Saudi Puppeteer to Lead Sesame Street Workshop in Riyadh

Saudi professional puppeteer Amman Sabban on the Arabic set of Sesame Street

Sesame Street is one of the best known children’s TV shows in the world. Shown in over 150 countries, the stars of the show are people we know as Big Bird, Elmo and the Cookie Monster. Their puppet-like characters make us think we know them, and in many ways we do. They have taught millions and millions of children around the world about challenges they will face as adults, including issues like losing a parent, fighting obesity, and helping communities in need.

The spirit of Sesame Street caught the attention of Ammar Sabban of Makkah at an early age. His parents took their PhD’s in the United States in the early 80’s, and they would tape the shows for Ammar to watch. Now set to host a Sesame Street workshop during Saudi Design Week in Riyadh next week, Ammar told Arabia Now, ““The magic and creativity of the great Jim Henson who created the Muppets, mixed fantasy with reality in a way that no one had done before. I was four years old when I wished I could live in that world, puppetry changed my life and I know that if people see what I saw, it will change their life to the better too.”

Now Ammar is hoping to change other people’s lives for the better also. His passion for making people happy, comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is rapidly expanding all fields of entertainment across the Kingdom. The art of puppetry and the way to teach it, is certainly something new. During his interview with Arabia Now, Ammar said, “Arts and entertainment is an essential part of any community’s development, it not only entertains but also inspire, teach and plants the seeds of a better future when utilized properly. That is part of my contribution, everyone has the ability today to create entertainment content; and we can’t complain about the lack of positive Arabic content without trying to be part of the solution. I want to create shows that are funny, entertaining and appropriate to both kids and adults.”

The Arabic version of Sesame Street known as, “Iftah Ya Simsim”, originally premiered in Kuwait in 1979. When Ammar first applied for a job there he was rejected, but that didn’t stop him from following his Sesame Street inspired dream telling Arabia Now, “All my life I wanted to be one of two things, a puppet or a cartoon character. Yet society insisted that I would be more realistic and be a doctor or an engineer, so I obliged but after a while decided pursue my dream and be who I always wanted to be. It wasn’t easy and I failed and got rejected more than I can count, including the first time I applied to Iftah Ya Simsim. But with hard work and sacrifice I’m living today the crazy life society deemed impossible, and today I am multiple puppets and cartoon characters. Which allowed me to bring knowledge and joy to millions of kids around the Arab world though television and social media, as well as physically by visiting unfortunate kids in hospitals and refugee camps. Each one of us was created for a reason, we just need to find the courage to discover it.”

Now he’s hoping to give others in Saudi Arabia courage to pursue their dreams too, thanks to Saudi Design Week 2017 and the workshop he’s hosting there from October 5th – 8th. While admitting having a career as a professional puppeteer is far from traditional, Ammar feels there are plenty of others out there that may want to take a leaf out of his book too, “Puppetry is one of the oldest – if not the oldest – forms of entertainment, and it was the first form of animation. Yet we don’t see much of it now a days, and even though it’s a great entertainment tool its also provides great therapy to the puppeteer. It allows you to express yourself with more freedom and in a weird way gets the real you out there. But just like any performing art it’s not as easy as it looks, so our workshop will give attendees some tips and techniques that will allow them with practice to bring life and personality to any object.”

As thousands of people are set to attend Saudi Design Week 2017 next week, and participants gather to enhance their creativity and skills, designing a puppet and explaining to attendees the impact puppets have on entertainment and education seems certain to be a popular draw. Looking ahead to leading his Sesame Street workshop, Ammar Sabban told Arabia Now, “Well it’s not something you see everyday in this region to begin with, and to this day people are always surprised when they know what I do for a living. But they are more surprised when they see a puppet live in front of them. It always put a smile on everyone’s faces, young and old.”