Israeli puppet theatre founded in Jerusalem in 1981 by four puppeteers, Michael Schuster, Alina Ashbel, Hadas Ophrat and Mario Kotliar. The Train Theater functioned as a cooperative of independent artists and was housed in a train wagon in one of the main parks of Jerusalem, the Liberty Bell Garden. The theatre was supported by the Jerusalem Foundation and the Municipality of Jerusalem. It gradually grew from being a small collective of friends to becoming the main centre of puppet theatre in Israel, attracting other artists.
In its early years, The Train Theater produced shows for children and adults (around a dozen shows for adults were created by Hadas Ophrat and Mario Kotliar). But the theatre mostly developed shows for children. Over the years, the theatre expanded its activities and established the International Festival of Puppet Theater Jerusalem in 1982, the School of Visual Theater (founded in 1984 by Hadas Ophrat) and the Habamah theatre for interdisciplinary and experimental performance. One of the aims of establishing the School was to form a growing generation of young artists, graduates of the school, to create puppet shows for children. Among the first graduates of the School of Visual Theater are Patricia O’Donovan, Natalia Rozenthal, Zipor Frumkin, Myriam Zalsberg and Galia Levy-Grad, who, until today in 2015, form part of The Train Theater.
For production management and dramaturgical tutoring the theatre has a managing director, Dalia Maayan, and an artistic director, Naomi Yoeli. Dalia Maayan is also the director of the annual International Festival of Puppet Theater held in Jerusalem every August.
As The Train Theater is not a repertory theatre, all of the shows are the creation of independent artists – designers, directors, puppeteers, musicians, etc., – who come together to create shows, the end product usually being a show for one or two people on stage. Each artist has the freedom to choose content, style and form, and will select the other artists (designers, directors, sound technicians … ) with whom to create the show. Often the artists/puppeteers are also the directors, designers and performers of their own shows. The common denominator is a serious commitment to high stagecraft skills and performance quality.
The result of this approach is a rich range of puppet shows which, over the years, have contributed greatly to enriching and expanding the cultural awareness of children and adults and their exposure to puppet theatre. Their high quality has brought The Train Theater artists to the international arena; and shows such as The Rain Bird of Galia Levy-Grad and A Touch of Light of Patricia O’Donovan are regularly invited to international puppet theatre festivals around the world. This last show also tours France since 1998 until today (2015), under the name of Louis l’Enfant de la Nuit.
The Train Theater regularly has seventeen shows in repertory at any given time and produces and presents two to four new plays each year. Since its inception in 1981, it has presented over 80 productions. Among these are: Entanglements – the Wool Story (1981), created by Michael Schuster and Alina Ashbel; Head in the Clouds (1987), created and directed by Patricia O’Donovan and Alan Whinston; The Nightingale (1990), created by Alina Ashbel, directed by Alan Whinston; Rozetta (1993), designed by Hadas Ophrat, directed by Michal Porat and Naomi Yoeli; The Golden Ram (1985), directed by Roni Mosenzon-Nelken; A Touch of Light (1994), created and directed by Patricia O’Donovan; The Marzipan Fairy (1994), created by Natalia Rozenthal; The King and the Moon, directed by Mario Kotliar and interpreted for more than 20 years by Naomi Pulver and Jonathan Ben Haim; The Rain Bird (2005), created by Galia Levy-Grad and directed by Naomi Yoeli …
The Train Theater productions are approved by Omanut La’Am, Israel’s art reviewing board. With the help of Omanut La’Am, the plays of The Train Theater are performed throughout the country. Many performances take place in The Train Theater’s new venue, a 70-seat theatre in Liberty Bell Garden. However, up to two-thirds of the theatre’s performances take place outside Jerusalem.
Special projects include “Language of the Puppet”, an annual project for educators, and “Summer Celebrations”, a summer-long extravaganza of puppet theatre for children in outdoor venues in Jerusalem and throughout the country, and the yearly International Festival of Puppet Theater designed as a professional festival where local and foreign artists can meet.