Inspiring Kids' Creativity: Andre Urbakh of Koom-Koom Children's Theater Company

"Our main goal is to inspire children to be creative," says Andre Urbakh, who founded and runs the children's theater troupe Koom-Koom (Hebrew for kettle) together with wife Katya. Based in a small, colorful room in the Morasha Center, the troupe now consists of about five members, two of whom are musicians by training.

Urbakh, who speaks with great enthusiasm about his chosen career, has curly hair and a visibly youthful spirit. With a constant smile, he describes a 2011 Chanukah performance, in which 130 children and their parents gathered in the Koom-Koom room for a combination theatre-activity experience. As at most of the group's shows, the kids enjoyed multi-disciplinary theatre involving puppetry, music, movement and visual art followed by creative play in the "activity museum."

In this case, the theme was "Lights and theatre", and the communal play involved experimenting with shadows, spotlights and ultraviolet light. As the children played, they discovered they could make their friends and parents "change size" using the magic of shadows, recalls Urbakh.

For Koom-Koom, it is not enough to entertain children. "We also want to allow kids to try out their creativity on their own," he says.

Both graduates of the Jerusalem-based School of the Visual Arts, the couple have a varied artistic background. While Andre studied industrial design, Katya focused on theatre. They met afterwards, while at the world-renowned school known for its out-of-the-box mixing of disciplines, and the result is children's theater that prides itself on relaxing the borders between genres.

Having studied their craft in Jerusalem, the two are also proud to be part of the local artistic community. "The Jerusalem audience listens more and is more intelligent. They are looking for meaning, not just entertainment," says Urbakh, adding that the Morasha shows draw a true cross-section of Jerusalem kids – Haredi families, alongside Arab-Israeli ones, and secular and Modern Orthodox children too. The group is mindful of the special needs of each population, and works hard to make the performances fun and appropriate for all.

Last year, Koom-Koom held two performances at Morasha that ran about three months each. In addition to the Chanukah production, there was a spring run of a popular show called "Puppet Cafe."

When the crowds are too large to fit into the small space, the group performs in Morasha's large auditorium and holds museum activities in shifts after the show. Urbakh looks forward to the expansion of the Center (currently underway), which may allow the group to welcome even more children to their shows.

Future plans for Koom-Koom include producing shows that will run throughout the year, not just for limited periods of time, and creating a permanent home for their unique brand of children's theater.

Picking up a larger-than-life puppet called "The Professor for the Study of Puppets," Urback explains that the puppet is used to show how pieces of trash on the "Professor's" cluttered desk can be turned into unusual objects.

"We want to open children's minds, to help them locate new and creative solutions to life's challenges, " says Urbakh.