom. “He created his own stage language.”
The latter refers to a nonverbal form of communication, as “Tic Tac Tic Tac,” which is aimed at the one- to three-year-old sector, is a wordless creation, which naturally makes it an excellent vehicle for international audiences, for toddlers who anyway have fertile imaginations and are generally fully capable of imbuing what they see with their own understanding.
Catalano employs all kinds of weird and wonderful props to convey the story line, including various chronometers which, as the festival program has it, “describe the time in a most whimsical way.” The show also features various everyday artifacts and items provided by Mother Nature which “combine to create a language of painting and sculpture.”
As befitting such a young audience, Catalano’s work relates its tale with tenderness and sensitivity “and much clowning about.”
Eastern Europeans, and particularly artists of Czech origin, feed off a long and rich tradition of puppetry, so it comes as no surprise to see the Naïve Theater company, from the Czech Republic, on the festival roster.
The company’s show goes by the curious name of About the Lamb that Fell from the Sky and will, no doubt, keep its two- to six-year-old audience members riveted as it tells the story of a fleecy lamb-cloud that plopped down slap bang into the middle of a traveling circus. What ensues is a comical and delightful sustained effort to restore the ephemeral entity back to its proper celestial place.
The music-based production incorporates actors, puppets, toys and musical instruments, and the kids will be able to get a better handle on the machinations behind the onstage action after the performance, when they can meet the puppets, play around with the toys and make all kinds of noises on the musical instruments.
The Slovenian-French co-production Turlututu, from the Ljubljana Puppet Theater, which joins forces with Centre de Creations pour l’Enfance Tinqueux from France, is not strictly wordless, not quite. The show, which is for the two- to six-year-old crowd, comprises the single repeated titular verbal utterance “turlututu.”
The production is based on a book, of the same name, by celebrated French author and illustrator Hervé Tullet, and focuses on the eponymous, roguish, friendly and inventive character who is always coming up with some new idea.
The play draws its audience into a fantasy world as Turlututu flits easily between his home base tome and the stage, before vanishing from sight.
“The way the show uses theatricality is simply amazing,” says Marom. “I think this is one of the most inspiring productions in the festival,” he continues. “It is as if there is nothing in it, but it has everything.”
There are also a couple of productions by Arab theater companies – Zarif, for four- to nineyear- olds, by the Elsira Theater company from Manaar, near Karmiel, and a fun rendition of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp by the country’s oldest Arab company, Alcarma Theater, based at the Beit Hagefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center in Haifa.
“I wanted to present as wide a spectrum as possible, of cultures, at the festival,” explains Marom. “Everybody brings their own baggage to their work.”
There is plenty to be enjoyed, and marveled at, all through the festival schedule, and for all age groups, with an abundance of audience participation en route. There are shows for the four- to 10-year olds, patrons aged five to 12, and a whole host of entertaining fare for the youth and adult category.
“It was important for us to include items for the older crowd,” says Marom. “You know, there are places abroad where puppet theater is related to as exclusively adult entertainment.”
All told, there are 11 shows for teenagers and above, including a fascinating multimedia working of Amos Kenan’s 1984 dystopian novel The Road to Ein Harod, which incorporates cinematic material.
Elsewhere on the senior side of the festival lineup you can find the Greek-Germanproduced black comedy Clowns’ Houses by the Merlin Puppet Theater, a world of fantasy in Yael Rasoli’s Paper Cut, and a look at the thin dividing line between reality and imagination in Ariel Doron’s Plastic Heroes.
Performances will take place at the Train Theater, the First Station, Khan Theater and Beit Shmuel – all within easy walking distance of each other. • For tickets and more information: (02) 623-7000, *6226, www.traintheater.co.il and www.bimot.co.il