Contemporary adult puppetry may be a mystery to many, but for Israeli puppeteer Yael Rasooly, the art form opens a magical door to human emotions.
Atlanta audiences can experience those feelings at “Paper Cut,” her solo show this month at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Midtown.
Contemporary adult puppetry is different from theater because the point of departure comes from a material rather than a text, Rasooly said. “The minute people discover this genre, there is no going back. People just want to see more and more of it.”
Rasooly was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Toronto. She spent her life traveling between the two cities, a situation that she believes influenced her art.
She was born into a family of musicians, and her parents gave her every opportunity to immerse herself in the arts. She began training as a classical pianist at age 4 and was singing at 7.
Her talents landed her on tour with an all-girl choir by the time she was 10. But she said one of the hardest decisions she ever had to make was what she wanted to do in life.
“I have a very competitive side, which began at a very young age, and I think part of me never wanted to be put into a box,” she said.
Rasooly thought of becoming an opera singer or a doctor, but after re-examining her affinity for the arts, she thought of theater design.
“Coming from the classical music world, … castings and auditions were a big part of my life and something I didn’t want to wait by the phone for. I wanted to create my own part,” she said.
Rasooly saw her first adult puppetry performance in London. “I thought, ‘What is that? And whatever it is, I want to find out more about it and do it.’”
After she visited the Charleville Mézierès Festival in France — the largest puppetry festival in the world, held every three years — Rasooly’s passion for puppetry grew. She saw 60 to 70 performances in 10 days, ranging from big shows to small performances in cabarets.
“The real magic I found there was that people were constructing their own individual universes and stories and that all disciplines of the arts came together,” she said. “I was completely amazed, and I thought, ‘OK, that’s what I want to do.’”
Shortly after, Rasooly began a global search for a school that not only taught traditional string and rod puppetry, but also promoted creativity. She discovered the School of Visual Theater in Jerusalem.
There Rasooly learned how to create her own form of expression and began touring to promote her first show, “How Lovely.”
In her current solo show, “Paper Cut,” for 15-year-olds and older, Rasooly plays a secretary in the 1940s and ’50s who falls in love with her boss even though he is unattainable. Through her fantasies, she begins to create an imaginary world where her dreams come true, but they turn into a Hitchcockian nightmare.
Rasooly said she draws inspiration from the language of cinema and music and from French singers such as Édith Piaf.
It takes Rasooly anywhere from a few months to years to create and perfect a puppet show.
When she is not doing puppet shows, she has a parallel career in which she sings 1920s to 1940s jazz with orchestras and performs musical cabaret duos with artists such as accordionist Iliya Magalnyk.
The Center for Puppetry Arts show is Rasooly’s first time performing in Atlanta. She invites audiences on an unexpected journey in “Paper Cut,” which touches on different subjects in a way that only puppetry can.
“It’s what we call extensional disbelief. You see a performance and know that what is in front of you is a puppet and not a living being, but you feel it if something happens to the characters and are transported back to your childhood,” she said. “I think that is what I love most about being onstage and this art form. It’s the feeling I get when I realize the audience is just letting go and being transported on a journey.”
Who: Yael Rasooly
What: “Paper Cut”
Where: Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St., Midtown
When: 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, June 21 to 23; 5 p.m. Sunday, June 24
Tickets: $30 to $35; puppet.org/buy-tickets/2018-19/paper-cut or 404-873-3391