Czech Puppets Over the Centuries
From Puppet Production in the Middle Ages to Baroque Marionettes
Czech Country Folk Puppeteers
In the Second Quarter of the 19th Century
The Amateur Puppeteers
The development of permanent puppet venues in the 1920s
From Kašpárek to Spejbl and Hurvínek
The arrival of new development trends in the 1930s
Czech Puppeteers under the Nazi occupation
The Moravian Museum
The Amateur Puppeteers
The picture of Czech puppetry at the end of the 19th century would not be complete if we didn´t mention the increasing activity of amateur puppeteers. They tried to take advantage especially of the personally unassuming nature of the puppet theatre for their own theatrical activities as early as the middle of the 19th century. This tendency grew more in the last decades and by the beginning of the 20th century we can talk about movement, which basically launched the phase of modern puppetry, despite the fact that initially the amateurs were totally under the influence of the traditional folk puppeteers. Public amateur activity was precursored by a marked expansion of domestic, so-called family puppet theatres. These were mostly stages of small dimensions, designed for entertainment and theatrical experiment in the circle of family and close friends. If we look at a few cases from nobility who could afford an expensive, professionally prepared puppet theatre, we can confirm that these stages were at first prepared by hand by a range of designers or design oriented dilettantes, who wanted a puppet theatre mostly for the sake of their children. For example in the 30s of the 19th century the puppet of the famous Manes design family originated in this way. Gradually with the help of printed paper decorations, which were brought in from abroad, their popularity started to increase considerably. By the end of the century a family puppet theatre was already a typical feature in the salons of the town houses.
The turn of the century brought a new incentive for development, and was partly the puppeteers themselves who attempted to raise the standard and social prestige of their efforts. In 1902 the Puppet Theatre Club of Patriotic Friends of Dr Pa?ík and the area of T?ebenicko, was born, the soul of which was the puppet enthusiast Alois Rada (1868-1951). In the years 1902-1909 the theatre played not only in Prague, but organised tours around Bohemia of shows which ended with instructional demonstrations for learner puppeteers. A early as 1903, the members of this theatre organised the 1st meeting of friends of puppet theatre (on this occasion they prepared Smetana´s opera The Bartered Bride, in order to demonstrate possibilities of puppet theatre). The following year the second meeting was held in Pilsen. In 1905 puppeteers from Kladno staged the first public competition for puppet plays: its winner was the writer Vojt?ška Baldessari Plumlovská. In 1911 a great puppet exhibition was organised in Prague which proved exceptionally popular with the public. It was one of the first events in Jindrich Vesely´s (1887-1939) attempts to support the development of puppet theatricals. In the same year, the Czech Association of Friends of Puppet Theatre was founded. One of the many significant things that the association did to support the puppet movement was to publish the magazine ?eský loutká? (Czech puppeteer) (1912-13), which was the first specialized puppet magazine in the world. Jind?ich Veselý became its editor.
Besides Prague, Pilsen became another significant center for puppet activity. There was a puppet theatre in operation here from 1902. The new era of puppetry in Pilsen started in 1913 when the former puppet companies united under the management of a charity association which organised holidays stays for poor children, and embarked on regular activities. The development of "The Summer Camp Puppet Theatre" was significantly influenced by the acceptance of the folk puppeteer Karel Novák (1862-1940), who became an honorary member of the theatre. Together with the members of his family, he mastered the art of manipulating puppets and made use of his positive experience with folk theatre in his excellent professional performances. It was through his co-operation with the amateur members of the group, who exercised their influence through dramaturgy, that the individual profile of the "Campers" started to develop. Designer Josef Skupa (1892-1957) joined this process in 1917, started to realise his ideas on modern puppetry and soon became the group´s leading personality. Skupa believed that puppet theatre could successfully address spectators too. During the final years of the war, when the censor was limiting any form of free expression, Skupa took advantage of the censor´s disinterest in puppet theatre and organised evening performances for adults. The cabaret shows which were shown every evening on the Campers´ stage became a sensation of the highest order for the Czech population due to their political relevance. The theatre´s activity climaxed in the last months of the war when the "revolutionary " Kašpárek, symbolically buried Austrio-Hungary on stage, to the enthusiastic approval of the spectators.
(Author: Alice Dubská, Czech Puppet Theatre over the Centuries)