Pulling the strings

Imaginary worlds come to life at Jerusalem puppet festival

31st International Puppet Festival will showcase augmented reality, object theater and a look toward the future

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

'High Light' by Looky Circus at the 31st Jerusalem Puppet Festival, August 14-18, 2022 (Courtesy Hadar Berel)
'High Light' by Looky Circus at the 31st Jerusalem Puppet Festival, August 14-18, 2022 (Courtesy Hadar Berel)

When the 31st International Puppet Festival opens August 14 at its new home in Jerusalem’s Train Theater, international productions will be back on the stage after a three-year pandemic hiatus, alongside 35 original shows from Israeli creators.

This beloved, annual Jerusalem summer event puts the spotlight on puppetry, with an emphasis on multidisciplinary theater.

“It’s an unusual kind of festival… exploring new voices in theater for kids and adults,” said Israeli artist Ayelet Golan, who has three different works in the five-day event.

Golan, who grew up in Jerusalem, was an avid audience member at the annual puppet festival each year. Now she and her younger sister Roni Golan, also a puppeteer, have productions in this year’s event.

Golan’s three original works in the festival include an adult-oriented play titled “Echo Echo One One”; a display piece of augmented reality that she co-created with Emma Margarita Erenst; and “A Sick Day for Morris McGee,” a play in English and Arabic, created with Maayan Resnick.

There’s always some element of puppetry in her works, said Golan, who has a degree in theater direction from Tel Aviv’s Kibbutzim College of Education.

“It’s how I animate what’s happening onstage. I feel it offers the most possibility,” she said.

Puppeteer Ayelet Golan in ‘Echo, Echo,’ one of her productions at the 31st Puppet Festival in Jerusalem’s Train Theater (Courtesy Yair Meyuhas)

There are no actual puppets in “Echo Echo,” although the play, aimed toward an older audience, refers to the world of social media through Golan’s manipulation of video and sound.

She takes video from TikTok but only uses the sound, and then becomes the puppet that operates the video. Golan also lip-syncs, works with filters, and introduces all kinds of puppetry that offers a virtual mask in which the audience sees one thing on the screen that acts as part of the scenery and something else acted out on stage.

“It’s a triangle of images,” said Golan, “a lot of layers that the audience can filter through. It’s another way to allow the audience to get close to the social media images. It brings them into this illusion and it’s a system that really moves me.”

In “A Walk Beyond the Horizon,” Golan and Emma Margarita Erenst were inspired by the children’s literature of Uriel and Bina Ofek to create the experience of a trip within the walls of the theater, accessed with AR technology.

Ayelet Golan (left) and Emma Margarita Erenst in their AR exhibit, ‘A Walk Beyond the Horizon,’ premiering August 14-18, 2022 at the 31st International Jerusalem Puppet Festival (Courtesy Hila Spector)

Each wall tells a different story from the writers’ works that kids can experience themselves, using headphones and the augmented reality technology, explained Golan.

“It’s very experimental. We’re very curious to see how it works,” she said. “If the kids don’t play and interact, nothing happens; they are the creators, they’re the puppeteers.”

The “Walk Beyond the Horizon” show will remain at the Train Theater for several months, available for viewing prior to future shows, much like an exhibition.

‘Louisa’ by Iris Domany will premiere at the 31st Puppet Festival, August 14-18, 2022 in Jerusalem (Courtesy Iris Domany)

The augmented reality work is the kind of challenge that Golan appreciates, offering her the chance to collaborate and jump into a different visual language, and learn new tools as well.

She had a similar experience in “Echo, Echo,” in which she’s joined onstage by Omer Schuster, a musician and sound technician who does all the work of changing Golan’s voice and adding music, creating the opportunity to “discover new worlds of how things can be on stage,” she said.

Finally, Golan worked with puppeteer Maayan Resnick on “A Sick Day for Morris McGee,” based on the award-winning children’s book of the same name by Philip C. Stead, which was performed at the New Victory Theater in New York as well as in Turkey and France. It’s easily translated into various languages because there is a narrator who tells the story, said Golan.

The festival will open August 14 with free performances at the skatepark adjacent to the theater in Liberty Bell Park, including skaters, live music and a show from visiting puppeteer Santiago Moreno.

There are three international guest artists and troupes in this year’s event. Compagnie La Muette in France will perform “Cozy One Man Band” by Santiago Moreno and present a musical object theater with the world’s smallest band. The early childhood show “Choo. Choo. Whistle. Woof!” is from the Czech Republic, about a magical miniature train on an imaginary journey in the theater hall. “Invaders” by the French Theater Bakélite will present object theater on a table, inspired by science fiction movies from the 1950s.

The Outdoor Event will take place daily at the theater, with installations, shows, movement and creations about what life will look like in the future.

For more information and tickets, go to the Train Theater website.

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