In the second half of the 18th century theatre practitioners of the most varying types were still touring the Czech lands, and a still plentiful number of puppeteers among them. Their paths took two main routes: One led from Saxony through Teplice to Prague on to Moravia and from there to Hungary or Transylvania, the other went from Italy and Austria to Bratislava or straight through Moravia to Bohemia or Poland.
Czech names are however beginning to appear in the official applications for permits to perform puppet productions, and despite an insufficiency or historical evidence we can assume that from the 70s of that century the first Czech performing puppeteers appeared in this country. We may consider the oldest known Czech puppeteers to be he predecessors of Jan Václav Bitter from Melník and Matej Vavrouš from Habry na Cáslavsku, whose fathers, according to the statement in their permit application, made a living from puppet theatre.
The oldest recorded Czech puppeteer is Jan Brát (or Brath, Prath, Bráda) from Náchod. The news of them comes from Memoirs of The Holy Parish of Studnicná. According to him the son of the local carpenter carved puppets, built himself a stage, practiced playing with the puppets in the local pub and then went his puppets into the world. We have documents from Litomerice, Teplice, Bílina, Tábor, Jindřichův Hradec and Brno, which record his puppeteering activities in the years 1775–1802. In the 80s of the 18th century the first puppeteers of the later famous puppeteer dynasties appeared: The Miessners (also Maizner) Kockas, Finks, Maleceks, Dubskýs, Kludskýs, Vída etc.
We first encounter the name of Jan Kopecký in 1779. He was the founder of one of the most famous of the puppeteering lines, whose direct descendants are engaged in puppet theatre even today. The puppeteer`s most prized possessions were his puppets. Most of them were carved from lime wood, were constructed simply (head and knees attached by joints, arms loosely fastened), they were on average 70cm tall (later even more), suspended on wires and controlled by a simple beam. They were created in the majority of cases by professional wood-carvers – often the authors of sacral church statues and this is where the majority of the older puppets acquired the expressive features of baroque carving. The greatest attention was paid to the head and the face of the puppet. The carvers tried to achieve a convincing characterization and delineation of separate types.
At the same time they took pains for the expression to be neutral: the majority of the puppets had a serious concentrated expression – it was the puppeteer´s job as an actor to make them express emotional states. In the 19th century a number of wood achieved a remarkable level of creativity and quality. Two of the most significant from the beginning of the 19th century were Mikuláš Sychrovský (1802–1881) from the southern Czech town of Mirotice and Antonín Sucharda (1812–1886) from Nová Paka. Outstanding personalities from the second half of the 19th century were particularly the carvers Antonín Sucharda Jr., Josef Alessi, Vojtech Šedivý, Johann Flachs, Jindrich Adámek, and Josef Chochol.
Author: Alice Dubská
Czech Puppet Theatre Over the Centuries