BorderLight Theater Festival Brings 40 Productions To Cleveland

A menagerie of life-sized animal puppets are about to parade through downtown Cleveland [Roger Titley]
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From a parade of life-sized animal puppets to stories of ordinary people caught in the middle of a revolution, the curtain is about to rise on four days of theater in Cleveland.  The BorderLight International Theater and Fringe Festival is bringing over 100 artists from around the world to perform in 40 productions in theaters and on downtown streets.

Opening night on Wednesday includes a new play about the impact of the Syrian revolution on ordinary citizens of that war-torn country. Director Naila Al-Atrash said the production is the North American debut of an English translation of “When Farah Cries.”

“The playwright based the play on a true incident that took place during the uprising back in Syria in 2011, when a young girl was arrested on the Syrian-Jordanian border,” said Al-Atrash.

Naila Al-Atrash [BorderLight]

Cleveland’s Dobama Theater is providing production support for the play.  Al-Atrash  described the show’s lead character as a young woman who accidentally wanders into the revolution.

“The playwright doesn’t slip into generalizing the issues or stereotyping the characters,” she said.  “He introduces us to very ordinary people who live the crisis.  They are very far from being heroic.”

Actor Jay Abdo recently had a touching encounter with some ordinary Clevelanders who share his Syrian heritage.  Abdo was pleasantly surprised during a visit to Cleveland’s West Side Market when he was mobbed by some produce vendors who recognized him from his film roles and clamored for selfies.

Jay Abdo [BorderLight]

“It was cool, and we made some photos and we chatted and we spoke about the beautiful days back in Syria before the revolution,”  Abdo said, pausing for a moment when words failed. “What can I say? It was very warm.”

Members of the public are also rehearsing this week in preparation for their performance as animal puppeteers Saturday afternoon. South African puppet maker Roger Titley and master puppeteer James Thomson have brought a menagerie of white, plastic beasts to town as part of a parade that will travel from the Cleveland Public Library to Public Square. The volunteers actually wear these life-sized, skeletal animal replicas or manipulate them with poles.

“We’ve got a mother and a baby elephant, a giraffe, a buffalo, a kudu, we’ve got two cheetahs, two ostriches, three egrets,” said Thomson, counting off the inventory.  “And I’m running a workshop with 20 ravens that you can make on the day.”

That’s another part of this interactive wildlife experience. Some of the local puppeteers will get to cut out some raven parts from a sheet of plastic and assemble them into a flock of birds as a part of the procession.

“We’ve taken 20 people from Cleveland, some are puppeteers, some of them work in offices, and we are training them to move our creatures in an interesting way,” Thomson said.

Puppet maker Roger Titley prepares one of his elephants for Saturday's parade [BorderLight]

The parade of puppets will be led by an ensemble of dancers and drummers with the Djapo Cultural Arts Institute and it’s co-sponsored by the Cleveland Public Library.  Organizers of the BorderLight festival are hoping that this year’s collection of performances from around the globe will become an annual event.

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