Moving down the middle of West 63rd Street last Saturday afternoon, we were following a giant puppet—the whole crowd of us, walking along behind Little Amal.
The 12-foot-tall Syrian refugee child, a member of the famous Handspring Puppet Company, is on his way to Lincoln Center to greet his more public, who will gather there in the vast square to see her in person, and capture evidence of the meeting on their phones.
Provided by a understand social media campaign – and certainly also by recent headlines about migrants and asylum seekers are being bused and flown north by Republican governors – Little Amal is the most popular person in New York right now, attracting a lot of her admirers dozens of scheduled appearances.
Since last year she has go all over Europe, a prominent, sympathetic symbol of the global migration crisis. Her current 19-day tour of these five counties only runs until October 2, and as always with visitors in need, the time limit has added to her cache.
For me, a puppeteer with an interest in the political scene, Little Amal – who is operated by a puppeteer tied to stilts inside her torso and two others who control the wings. her hand – should have been an almost automatic passion. However, she left me cold when I first went to see her, on Fifth Avenue in front of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library, on September 15, the day after her that get there. Even when she bends down to cuddle Patience, one of the famous marble lionsI was motionless.
Amal is a 10-year-old, but with her huge hands and strong jaws, she reminds me of one of the children’s paintings before the painters discovered that children are not just is a miniature adult. Worse yet, the event was just like a photo session. I wonder if she really wants to experience it firsthand – if she is, in fact, considered theater – or if the main purpose of this wordless puppet is to become an object, recorded. in photos and videos in captivating locations the world will recognize.
Then, last weekend, my heart suddenly expanded. On the tree-lined stretch of West 63rd Street, the brass band accompanying Amal joined in a festive performance of “When the Saints Enter,” and she began to dance as she walked along. It was a light, refreshing bounce, and it completely mesmerized her.
Later that day, her path cleared by a police escort, Amal led another procession up Central Park West. When her band plays, we jog down the street – adults, kids riding on our shoulders, sometimes a dog. The mood is elated, cheerful, good-natured.
There’s something to the fact, a city-wide party in honor of a refugee – even if she’s just a puppet, even if she’s on such good terms that her Warehouse St. Ann helped bring her here. Symbolic behavior is the problem.
In the foreground, Amal’s long brown hair swayed in the wind, adorned with a bright red ribbon as a beacon for those far behind. A thought crossed my mind that took me completely by surprise. Although I was raised Roman Catholic, I am not, and certainly not used to, the scriptures that cross my mind.
Inevitably, however, a line from Isaiah: “and a little child shall lead them.”
This is, of course, Little Amal’s point of view – using the visceral powers of puppetry and theater to its fullest extent, to make us feel and make us happy considering what we have debt among the most vulnerable among us. And finally, perhaps, to act on that moral imperative.
But it’s easy for any message to get lost on the big stage that is New York, and maybe even more so when collaborations with the city’s cultural institutions can become mutual promotion opportunities. each other, have no substance. When Amal visited Lincoln Center, she seemed more like a dignitaries to the audience than a child ambassador for a cause. Her background is gone; without it, she signed up as a boisterous spectacle, a sight you’d like to be able to say you’ve seen.
Still, the visuals were amazing – musicians hounded her from the balcony of the Metropolitan Opera – and people strained to get close to her, to touch those big hands. It’s amazing how she actually comes up close, looming right above you. Looking up, all you see is her giant face, with big, brown, blinking eyes. (Really makes for a great photo.)
I followed Amal late on Sunday morning to St. Patrick’s Church, where the large front door did not interfere with her height, and where the lyrics of a particular hymn appropriate – not so much for her but for the rest of us: “No matter what you do for the least of my people, that you do for me. “
And I followed her early Monday morning to Coney Island, Brooklyn, where she wandered wearily down the boardwalk, peering through the gates of the unopened buses. Festive colors came in, moody clouds cast a glow, and as she peered across the water of a pier, it was the sound of crashing waves and the clattering of shutters.
If it seems contrived – to be fair, it is; this is theater – nothing fakes amusement for her as she struts along with a gathering entourage, while a drone persistently hovers overhead. be afraid. Some people made pilgrimages to see Amal; Others, such as a beautiful woman in a pink one-piece swimsuit and shower cap, seem to have abandoned their beach plans to tag along.
Amal’s performance that night, with its tale of a weary child scurrying through Dumbo to the glass-walled carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park, should have been refined and glitzy. But from the moment she set off from the starting point of the walk, a triangle in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, something went wrong.
Not that hundreds of us were too many for the narrow cobblestone streets; The spirit of the evening is also off. Of which, most The neighborhoods of the city can be identified, the crowd could easily concentrate on taking pictures – and Amal, in that light, looked brilliant. (She stops, lingers, exactly the extremely photogenic point illustrated on the cover of Current affairs of The New Yorker.)
But this was not the cheerful welcome of an attentive audience; it felt like a flash mob had gotten out of hand. And when we got to the carousel – an elevated and brightly lit space that should have made for an ideal stage – it was already surrounded by so many people that it was impossible to see the performance unless you are in front. Even 12 feet tall couldn’t help Amal there.
The scariest part of that evening’s walk, however, was the feeling that loyalty had been replaced by pursuit. It feels like a hunt, with puppet refugees like a quarry. Everyone jostled for positions, jostling each other, trying to guess where Amal was going and getting there first.
And so I wonder, a little nervously, with the upcoming Saturday’s walk across the Brooklyn Bridge: Are we ruining Little Amal for ourselves?
There may be no solution to the problem of the absolute numbers she draws, especially when the prospect promises to be spectacular. But a tenet of theater suggests a way to better experience her live performance.
Take a few photos if you like, a video. But mostly, you just put the camera down, put the phone away. Be there, right now, walking with her. And feel.