Puppet Theatre in Afghanistan

Published on 27 June 2010

Author(s): Goethe Institut

Type:  News

When I return to Kabul, I will teach at the Kabul University, Fine Arts. We first want to set up a puppetry class and then see whether an entire course of studies can evolve from it

Berlin, May 2010. Abdulhaq Haqjoo, aged 27, was born in Kapisa, a province to the north of Kabul. During his acting studies at the Kabul University Faculty of Fine Arts he took part in puppetry workshops held by the Goethe-Institut Kabul. With Goethe-Institut support, he took up a special course of study in October 2009 in the field of puppetry at the Ernst Busch Academy of Drama (Hochschule für Schauspielkunst “Ernst Busch”) in Berlin.

Mr. Haqjoo, you studied acting in Kabul. What interested you in puppetry?
I love all kinds of art. That is why I immediately signed up for the workshop with Wieland Jagodzinski. We started with hand puppets and were able to try a lot of things. My training as an actor helped me in the technique because a puppet, too, has a body, hands, a head, a language – like an actor. I think if you’re not a good actor, you can’t be a good puppeteer (he laughs). In our culture, too, it’s a bit easier to tell stories with puppets. For instance, an actor is not permitted to kiss a woman on stage. But, with puppets it’s not a problem; you’re a bit freer.

In 2009, with the support of the Goethe-Institut Kabul, you founded the Parwaz puppet theatre ensemble. You were there from the start. Was the group able to tie into a tradition of puppetry in Afghanistan?

There was a small puppet theatre in Kabul before the Taliban, but it was a long time ago and hardly anyone can remember it. Yet, Parwaz plays not only in Kabul, we travel to other provinces, as well, especially to schools. Parwaz is presently producing a play about children’s rights for UNICEF that will be performed at 26 schools in Afghanistan. Children love puppet theatre; they’re amazed and excited by it. But we also perform for adults.

Who is involved in Parwaz?

Presently Parwaz consists of nine young actors, most of whom also participated in Wieland Jagodzinski’s workshop. They are all very good actors who have a keen sense of all one can do with puppets.

How did you get to the Ernst Busch Academy?

In January 2009, Wieland Jagodzinski invited me to Berlin. I visited lessons at the academy and spoke with students and teachers. After three weeks I asked if I would be able to study here and was told I should take the entry exam. I prepared and performed a short play of about five minutes in my language. Everyone thought it was very good and I was admitted to studies. That was very fortunate for me.

Was it difficult here in Germany at first?

Strangely enough, I didn’t find the cultural difference so serious, perhaps because I’d seen so many films about Europe and Germany. What was difficult at first was not knowing anyone. But, I now feel very much at home here at the academy.

You will study a total of three semesters in Berlin at the Ernst Busch Academy. What are you focussing on?

Yes. When I return to Kabul, I will teach at the Kabul University, Fine Arts. This is a great opportunity for me. We first want to set up a puppetry class and then see whether an entire course of studies can evolve from it. And, of course, I’ll continue to work with Parwaz. I want to keep in touch with the Ernst Busch Academy, as well as with the Goethe-Institut and UNICEF since contacts, cooperation and learning from one another are important for everyone involved.

Will you make puppetry your profession when you return to Kabul?

Of course. We email each other every day and I help them out from here. For example, I can explain to them how to build a specific puppet. They send me a photo and I suggest what they could do. Then they try it in Kabul.

Are you presently in contact with Parwaz?

It’s a blend of lessons and practical work. We are constantly rehearsing and performing plays. This week, we’ll be showing Snow White. But, I am also learning a lot of technical things – puppet technique, acrobatics, movement, elocution, acting, scenery, make-up and animation. It’s very important for puppeteers to be able to animate not only puppets, but objects as well. The ability to move a coffee cup so it is brought to “life” requires instruction and experience. I will also show this to my colleagues in Parwaz.
 

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