Wow, what a trip.
It all started at 7am at Leeds Bradford Airport. I was a little worried about how heavy all my equipment would be, will they charge me excess baggage or will I get away with it. Well, I did, they did not bat an eyelid. My booth and puppets were only approx. 25 Kgs, so they allowed that.
Flight from Leeds Bradford to Heathrow was fine and was advised to pick up my luggage at Heathrow rather than it disappearing at Leeds Bradford and being transferred to the correct flight, which was a relief as again this is another thing to worry about, will the luggage get there. Doing P&J with now puppets or booth would be quite interesting!. I took my baggage to the EL AL checking in which had several very long queues with armed police milling about. I was singled out and questioned for 30 minutes regarding why I was going to Israel, who I was seeing etc etc. I of course had the necessary work visa supplied by the centre in Holon, but again they wanted more information. Trying to explain what a P&J show is to an Israeli is an experience, they in the main have not heard of the show, even those working in the UK. They even resulted in telephoning my contact in Holon to obtain direct confirmation from my contact there. It all ended well and I was allowed to go through and wait a couple of hours for the flight.
Once reaching Israel, it took me a good hour to be processed, but I made it will all my baggage. I was met at the airport and taken to a very nice hotel in Bat Ram, just down the coast.
The next day I was scheduled to perform at the Steinberg Cultural Centre in Holon (a city which is next to and in fact merges with Tel Aviv) at 5pm and 7pm. This was an all ticket affair and was sold out. The audience was about 150 in size each performance, kept to this intimate size on purpose. I have my own interpreter and she did really well to keep up with the show, but it worked. I had all the children shouting back "Oh no you didn't" to Punch in Hebrew. This is perhaps a first as I do not know of any other Punch and Judy being simultaneously translated into Hebrew before. In fact I am not sure if P&J has been performed in Israel before, I could have been the first, but hopefully not the last.
The next day I was employed to hold a workshop in the public libary for adults only and in English. I did not really know what to expect and was a little worried about having to fill three hours. Well I set up the booth and was ready with about half an hour to spare. The people attending the workshop started to turn up. All women who had purchased tickets months in advance and travelled from all over Israel to come and see me talk about myself and P&J. Well what an honour, it is not that often you get paid to talk about yourself and your work. Three hours was not enough time, only scratched the surface and was one of the easiest and nicest jobs I have ever had. I did the show for the ladies with the covers off, so they could witness what goes on behind the scenes. I did leave my backdrop on (I work hands in front of face) as this would have been a little off putting for me more than anything. This all went down very well and sparked off many questions about puppetry and Punch, so like I say, it was a dream job.
I was then free to watch the other performers and have a tour of Tel Aviv and surrounding areas, so I did see a bit of the country. The next day I left for home and once through the very though security checks I had a great flight back to London and then onwards to Leeds. It was a great trip and I hope they invite me back one day.
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International Puppetbuskersfestival Gent 17 ? 25 July 2004
I was most fortunate to be invited to perform at this year's puppet festival in Ghent, Belgium, on Sunday 18th and Monday 19th July.
I travelled by car on the overnight ferry departing from Hull to Zeebrugge,
which did mean that I could take all my performing gear. If you travel by
airplane, you are very restricted on what you can carry and I always feel
that I do not have enough "stuff" with me, but this time, not a problem.
The car was loaded and I crossed the North Sea to see what awaited me.
The puppet festival is part of a huge festival which runs for ten days
throughout the whole of Ghent, the place absolutely comes alive. Bands,
musical acts, buskers, puppets, some very weird performances and much much
My first show was at the puppet theatre in the centre of Ghent: "Europees
Figurenteatercentrum". I was due to go on at 6.30pm following a
performance by Mamulengo Fantochito from Brazil performing his own version
of a Punch type character. The audience was sitting and waiting, drinking
fine Belgium beer and wine, all getting into the swing of things.
I was introduced and some history of Punch and Judy was given to the
audience in several languages other than English. I went on in my normal
way to "Oh I do like to be beside the seaside" on a fairground organ CD
which I blast out and go around the front ringing my bell and announcing my
show as about to begin. I then asked the assembled audience who could
speak English. Thank heavens most could, so I got on with it.
My warm up always consists of my magic word "Ping, Pang, Pong", which gets
the audience used to shouting and is good for non-English speaking persons,
as it is universal in that it does not really mean anything. Once this was
out of the way, I did my show. The audience absolutely lapped it up,
shouting and laughing in all the right places. Once finished, I came out
and got a very warm response, which was most gratifying for me. That was
it for day one, so tucked into some of the free beer for performers. Many
people came up to me asking about Mr Punch, the way I did his voice (which
is of course a secret) and very much about the speed of the show and the
logistics of the movement of the puppets and timing of change overs etc.
The next and my last day (could only fit in two days, due to UK work
commitments!) I went off to a huge square called Braunplein, where I was to
perform along side Jan Soldatt a young (26) Dutch player of Jan Klassen.
He was a great laugh and we got on like a house on fire (he has invited me
to perform with him in Amsterdam next year). I went on to a massive
audience of approx. 500 people and Jan followed. Once finished it was a
quick break-down and back off to the puppet theatre for my last
performance. What a way to finish. The audience was brilliant. They
shouted and laughed, clapped, heckled (in a good way of course) and
thoroughly enjoyed the show, as did I.
It was all over and apart from a good night out around Ghent, drinking and
eating, it was sad to have to come home and back to the normal stuff. That
said, I look forward to my next shows in the UK, which I am lucky to say
are varied and interesting (well most), so he we go again, as happy as can
I hope to be invited back to Ghent in future years for much of the same.
Prof. Robanti / July 2004