When we hear the word “puppets”, a show with a bunch of excited children, smiling parents and several cute dolls on the stage is an image that first pops up in the mind of most. And fairly so, because a very significant part of the world of puppet theater and performance consists of exactly that – shows for children and in general performances that are meant to amuse. However, some people have decided to dedicate their talent and show that puppets and puppet theater are not limited to leisurely pastime and joyful, easygoing emotions. In contrast, puppet theater can be a very powerful artistic medium that helps to communicate experiences that otherwise might be difficult to comprehend.
One of such people is Husam Abed. He is an artist, a puppeteer and a social worker based in Prague and Ammam. He was born and raised in Baqa’a refugee camp, which is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan. He received his Master’s Degree of Directing for Alternative and Puppet theatre at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (DAMU), Czech Republic and ever since is an actively performing puppeteer, with performances dedicated to both adult and young audiences, depending on the content and expression used during the performance. He is also the founder and a member of Flying Freedom Festival in Poland as well as Amman Theatre Lab.
“The Smooth Life”
One of his most well-known performances is a true mixture of different forms of artistic expression that manages to leave a lasting impact on any viewer. A performance that has elements of puppet theater, utilizes digital mediums as well as food amounts to a highly touching mode of storytelling. Husam Abed tells a non-ordinary autobiographical story of a boy born in a refugee camp in Jordan. His family and he, in the context of the political situations and events, have to overcome immense difficulties in search of a better life that is intact with their hopes, beliefs and values. “The Smooth Life” touches upon a timeline of 30 years. During the performance, small puppets are used to represent the characters, a lot of objects, photos, maps and videos help put together a cultural, historical and political context of the region and food, most notably rice, helps tie the elements together into one whole.
To increase the sharpness of the effect produced by the performance, it can only be observed by 8 people at a time, all of whom sit at a large table. During the performance the actor takes the time to connect all human senses and cooks Maklouba, a traditional dish that blends together the flavours of meat, vegetables, rice and abundant spices and is served after the pot is flipped over and its insides end up on a plate covering it. A somewhat unsettling sight as the pot is huge and the foods are boiling hot; in that way, Abed masterfully adds to the discomfort that the viewing experience of a refugee boy’s story is supposed to produce.
A true experience for most senses and a powerful performance with a meaningful message; Husam Abed’s “The Smooth Life” makes a strong claim about the artistic value and power of puppet theater to produce impactful, engaging and highly sensitive performance.