Interview with Mahmoud Hourani Founder and Director of the Arab Puppet Theatre Foundation by Rosa Pérez

The Arab Puppet Theatre Foundation from Beirut in partnership with The Arab British Centre presents ‘Performance Desperately in Need of an Audience’ at Nour Festival 2016 on 22 and 23 October, 7 pm at Chelsea Theatre

Interview with Mahmoud Hourani Founder and Director of the Arab Puppet Theatre Foundation by Rosa Pérez

What would you like people to take home after watching the play?

Mahmoud Hourani

First of all we want them to enjoy very much. It is a silent, very playful show, it feels like kids playing, or at least, that is the mood we hope to have achieved. We want to introduce audiences to the style of the Arab Puppet Theatre Foundation and share with them the techniques we use, how we see theatre and how we express issues that matter to us. In ‘Performance Desperately in Need of an Audience’ we tackle the fact that in the last four years thousands of our boys and girls have jumped on boats and crossed the sea to run away from conflict and war. But mostly we would like audiences to see the play with their hearts open. Sit, relax, enjoy the visuals, the music, us playing and we really hope you like the way we tackle this very complicated and sensitive issue.

How do you feel about performing in London?

Performance Desperately in Need of an Audience

Personally I feel very excited because I studied theatre and puppetry at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London and lived there for 11 years. We are very thrilled to try our performance there, meet London audiences and show them our new skills and techniques. It is very exciting to perform among the richness of the mix of London; people from all over the world with an appetite for theatre. The audiences of London see a lot of theatre and this is a challenge for us but very encouraging at the same time.

How and why the APTF was founded?

I studied theatre in the UK in the school of theatre and drama and I wanted to set up a puppetry school, like an umbrella body for puppeteers in the Arab world. There is a rich history of puppeteers in the Arab world and they are very talented but we have never had a physical place, an ‘address’ where new puppeteers can go to do their puppetry and practice their storytelling in a very professional way, not just from father to son. We wanted to build something solid that stayed through time, that was accessible to everyone and that could tour. We as puppeteers have this dream of reaching out to as many people as possible with our theatre and puppets. In our region it is only the artists and intellectuals who go to the theatre; but we want to reach out to everyone.

The Arab Puppet Theatre Foundation (APTF) was founded in Lebanon in 2008 as a non-profit organization with the aim of reviving interest in the rich heritage of Arab puppetry and serving as a puppetry school for novice and veteran artists in the field, while encouraging new practices in puppetry across the region.

Any reason why APTF started in Lebanon?

We thought of Cairo and we thought of Beirut. These two capitals have a long tradition of theatre and they have both been historically cultural references for the rest of the Arab countries.  We ended up coming to Beirut because it has a great mix of people; the Palestinian community, Syrian, Egyptian…and this was good for us.

Tell us about the activities of APTF:

We have an art residence scheme and we have done twelve so far in different countries of the Arab world.  The art residencies last around a month, they include a curriculum of theatre and puppetry, students receive a certificate and artists from all over the world are invited.

Residences are one of the main things we do but we also work with a broad variety of individuals and organisations, including Arab youth, social workers, educators and human rights organizations who want to learn puppetry to apply it in their work at schools, libraries and centres. They don’t have to be artists they just need to have the appetite for puppetry and theatre.  We have met and trained wonderful people.  There are around 10 puppeteers in Lebanon and 2 million refugees. We strongly believe in the power of training others and reaching out to more people.

We also do theatre production. We create our own shows and tour them in Lebanon, in other Arab countries and around the world. A lot of the performers are former students of the Arab Puppet Theatre who are now working with us full time as performers. You will see that in London.

Other theatre productions:

Our latest production is ‘The Gift’ a shadow theatre show, a play for adults, not for kids unfortunately. It is based on a true story that tells the journey of an elephant that was sent as a present from Baghdad to the king Charlemagne in Europe. It was produced in 2016 and we just performed it last week.

What are your target audiences?

Our audiences are children and adults. There is an old ‘stereotype’ that puppetry is just for kids. We work with both. We use puppetry a lot with UNWRA schools, with Syrian refugees, in refugee camps…

Future plans?

Touring until the end of the year!

Find more information about the Arab Puppet Theatre Foundation on: www.arabpuppettheatre.org

The Arab Puppet Theatre Foundation from Beirut in partnership with The Arab British Centre presents ‘Performance Desperately in Need of an Audience’ at Nour Festival 2016 on 22 and 23 October, 7 pm at Chelsea Theatre, 7 World’s End Place, King’s Road, London SW10 0DR. BUY TICKETS HERE

The Arab Puppet Theatre Foundation is also giving a Shadow Puppet Workshop on 24 October from 2 – 4 pm at Chelsea Theatre. Tickets: £5 for 1 adult and 1 child | £7 for 1 adult and 2 children. You can find all the information here

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