July is a cruel month to have an outdoor party, what with the sun shooting down flames and the air so humid you could irrigate a field. But Squirrel, who lives in the woods, wants to celebrate his birthday and invites all his friends who can crawl, creep, fly or swim to the big bash. As he writes out personalised invitations on pieces of bark, the play Squirrel’s Birthday begins to resemble a child’s party with a bizarre guest list. “There are all kinds of animals characters at the party, represented through puppets and all of them behave like humans,” says Margrit Gysin, 65, a veteran Swiss puppeteer, who has made hand and glove puppets for the play. Squirrel’s Birthday will be staged at Akshara Theatre on July 24 and 25.
The animal puppet characters have well-defined personalities and Gysin knows them like close friends. “Ant is a little unsure, soft-hearted and kind while Squirrel is child-like and generous. He wants to be nice to everybody and is working hard for his birthday so that his friends can have a good time,” she says, and then adds with a hint of warning, “Bear is very greedy.” Squirrel has also invited Whale, who lives in the deep oceans, and the frisky firefly.
This is Gysin’s fifth visit to India, and previous trips have taken her through Chennai, Kolkata, Varanasi, Bangalore and Delhi where she has watched “wonderful shadow puppets of India” besides other traditional puppets of the country. “For the Delhi show, Squirrel invites animals he might not have known if Squirrel’s Birthday were being presented in Switzerland. We have Lion and Peacock coming to the party here,” says Gysin. The play, directed by Andrea Gronemeyer of Schnawwl Theatre & Young Opera, Mannheim, Germany, will be presented by Arundhati Nag of Bangalore-based Ranga Shankara.
Gysin entered the world of puppets more than 40 years ago in Paris and has worked with specially abled children who “react emotionally to puppets” before she turned to the art form completely by creating her own puppets, including their costumes. Ever since, she has been based in Switzerland but trots the globe with her puppets. “Presenting plays such as Squirrel’s Birthday to children is heartening because these are about the joys of sharing and the ability to give and take,” she says.
Squirrel’s Birthday will be held at Akshara Theatre on July 24 and 25. Time: 7 pm. Entry: Rs 200 available at venue and Bookmyshow. Contact: 23364326