The International Puppet Theater & Film Festival in Holon, Israel

The International Puppet Theater and Film Festival takes place every July in the Israeli city of Holon, just south of Tel Aviv. Started in 1995, the festival which is organized by the Israel Puppet Center, hosts around 30 performances by resident and international artists, conferences, exhibitions, and an opening street procession. There are also workshops for professionals and amateurs. The festival is largely free to the public and is taking place between July 21-30, 2011.

Puppet festival in Holon
Puppet festival in Holon

For 2011, the popular event has been extended to nine days from the usual five in order to accommodate more than 75 activities culminating in a carnival in the garden of the Holon Puppet Theatre Center, which is open for free during the festival and is displaying two new exhibits, a tribute to Israeli pioneer puppet maker David Ben Shalom (Honzo), and theatrical wooden sculptures by Ori Eliaz.

“The festival aspires to reveal the many colors of puppet theater as an accessible, quality art,” says Ilan Savir, artistic and general director of the center and the festival for the past eight years. His goal is to build greater awareness for a variety of puppetry techniques and innovations, mindful always of the art’s traditional roots.

“Modern puppetry is a mixture of acting and puppetry – the common technique now is tabletop puppetry — while traditionally it was more focused on the tool of the puppet,” says Savir, 48, who has been a professional puppeteer since age 12. Later he became a teacher at the center’s school, where 120 students each year learn how to be puppeteers, build puppets or use puppets in educational and therapeutic settings.

Savir and an artistic committee composed of puppet maker Sharona Shapira, opera director (and previously puppet maker) Danny Erlich and academic Ruthie Ebliovich chose participants from among many Israeli applicants, and solicited acts from abroad that they’d seen at other festivals.

“We try to build a program with diversity to show different techniques, styles and approaches,” Savir says.

About 10,000 spectators are expected – mostly from central Israel, since another annual puppet festival is scheduled at Jerusalem’s Train Theater from August 14-19.

Premieres of children’s shows include “Goose Petunia” by the Bubotaim Theatre and “The Fisherman and the Golden Fish” by Mathilda Studio and the Puppet House Theatre. Kids can also see Israeli productions of “Sleeping Beauty: The Real Story,” “The Marzipan Fairy,” “The Boy who Drew Cats,” “King Solomon and the Bee” and “Little Mozart.”

For adults, there’s “Flora’s Dance” performed by the Avital Dvori Theatre Group with students of the Theatre Arts College in Holon; “Planet Egg,” a miniature Israeli-American co-production by Zvi Sa’ar; and “Moon,” a duet between a woman and a flashlight, written and performed by Sara Siboni.

Shows from overseas include “Metamorphosis” by Ogrodnik and the Figura Theatre, and the Taiwanese Glove Puppet Carnival with live music.

Several additional performances by Israeli puppet theaters are open to the public free of charge, and workshops for adults and children include a tutorial on glove puppets. The Danish film “Strings,” the first full-length movie in the world to include marionettes, will be projected at the Holon Cinematech followed by a Q&A with Ogrodnik, who developed the puppets for the film.

Also to be screened during the festival are “A Puppet Intervention,” a documentary about alternative community theatre in North Carolina; and “Random Ventriloquist,” a new film by Hod Hasharon high school students.

The Holon Puppet Theatre Center opened 12 years ago and moved to a large new campus in late 2006. In addition to the puppetry school and museum, the complex contains an auditorium, library and archives and an institute for the research, documentation and conservation of puppet theater.

“We have a community approach,” says Savir. “We believe that since we are supported by the municipality, we have to give back to the community. Free performances are a very large part of the festival.”

The museum offers puppet-guided tours for all ages. Each group gets to watch three different techniques and participate in building and manipulating a simple puppet.

Savir explains that the craft took hold in pre-state Israel with the arrival of immigrants from Eastern Europe, where puppetry is basic to the arts culture and was government sponsored.

“They came to Palestine and found a desert and strived to do their work here,” he says. “In March, we will open the last exhibition in a series on these pioneers, and we’ll publish a book written by the museum director, Miri Pe’eri, who came to this city with a small school that grew through the years.”

What is the appeal of puppetry? For performers such as Savir, who is a veteran of stage and television productions, it is an effective communicative tool with a high level of acting ability required.

“If an actor goes on stage and says, ‘Look at me, love me,’ the puppeteer says, ‘Don’t look at me; look at the puppet and love me through that.’

Adapted from Israel MFA

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