Shadow Play in Iran

Tehran panorama: M. Ashoori  

Photography and article by Sean Kenan published in 'Australian Puppeteer', Issue 32 - January, 2007.

After seeing an advertisment in The Australian Puppeteer, I submitted an application to present my hand shadow show 'Shadowplay' at the 2006 11th Tehran International Puppetry Festival. My application was successful and soon I was on an Emirates flight to Iran. My show is non-verbal and so required no translator. The musical soundtrack for Shadowplay is from 'Pacifica' by Sydney composer Ian Laurence. My puppets are my hands so I was able to travel with a small amount of luggage and the Tehran Arts Centre constructed my staging ahead of my visit.

The Puppet Festival is held every two years and attracts puppeteers and companies from around the world. Puppetry has a long tradition in Persia and all theatres except one in Tehran are turned into puppetry venues for the Festival. My accommodation at the Grand Ferdossi Hotel came with traditional Persian meals. Of course there is no American take away food or television in Iran and alcohol is unavailable. Traffic in Tehran was chaotic and I was driven from the hotel to the theatre in taxis and only stopped once at a red light during my entire stay.

I performed six shows in one of the smaller theatres contained in the main Theatre and the audience responded warmly to each performance with standing ovations. After I had performed a couple of shows my guide Ramin pointed to the 1960's German built Opera House as we drove by in a taxi and told me no shows had been staged in this complex since the revolution. He said it was considered unacceptable to have a solo woman's voice used in performance. I then realised that my show opens with the sound of a solo woman's voice provided by Sydney soprano Heather Lee. It seems no one minded and the shows went ahead anyway.

On the square outside the Main theatre, puppetry book sellers and puppet makers displayed their wares and there were puppetry performances in this public space through out the day and night. I watched a traditional puppet group with a storyteller and musicians turn their wagon into a marionette theatre in a matter of minutes. The show was fast and furious with a tiny red imp of a puppet driving the show and he was engaging the drummer in a witty conversation. The pace was quick and exciting. This was my first introduction to the puppet hero of Persia, the black faced, red costumed Mobarak whose name also means 'congratulations' in Farsi. This was my first introduction to the puppet hero of Persia, the black faced, red costumed Mobarak whose name also means 'congratulations' in Farsi. Mobarak's character and spirit captured my imagination. His black face represents the lower class and oppressed and his red costume symbolises a feisty spirit and one who fights back. A swazzle is used for Mobarak's voice which is a high pitched squeak, much like the voice of Mr Punch.

During my trip I was free to roam the streets of Tehran alone with a camera and only encountered good will and true Persian hospitality from those I met. After a banquet given to the International Puppeteers by the Mayor of Tehran, I was presented with my own Mobarak puppet to take back to Melbourne. This well loved Persian puppet now has a special place of honour at my door and I am waiting to see what he makes of his new home overseas.

Article published in Australian Puppeteer in January 2007

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Gerald of Wales (Norman propagandist, c.1146-1223) The Irish and their music….
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Fiddle Quotes
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Thomas Beecham

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Patrick O'Leary writing to O'Neill about his collection of Irish melodies (1903)

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