In September, 2019, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Festival mondial des theatres de marionettes in Charleville-Mezieres, France. Here are some reviews.
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- Steve Capra
Festival mondial des theatres de marionettes
Every second year for ten days in September the small Renaissance city of Charleville-Mezieres in northeastern France hosts Festival mondial des theatres de marionettes - The World Festival of Puppetry. You don’t know what it means to be festive until you’ve come to this event! The town is filled with people of all ages - many senior folks, and always sober - enjoying the cornucopia of puppetry events spread out before them. It’s terrific, with shows, internships for children, workshops for puppeteers, street performers - everything a festival needs! The 2019 event was the 20th biannual, and I was lucky enough to be there with my critic’s notebook.
The opening event was Place des anges, a pageant presented in the beautiful old town square. Brightly lit acrobats - white angels - dropped white feathers on the crowd. Angelic indeed! It was marred only by the hyper-amplified base of techno-music or whatever it was.
Aside from the scheduled performances, the streets of this old city are full of indie puppeteers and other street performers. I saw one acrobat on a unicycle tossing around three rather imposing-looking daggers. And the visitor might one day notice a covey of gnomes on their way to work, walking two by two like nuns.
A puppeteer in the square
The city was dotted with exhibits - puppet displays nestled into corners or splayed in the town square. One called Killing Alice echoed Alice in Wonderland: an Alice doll remains still for two minutes and then turns her head to show the face of le bete imbedded in the back of her skull. Another was called Cabinet Stuchlas, its puppets running on miniature motors, ensconced in the city's lovely Gothic church. Another exhibit displayed stunning puppets from a production called Faust en l’isle designed by Theo Eggink, whose work had a huge influence on wood carving for puppetry.
The puppets were of all sorts, from simple finger puppets that fit on the puppeteer’s fingertips, to marionettes with complex joints, to human-size puppets that took three puppeteers to manage them. There were puppets of gods, puppets of animals, puppets of people - and some that referred to nothing beyond themselves.
This bewildering array of objects made me wonder what a puppet is. I was lucky enough to talk with Julie Postel of The International Institute National de la Marionette. She explained that a puppet is any non-human presence on stage. The puppet universe was clarified for me.
For the reviews, scroll down from the main page or click on the links below. - Steve Capra September 2019
Macunaima Gourmet is a large puppet show - the cast is large; the stage is large; the puppets are large, complex and beautiful. It comes from the company Pigmaliao escultura que mexe (Brasil). It’s poetic and political, using both puppets and human actors. This is puppet as cultural symbol. The puppets are varied. Some are marionettes. One actor has a puppet of a man tied in front of him; another has a puppet in front of him from the waist up; the human-sized free-standing puppets is sometimes manipulated by multiple puppeteers. There are eight or nine in the cast. The story is based on Mário de Andrade’s 1928 novel Macunaima , and I think that it expands its story to suit the play’s theme of exploitation. The title character is a native, born “the hero of the people”, and he’s found in Brazilian myths. In Macunaima Gourmet he’s played by a large brownish puppet who’s fattened up and sold as canned meat. He’s ultimately fed to an obese puppet whose features resemble Jair
Garage is a wordless play from Cirka Teater (Norway) directed by Espen Dekko, produced on a formidable set by Gilles Berger. It calls itself “objects theatre”, and the two mechanics we find tinkering in their garage are indeed joined on stage by a crowd of objects large and small, electrical and automatic: pulleys, levers, wheels, cogs, dolls, a rubber chicken… They’re all put industriously to work, one action triggering the next. The workmen have a chicken, and they savor its one egg with relish. Then the chicken lays a second egg, unexpectedly, which the pair eat as well. This second meal, however, puts them in an over-energized state, and they excite their inorganic mechanism so much that it breaks down, literally blowing a fuse. Garage is fascinating to watch, a cornucopia for sight, complex and kinetic. But without program notes the circumstances of the wordless play - the circumstances surrounding the eggs - would be unclear. Still, we wouldn’t care much - we’re having