Show-and-tell: The art of puppetry

“All objects have a story to tell, but puppets are objects with rare power.”
– Steve Abrams

In these jaded times, where puppets are often seen in the public eye as children’s entertainment, Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop (RPTW) brought puppetry to Karachi for the first time at such a large scale for people of all ages.


The Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop was launched in 1974 and named after Rafi Peerzada who is Pakistan’s foremost modern dramatist. RPTW is a non-government organisation that promotes the arts, focuses on culture and aims to educate and entertain through its activities. It has been actively involved with puppetry since 1978 and has hosted internationally renowned puppet festivals along with puppet workshops for children and young adults in schools and festivals across Pakistan. It has been promoting joyful learning by using puppetry as a tool for education and social awareness.

Rafi Peer 29th International Puppet Festival

Rafi Peer 29th International Puppet Festival kicked off in Karachi on 7th February and concluded on 9th February at the largest urban park, Bagh Ibne Qasim. To speak straight from the shoulder, I wasn’t expecting that the festival would draw such a large crowd and grow so much in popularity. But as I walked in I saw large crowds of wide-eyed children and curious adults from all over the city.

There was so much happening at the same time. I was almost overwhelmed beneath the indecisiveness of whether to watch a magic show or the rod puppets dancing to the folk songs or the muppets performing skits and acts.

I think it was genius to have a magic show at the festival. Apart from entertainment, magic show is probably the only art which also adds an amazement and sense of wonder. Your guests won’t remember the skill of a singer, musician, dancers. They won’t remember the jokes of stand-up comedians or catching skills of a juggler. But a good magic trick, they will remember it for years to come. The magician performing the magic show was such a wonderful entertainer. He had the ability to keep the audience entranced for hours with his amazing antics. The show didn’t get boring even for a minute because something new and exciting kept happening every minute. The magician had the power to keep the audience enthralled and the magic show became popular among the young and old alike and soon the seats were occupied. The magician’s act was so flawless and I was left wondering, “How did he do that?” ‘His movements were so fast and fluid that his tricks could not be easily worked out.

The festival organisers had also included traditional Rajhistani puppets that were losing the attention and attraction of public and falling towards decline as new generation have adopted modern puppetry art skills. A mini circus with enticing juggling acts and fire performers was also set up which captivated the audience. The organisers had also conducted puppet-making workshops where children were engrossed in colouring their favourite puppet characters. And although I have masklophobia (fear of anyone wearing a mask or a costume), I absolutely loved the idea of the mascot parade as it’s something that doesn’t normally comes about in the city of lights.

I have to say that the atmosphere was so vigorous. The garden was divided into different entertainment areas and had stalls with handicrafts and storybooks and food. The decorations lining the venue were a real visual treat, with canopies of streamers, gorgeous life-sized puppets, and open-air stages set against February sky.


What I’ve culminated from my experience at this festival is that the power of the puppet is undoubtedly surging – and in many ways it's downright baffling. They're just prettily decorated wooden sticks, dammit; how can they bring a story to life? And yet, when they work well, puppet shows are often heartfelt, profoundly moving experiences. There's something about these wonderfully (un)wooden creations that seems to deeply touch an audience. Perhaps it's down to the simple stories that puppets help portray. And simple stories are often the most powerful. •