South African puppeteer. Gary Friedman was the first South African puppeteer to undergo formal studies in puppetry (1981-1987) at the Institut International de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mézières, France.

Significant milestones in Friedman’s career include developing Puns en Doedie (Puppets Against Apartheid), which drew from the traditions of the British “Punch and Judy to create indigenous South African characters that would criticize the Apartheid regime, beginning on the streets of Cape Town in 1980. This street performance soon spread throughout South Africa and eventually was invited to festivals internationally. Although Friedman was often beaten up in the streets for making satire of the powers of the State, this work continued until 1987.

In 1987, with the generous assistance of his mentor, Jim Henson, Friedman started the African Research and Educational Puppetry Programme (AREPP) in Johannesburg. Puppets Against AIDS was their first large project, which began performing and conducting peer-group community educational workshops in 1988. Puppets Against AIDS soon started touring to many African countries and then internationally, educating the public about the dangers of HIV/AIDS. First using giant puppet street characters and later smaller glove puppets, the programme confirmed that it could break down cultural, racial and language barriers to get its important message across to the public.

Later, Friedman started Puppets Against Corruption in Kenya, and then Puppets for Democracy in South Africa where his television puppets educated the population for South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 and interviewed the politicians live on television, including the incoming president, Nelson Mandela.

In 1995 he resigned from AREPP and founded Gary Friedman Productions, promoting puppetry in prisons to encourage incarcerated youth to express their experiences of violence and abuse through puppets. Friedman also started an international puppetry festival, which, in 1995 and 1996, brought a number of innovative companies to South Africa from Europe and other African countries.

In 2002 Gary Friedman moved to Australia, where he began teaching puppetry at institutions including the Sydney Film School. He currently resides in Melbourne, with his family, but continues to perform and conduct workshops both in Australia and internationally.

(See South Africa.)