By Sarah Carnvek
Just as the plastic bag soared to fame in the Hollywood film American Beauty, newspapers are now being given new life at the hands of an Israeli theater creator. Adam Yakin – a puppet builder, mask maker, lighting designer and director – premiered The Citadel of Golems, featuring oversized puppets made out of newsprint, at the 2013 International Festival of Puppet Theater that took place in Jerusalem last August.
"Two years ago, we came up with the idea for the newspaper creatures," Yakin says. He remembers the exact moment because it was the day he and his life partner, Sarah Brown, a professor of performance at the University of Memphis, got together.
The idea was slowly transformed into an elaborate object theater production. Yakin and his co-collaborators from the Dancing Ram and Tatata Jerusalem theater troupes created a site-specific show relating back to the Jewish folktale that featured actors garbed entirely in newspapers.
"Adam can see a puppet in anything. This is the very essence of object theater," says Brown, who directed the Golem performance. "He picked up a newspaper and just said, 'What if it rose out of nothing?’ Newspaper, when it's in motion, has a lot of life to it. What we wanted were characters you can't define, yet creatures with emotions."
"We were trying to create the show with only one material," says Yakin, who in addition to referring to the golem was also using the Hebrew word golmi (raw element) as an idea. "We created the giant puppets out of carfuls of newspapers."
It should come as no surprise that international festival scouts attending the annual Jerusalem festival are now in talks with Yakin to present the work abroad. Yakin says organizers of the Izmir International Puppet Days – one of the world's largest puppetry events -- are already looking for a site for the Israeli troupe to perform.
"We want to perform it abroad. It will be a co-creation with Turkish puppeteers," he says. "Because it's a site-specific production, it would take on a new form at a new site."
From Jerusalem with love
Yakin's name has become synonymous with fringe theater and giant puppetry in Israel.
In fact, his mastery of oversized puppets is what brought him and Brown together. She was in Israel on a Fulbright scholarship from the United States/Israel Educational Foundation. While preparing a production for a theater festival in Jaffa, Brown decided that she needed a giant camel puppet riding a bicycle.
Yakin, strangely enough, had already created that puppet.
"This house is like a menagerie of creativity," Brown says, talking about Yakin's Jerusalem home.
A fourth-generation Jerusalemite, the 46-year-old Yakin was raised in a family of artists.
Adam Yakin’s name is synonymous with fringe theater
His now retired parents, Abraham and Hannah, were painters who dabbled in film. Family time included creating full-length feature movies on eight-millimeter film, in which all eight children would "draw thousands of pictures to animate the film. We worked a whole year, every day on these movies," Yakin says. "My mom was the director. We all played instruments, we sang the songs, we acted in the films; that was my childhood. We grew with our parents and art."
When he was 14, Yakin decided to make theater his profession. He directed two plays at age 16 and 18 before studying at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris and Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School.
Since then, Yakin has collaborated with numerous theater groups in Israel and abroad. He runs the Dancing Ram Association and teaches at the School for the Art of Puppetry in Holon. He is regularly commissioned for alternative theater productions.
Brown invited him to teach a workshop at the University of Memphis.
"The students met this wildly talented Israeli artist," she recounts. "He did shadow theater -- puppet theater without puppets. Memphis had never seen anything like this."
Israel's puppetry and object theater artists are known for their creativity and innovation.
“We don’t have a tradition of this art form in Israel. We didn’t grow up on Punch & Judy (popular puppet show going back to the 17th century in Europe). And because there is no tradition, Israelis can create a new language in puppetry,” Dalia Yaffe-Maayan, director of Jerusalem’s Train Theater, has been quoted as saying. “Israeli puppeteers are known as being very independent, creative and sophisticated with lots of surprises.”
Yakin, who worked with the Train Theater for many years, agrees.
"The Israel puppet scene is tiny but it's so creative. People are looking for their own way. This is a very original place," he says. "The Israeli shows offer a very high quality of puppet theater."
"I've lived in New York, Los Angeles, Memphis," says Brown, who now splits her time between Memphis and Jerusalem. "I've not seen anything like it. Israeli students have a sensibility of the abstract."