“FEATHERS OF FIRE”: Persian shadow puppetry with global appeal

World Today

"FEATHERS OF FIRE": Persian shadow puppetry with global appeal

A stage production that combines puppetry, art and history is drawing big crowds in the US and around the world. “Feathers of Fire” is a shadow play for all ages – inspired by an ancient Persian poem “Shahnameh” – and it’s going global. Asieh Namdar sat down with the director in New York City to talk about his passion for the arts, his mission and his message.

“Feathers of Fire,” simply put, is a show like no other.

It’s a spectacular shadow theater production, playing to sold-out crowds in the US, Asia and Europe.

The creator is award-winning filmmaker, designer and illustrator Hamid Rahmanian, who was born and educated in Iran. It’s based on the ancient Persian Epic “Shahnameh”, or “The Book of Kings” – a masterpiece written more than a thousand years ago by Ferdowsi, one the world’s great poets.

“This is the fairy tale that in Western world can compare to the Rapunzel or Romeo and Juliet and Jungle Book,” Rahmanian explains.

"FEATHERS OF FIRE": Persian shadow puppetry with global appeal

Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola calls it “One of the great epics of all time…brought to life in a spectacular fashion.” He saw “Feathers of fire” three times during its run in San Francisco.

The production is a labor of love for Rahmanian, who brings together a host of talent from across the globe. And as a team, “Feathers of fire” will head to Paris, Beijing and Shanghai this year in hopes of dazzling crowds there.

"FEATHERS OF FIRE": Persian shadow puppetry with global appeal

Ya Wen Chien, one of the play’s actors and puppeteers from China, thinks that the Asian and Persian cultures – connected long ago by the Silk Road – come together in “Feathers of Fire” around the shared art form. “We connect through art,” she says, “and it can bring us together.”

When asked why he’s bringing the production to China, Rahmanian responds that, “They have a flourishing tradition, beautiful. You have to see the craftsmanship of some of these puppets shadow puppets. In China, it’s just mind-blowing. And I’m really excited to perform for the people who actually really understand and exposed to this, form of art, of storytelling.”

"FEATHERS OF FIRE": Persian shadow puppetry with global appeal

But this unique form of storytelling – which requires years of planning and excruciating 17-hour days – comes with a price.

“Making art is love; it’s like having a lover,” Rahmanian says. “You have to be ready to die for her or him. You have to sacrifice yourself, your wealth, your house and your health…everything.”

But it’s also about something bigger for the Iranian-American.

Rahmanian reasons that, “When they leave this theater they’re leaving with something; their soul has been cleansed. They have something to compare with. They go sit down in front of the TV and hear something bad about Middle East or Iran. Now, they have something good to compare with.”

The production is opening hearts and minds – and entertaining crowds – one performance at a time.

"FEATHERS OF FIRE": Persian shadow puppetry with global appeal