Puppetry to delight children and adults alike

20230221_185835 (1)

Chief puppeteers in 'The Good, the Bad, and the Wolf' by Aperture Africa this Friday night opening at Oshwal Junior Academy. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Kasia Meszaros has been playing the part of an ambassador’s wife since she arrived in Kenya in 2015. She had left behind a professional acting career in Cracow, Poland, to try on her new character as wife and mother.

But she couldn’t leave her acting for domesticity entirely. So, in less than a year she was staging a puppet show that illustrated the tumultuous history of her country during the 1950s.

“It was an emotional show, and our puppets were life-sized,” Kasia tells BDLife just a few days before she is set to direct her second puppet show in Kenya at the Oshwal Academy Junior High Auditorium.

“But what I discovered is that Kenyans have a very different concept of puppetry from what I studied as a masters degree student,” she continues.

That difference between what Kenyans know as puppetry and what Kasia and her cast will illustrate when they present ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Wolf’ next weekend from March 3rd -5th will come as a pleasant surprise.

Produced by Aperture Africa, and directed by Kasia who also scripted the show, the cast itself will be all Kenyan with puppets designed by Kasia’s Polish friend but constructed by Fedelis Kyalo, the same craftsman who creates the XYZ puppets.

Described as a family-friendly production, Kasia says that as a young mother, she has been reading scads of children’s stories, including Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs.

“In both instances, the villain was the wolf. But every time, before he succeeds in doing his [dirty] deed, he gets caught. So, I have married the two stories, but you will have to come to see the show to find out how the story goes,” she says.

The main difference between Kenyan puppetry and hers (which she says is what is now the newest perspective on puppetry in the West) is that previously, the puppeteers were always invisible and only the puppets are the actors on stage.

But now, the puppeteers are part of the experience. “We call puppeteers ‘animators’ since they animate and give life to their puppets,” she says.

She assures us that we will need to see what she means in order to understand how she has been taught that the ‘animator’ or puppeteer can infuse life into any object, not only a puppet. “I can make a cup into a living thing,” she explains, essentially describing what an imaginative mind can do if it is focused on enlivening a physical object of any kind.

In any case, Kasia has been teaching Kenyans the style of puppetry that she learned at the Theatre Academy of Warsaw and in the Department of Puppetry. At the same time, she has included puppeteers like Fedelis and Victor Otieno from the Kenya Institute of Puppet Theatre in her classes and in her cast.

Aperture Africa has brought together some of the Kenyans who have made many of their previous shows a success. They include Bilal Wanjau and Andrew Tumbo as well as Chandaya Vaya, Doanna Owano, Fedelis and Victor.

“All together we will have six puppets, four masks, and one surprise,” says Kasia who adds that one of the joys about working with puppets is that they can create new dimensions in a production. They can exaggerate a character when a human actor couldn’t carry the same exaggeration off well.

The masks, she says, provide another dimension in a puppetry production. “The mask serves similarly to a puppet in that the person wearing the mask [which is just a half mask] creates another character with the mask.” That way a character like Bilal can play several roles depending on which mask he puts on.

Kasia also explains that there is a lot of choreography involved in puppeteering since there are always issues of rhythm and timing, both of which require self-control and discipline, qualities which are not easy to cultivate unless one is fully committed to his or her craft.

‘The Good, The Bad, and the Wolf’ may be based on children’s bedtime stories. But Aperture Africa’s venturing into puppet theatre is bound to bring a fascinating as well as a fun experience that both children and adults will love.