Puppeteer set to continue pulling strings

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Retiring just never seems to work out for Adrian Kohler, co-founder of the multi-awardwinning Handspring Puppet Company, despite his several attempts.And now the former Grey High School pupil, who was in the city at the weekend to attend his 50th school reunion, has three new projects on the cards.World renowned with tons of accolades attached to his name, Kohler looks back to his young days in Port Elizabeth, where the puppetry bug bit, with no regrets.His interest in puppetry was influenced by his former amateur puppeteer mother and by his father, who was a yacht builder and cabinetmaker in Redhouse.He said his recent visit to the Bay evoked considerable nostalgia.“I pursued puppetry purely for the love of it and, although it’s not a mainstream career, I believed it had its own powers,” he said.Kohler joined the Grey High School class of 1969 for its reunion last week.“Much has changed about my old school and I am most impressed by the development of music in what is a formerly very sports-oriented school,” he said.After matriculating from Grey High, Kohler took a BA in fine art at the University of Cape Town and eventually moved to Botswana, where he ran the National Popular Theatre Programme from 1978 until the early ’80s.“My time in Botswana is when the passion for puppetry really grew.“I discovered a lot about it and came across puppetry literature,” Kohler said.It was around the same time, in 1981, that he co-founded the Handspring Puppet Company with his husband, Basil Jones.The Cape Town company has staged more than 16 theatrical productions, including the Tony award-winning War Horse, which debuted in London in 2007.War Horse has collected numerous accolades and critical acclaim worldwide for its portrayal of a boy’s emotional journey with his horse in World War I.One of Kohler’s fondest career moments is taking the production Episodes of an Easter Rising to the 7th International Festival of Puppet Theatre, in Charleville-Mezieres, France, in 1985.“That was one of our proudest and most nerve-racking moments.“Successfully pulling that production off remains a memory, because we were insecure about our level of expertise at the time,” Kohler said.Episodes of an Easter Rising was a string puppet version of David Lytton’s radio play, which follows two white women faced with a dilemma of what to do about a black activist who seeks refuge on their farm in 20th century SA.Kohler says he is not calling it a day just yet.Instead, the seasoned director is pursuing three projects, two of which involve workshops to be held in London in June.“We have thought of retiring . . . actually have tried to retire, but it just never seems to work as there is always something needing to be done.“We just canot wrap it up. “For example, the London workshops stem from an idea that we’ve been working towards since 2007,” he said.Although numerous Handspring Puppet Company productions have been to the National Arts Festival, in Makhanda, Kohler has not performed in Port Elizabeth since the 1980s, when he performed children’s plays in schools.

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