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

(top photo: Eggink's Faust)

Old Trout Puppet Workshop (Canada)

Jin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company (Taiwan)

Baku Marionette Theatre (Azerbiajan)

Cirka Teater (Norway)

Pep Bou (Spain)

Green Ginger (UK)

Yase Tama (Iran)

Pigmaliao escultura que mexe (Brasil)

Compagnie Mariska (France)

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