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Mar 5, 2019 12:53 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Yael Rasooly Presents 'Paper Cut' At Bay Street Friday, The Venue's First Puppet Show For Adults

Yael Rasooly, the creator and star of 'Paper Cut.' BOAZ ZIPPOR
Mar 5, 2019 1:07 PM

What is a puppeteer to do when she has a desire to write and perform, and a concept and story in mind, but inadequate financing?

For Yael Rasooly, an Israeli director and multidisciplinary performer, the answer was “Paper Cut,” her one-woman show that uses paper cutouts, various objects, and recorded sounds and dialogue to create a funny, romantic, suspenseful, and music-filled show inspired by the Hollywood glamour era of the 1930s and ’40s.

Since its inception, “Paper Cut” has gone on to win the Grand Prix for a solo show from the New York Fringe Festival, the Grand Prix at the International Festival of Solo Puppeteers in Poland, and Best Conception and Realization at the Pécs International Adult Puppet Festival in Hungary, among other honors.

Ms. Rasooly has performed the show, in either English or French, more than 400 times across nearly 30 countries. Now, she will bring “Paper Cut” to Sag Harbor for a one-night-only performance at Bay Street Theater, presented by Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre in conjunction with Bay Street. Showtime is 8 p.m. on Friday, March 8, which is International Women’s Day. The show is for adults only—the first time a puppet show geared toward adults is being presented at Bay Street.

Ms. Rasooly—who is currently in residency at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, through the Israel Institute’s Visiting Israeli Artists Program—explained during an interview Saturday that she came to puppetry after being a classical pianist and classical singer from a very young age.

“I was fortunate enough that my parents really invested a lot in my education in general—and in my artistic education,” the 35-year-old said.

Her parents were both doctors, but her mother was also a talented painter and her father, a refugee to Israel from Iraq, was a talented violinist. She said that, back when her parents were young, there was strong tension from their families for them to be doctors, and it wasn’t up for discussion.

For herself, she found that the classical music world and all that it entails includes striving for excellence, but also competition and the stress and jealousy that goes along with that.

“I think a part of me always found that I loved performing that music, but all the world around it did not appeal to me, to put it gently,” Ms. Rasooly said. “It was not good for me.”

She attended a professional acting school, but felt out of place. Then she studied theater design in London, but that meant giving up the stage and performing. It was while studying there that she was exposed to adult puppetry. She recalled that the first show she saw featured three men using minimal means.

“You can do things you cannot do with the human form and you can have layers of complexity and you can have the suspension of disbelief, and, basically, it’s just so magical and mind-blowing,” Ms. Rasooly said. “It’s out of boundaries, and so metaphorical and political, but then it can also be so violent and safe.”

She wanted to learn more and recalled being given good advice: Go to the international puppetry festival in France.

So, at age 20, she went to Le Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes in Charleville-Mézières. She was there for 10 days and watched between five and eight shows a day.

“It blew my mind,” she said. “I was so impressed by it because some productions were very big and complicated and expensive with big companies and big names, and others were people doing ‘Macbeth’ with vegetables, or amazing street performances. That was the first time I felt I had found my artistic home—which is a lot to find. I went to study in Jerusalem at the School of Visual Theatre with that in mind. I had this vision already of being in that international circuit of performers who are storytellers in very, very inventive ways, and having that crazy thought that I might pull this off. I might be able to make a living from really doing what I love.”

In describing the appeal of working in puppetry, she said that puppeteers have to have their hands—and their hearts—in everything. “You have to know about theater design, and about lighting and about sound, about directing and dramaturgy and design and costume. And all of the elements have to come together very strongly. And it also enables you to create your own world, and there is none of that stifling competition.”

She said she developed “Paper Cut” during a very challenging time, when she was out of the protective environment of school, continuously getting fired from waitressing jobs and feeling very far from her dreams.

“It’s a one-woman performance that had very humble beginnings,” she said. “I actually made it in my living room—between my living room and my kitchen. It kind of took over both.” She noted that she was living in an apartment with a very patient flatmate.

“It was basically a show I made when I couldn’t find funding for the real show I wanted to make with a couple of actors, with a big team of designers,” she continued. “… I could not get the funding for that and I was keeping my hands busy.”

Though she had experience in carving and papier-mâché, she did not have a workshop—so she decided to just use paper.

“I’m a great believer of creation that comes from limitations and constraints—and from defeat,” she said.

Having already collected books concerning the golden age of cinema for the story she had planned, she got to work developing the unique visual language of the show.

“I just started photocopying these books and going deeper into the references in the films and deeper into the story I wanted to tell,” she said. “There was a lot of play involved, because you just have to experiment a lot. I was like, ‘Okay. How do I translate the language of cinema into theater, into low-tech?’ And with all the absurdity in that—that’s delicious material just there.”

She thought of how to create a long-shot and a close-up, how to emulate Alfred Hitchcock’s techniques, and how to incorporate voiceover.

“It’s how I make all my shows. I kind of have to attack it. I have to venture out in all directions,” Ms. Rasooly said. While developing a show, she spends a lot of time feeling like she has nothing until she has too much—then she’s done. “But it’s the way that I work and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Paper Cut” features Ms. Rasooly as a secretary sitting at her desk, often after office hours. “She has a crazy crush on her boss who doesn’t give her the time of day but makes her work nights,” Ms. Rasooly said.

Through her paperwork and her objects, the secretary enters a fantasy world where she can really be who she is. In her make-believe reality, she is a cabaret singer. And when her boss sees her performing, he falls in love with her. But then comes the Hitchcock twist.

“I think, in a way, I made it for American audiences because American audiences really get all the references to different films,” Ms. Rasooly said.

Liz Joyce, the founder of Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre, said she wanted to bring “Paper Cut” to Sag Harbor after she saw Ms. Rasooly perform it at the Puppeteers of America National Puppetry Festival in Minneapolis two years ago.

“This particular show is kind of low-, high-tech, which puppetry is so wonderful at, which means that with the puppets, with the cutouts, with the interaction of the actor and the puppets, you can go places that you can’t go with regular theater,” Ms. Joyce said. “There is a lot of theater magic in it with recordings and visual gags.”

The show runs between 50 minutes and one hour. Afterward, Ms. Rasooly will have a Q&A with the audience, and a wine reception will follow.

“Paper Cut” will be staged at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Friday, March 8, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance, available at goatonaboat.org, or $40 at the door.

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