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People on strings: The International Festival of Puppet Theater hits Jerusalem

by simone August 11 2008
Things to doFor the kidsInterview

A Touch of Light

John Cusack may have raised the profile of puppeteers the world over with his groundbreaking role in 1999's Being John Malkovitch (the real Malkovtich was here this summer, as part of the Jerusalem Film Festival), but Jerusalem was way ahead of that trend. The International Festival of Puppet Theater began 17 years ago and has been uniting puppeteers and their devotees every year since.

The Train Theater, which is sponsoring the festival, is Jerusalem's puppet headquarters, sponsoring shows on Saturday mornings and Monday afternoons throughout the year, and arranging for puppeteering tours throughout the country. But every art form needs its gathering, and Jerusalem's International Festival of Puppet Theater rounds them up from across the world and brings them here for four days of strings, song and theater. "These festivals are our way of ensuring cross-fertilization and our way of sharing our experiences with others in the field. It's like scientists going to a conference and meeting other scientists," says Patricia O'Donovan, a former scientist and current puppeteer who has lived in Jerusalem since the late 1970s, when she moved here from Argentina. "And it's a chance for audiences to see puppetry from around the world."

This year, in addition to the 90 performances (of 27 distinct productions), the festival is featuring a public works project in Yemin Moshe dedicated to Israel's 60th (will the celebrations never stop?). While some of the puppet shows, particularly the European ones (of course), are as likely to attract adults as children, the Yemin Moshe affair is clearly for the kids. Tours of the neighborhood will be mixed with puppet shows and workshops. O'Donovan will be one of the stops on the tour, where she will be debutSfat Em Aug 11.jpging her shadow play, Sfat Em (Mother Tongue), a story based on an ancient Acadian lullaby. (She also has a show about Louis Braille, A Touch of Light, playing at the Train Theater on Wednesday).

"Puppetry is an artistic medium that for thousands and thousands of years was not for children. It only recently came to be considered a children's art form, and even that is not universal," Patricia says, "In Europe, it’s still considered an art for adults and at the festival, you can see a lot of shows that are more appropriate for adults than for children. In Israel, in order to make a living, you need to cater shows to children, but in many other places in the world, it’s still for adults."

While a large section of those performing in the festival will be Israeli puppeteers, Patricia is most excited for the foreign shows: "I know most of my colleagues in Israel's shows, so while I am excited to see their work, I'm also excited to see something new."

Photo of A Touch of Light (top) courtesy of the Train Theater; photo of Mother Tongue courtesy of Patricia O'Donovan.

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