Renowned Israeli puppeteer Yael Rasooly is teaching a course in Trinity College’s Theater and Dance Department this semester, thanks to a grant from the Israel Institute’s Visiting Artists Program, which aims to bring Israeli artists from various disciplines—including film, music, choreography, and the visual arts—to North America for residencies.
The course, “The Actor and Object/Puppet Theater,” consists of creative, studio-based work with lectures and discussions looking at contemporary practices in visual and object theater for adults. Students perform themed weekly creative projects in front of their peers, based on their own original ideas. The class concluded with final performances that were open to the public.
Rasooly explained that one of her main goals while teaching at Trinity was to introduce puppet theater and use it to create a special kind of personal expression. “I’m bringing to the students the language I discovered in my life that is a vessel for my own creativity,” she said. “Part of my mission is to open up people’s minds to what this medium has to offer.”
Rasooly is one of Israel’s leading contemporary performing artists, specializing in puppetry for adults and cabaret. Since 2006, she has been creating independent theater works and performing at leading international festivals throughout Europe, the United States, South America, and the Far East. Her award-winning solo performance “Paper Cut” has been presented in more than 30 countries and has received several international awards. Rasooly performed “Paper Cut” at Trinity in January 2019.
Michael Preston, associate professor of theater and dance and the department’s chair, said that Rasooly’s work is a good fit for teaching a course at Trinity. “Yael looked at different colleges to see where she might have a connection and felt that our Theater and Dance Department would be a good place for her offbeat work,” Preston said. “How often does one of the world’s best object puppet theater people say they want to come and teach at Trinity? It has turned out to be everything we had hoped for.”
Students enrolled in Rasooly’s class are learning that theater can surpass the boundaries they may have imagined. Preston said, “Yael shows students that you can make theater out of a lot of different things. We can use music, physical work, and humor. We can make the theater that we want to make. Students in the class are opening their eyes to what theater can be and what they can do with it.”
Rasooly hopes the class will allow students to delve into their passions and personal narratives, which makes each student’s solo performance unique. “You can use this art form to go deep into your own personal agenda and things you are passionate about,” Rasooly said. “This class is all about liberating our creativity, and that’s relevant to students who aim to have a career in the arts or any other career.”
Rasooly added that her students are supportive of one another, which is important in a class that requires some bravery when performing. “They’re taking care of each other and noticing each other’s paths. Things are very fragile at first and we have to be very respectful. When someone presents something, we always begin with what we loved about it and how we would like to see it go further,” she said.
Feiyue Zheng ’22 said that although she is unsure of what major she will choose at Trinity, she is interested in theater and dance. The course has not only enhanced Zheng’s performance skills, but also her interpersonal skills. “In this class, I am practicing my singing, dancing, and performing skills, but more than that I am becoming more outgoing than before,” she said. “Additionally, I am learning how to cooperate with my classmates, which is super important for a class like this.”
The relationship between Rasooly and her students is symbiotic, as Rasooly is also learning from her students. “All the things I am telling them, I am going to have to do that to myself in the upcoming months when I enter the rehearsal studio. I am going to take a lot of their risk-taking and courage with me,” she said.
Preston explained that Rasooly’s career is a shining example for students, demonstrating that it is possible to be successful without sacrificing passion. “It has been mind-blowing for these students to meet somebody who is making a living doing lots of work around the world, and doing what she loves to do. Seeing someone do that makes them think, ‘Maybe I can do something similar,’” he said.
Learn more about Rasooly at www.yaelrasooly.com.