21 March 2014

The Puppets and The Power and World Puppetry Day

As you now already know, today is World Puppetry Day! What does that mean for puppeteers in the world today?

It really gives us a chance to take our art onto the streets, into the theatres and onto the screens of television sets and social media screens to tell people about the profound power of the puppet and its ability to touch people all over the world, as they have done for thousands of years.

Many years ago, growing up in Apartheid South Africa, during the seventies, I realised to my great frustration, that my personal voice of self-expression had been removed by the power of fear instilled into me by the government’s propaganda and fear campaign. The people who protested, were being severely beaten or sprayed with purple dye through large water canons by the police and being arrested. Like so many of my contemporaries, fleeing the country at the time, I felt powerless. 

Only after being exposed to university life, did I realise that there could be another, possibly safer way to express myself. I had already been a puppeteer for most of my life, but living in such isolation, I was not exposed much to the outside world. In the early nineteen-eighties, after having travelled for the first time to festivals abroad, I decided to create my own South African version of the infamous Punch and Judy Show and take that into the streets of Cape Town to test the waters of socio-political expression through the use of the puppet. 

Even though I got beaten up several times during the eighties for my street performances, I realised that the power of the puppet to discuss issues that normal people could not, was immense and it had the ability to make people laugh at themselves and their situation. This ‘humour’ became the key in opening up the minds and hearts of the audience and thus the ‘interactive communication’ began.

Nowadays, many decades later, things have not changed that much. In many countries governments still try to suppress people’s freedom to express their political outrage at corruption and atrocities being perpetuated by the power of the day. My recent feelings, living in “first-world” Australia have been to get the puppet back onto the streets to ‘speak out’, but alas speaking out has officially been banned where I now live in Australia (see articles here and here). 

And it’s now a very different, more sophisticated world of social media, filling the void and providing on-the-ground information where the national press won’t dare to tread. This was the inspiration to make a documentary film and look at the ‘puppet’ in its naivety and look at the role its played throughout the world as court jester, while at the same time information provider about what’s really going on in our world.

Last year, while travelling around Europe conducting workshops, I met up with two special ladies in France, who are coordinating a rather unique conference on 'PUPPETRY AND POWER:  CENSORSHIP, PROPAGANDA AND RESISTANCE', which will take place in Charleville-Mézières, France, from 20 to 22 November 2014. I was invited to be part of the Scientific Commission in coordinating this rather unique conference. My idea was also to make a documentary film to illustrate, in the best way possible, how puppeteers in many oppressed regimes, can once again speak out against The Power!

Stay tuned for updates as I embark on an international film shoot through Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

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