First and foremost there is still a widespread, although by no means completely historically accurate, conception of the role played by Czech puppeteers in the period of the national revival, that exceptional process, at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, whereby the modern Czech nation was formed, and the leading forces of the nation combined to fight against the gradual decline of the Czech language and to give rise to a new national self-confidence within Czech society.
The amateur puppet movement, widespread in the first half of the 20th century, also evokes feelings of considerable respect and, after the period of the folk puppeteers in the 19th century, forms the second critical phase in the history of the development of Czech puppetry. At that time there wasn`t a city, town or even village in the Czech lands where amateur puppet players didn`t play puppet theatre for fun, and the entertainment and aesthetic education of their children. With their enthusiasm and self-sacrifice they only constituted a unique phenomenon in the puppet world of the time, the range of their activities having no match in Europe, but they also created a fertile enviroment for the creative development of such eminent artistic personalities as Josef Skupa and Jiří Trnka.
To these historical associations in the general consciousness we can also add the fact that, after a complicated development in the 20th century, contemporary Czech puppet theatre has now reached a momentous stage in its development. The dream and the goal which generations of Czech puppeteers fought for has at last become a reality: On the basis of its artistic achievements, puppet theatre has fought its way up to take an equal standing alongside the other theatrical arts. Not only is its relevance to society completely accepted, but so are the unique possibilities of achieving artistic affects which arise from the expressive qualities of the marionettes themselves. We can say without fear of exaggeration that contemporary Czech puppet theatre plays a significant role in Czech theatre culture as well as in the context of world puppeteering, and that the work of its leading protagonists is playing a leading role in determining how puppet theatre will progress and develop. At the same time it is contributing to the development of modern theatre culture as a whole.
Author: Alice Dubská
Czech Puppets Over the Centuries The International Institute of Puppet Arts in Prague