Ora Fruchter, a puppeteer, director, performer, and Jewish educator, is interested in the intersection of two things that most wouldn’t put together: spirituality and puppets.
“Good puppetry has everything to do with breathing,” said the Brooklyn-based artist. “You give your breath to make a puppet live and breathe.”
Fruchter, who discovered puppeteering as a profession as a theater major at the University of Maryland, has since used this “magical” power to inspire young and old audiences alike. She founded and directs two educational theater companies: Yellow Sneaker Puppets, which teaches puppetry and creative text study workshops to students and educators, and Doppelskope, a theater company that performs interactive shows with educational content. The company’s most recent show, “Gruff!” is a comedy eco-musical that urges audiences to work to slow climate change. All of her shows tackle larger issues that families, or just people, want to think about together.
“It’s a very existential company,” she said. “There’s a common theme through all of these: Things are scary, things are dark. How can we explore that through comedy in a way that brings us together?”
As a Jewish educator, Fruchter uses a method called “object theater” to engage children in Torah stories. Using this approach, she casts objects as a character — for example, she casts Moses as a sponge — and uses the object as springboard for deep discussion.
“I ask the kids, ‘why do you think Moses is a sponge?’ I hear back the most amazing answers.” She works with several synagogues, including the Kane Street Synagogue and Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, to develop engaging lesson plans that incorporate visual and performing arts into the curriculum.
Creating a community through theater has helped her think about the connectedness of the Jewish community in a deeper way, she said.
“Every member of an audience is part of a community — everyone is having a shared experience,” she said. “I’m learning how to take advantage of that in the best way, in order to help members of a community connect with one another.”
The motto that inspires her work: “I want to respect the intelligence of children, and the whimsy of adults.”
Shadow puppet chuppah: At her recent marriage ceremony, several handcrafted shadow puppets made an appearance. The week before her wedding, she designed a shadow show, which her friends performed right before she walked down the aisle.