The revolutionary historic changes which occurred with the end of the first world war, the collapse of the Austrio-Hungarian monarchy and the formation of the Czechoslovak Republic, influenced all areas of social life. With conditions of peace and a newly acquired state independence there was a great liberation of the creative powers of the whole nation. For Czech puppeteering, whose natural progress had been halted by the war, there came a period of the most intensive expansion to date.
Every year hundreds of new theatres appeared which played regularly on Saturday and Sunday for young spectators – by the end of the 1930s they numbered almost three thousand. Performances took place everywhere: in large towns (20–35 groups were active in Prague at that time), and even in small villages.
As puppeteers gradually found permanent venues in schools, libraries, village halls and especially in the centers of Sokol and other physical education organizations, they began to replace the previous simple mobile stages with more complex stage constructions, complete with light and sound equipment, which allowed for modern staging and improved use of stage space.
This marked the crowning point of the reform efforts, already begun with the edition of Decorations by Czech Artists, which freed the stage from the superfluous borders - a remnant of the baroque system of decoration – which limited the movement of the puppets around the set. The boom in puppeteering also brought efforts to construct specialized buildings.
One characteristics trait of the whole period was the continued exceptional participation of sculptors, artists, designers or art teachers at the head of many groups. This follows from the importance of the position which artists as the creators of puppets attained system of the puppet theatre as a whole. Even more important however was the fact that creative artists with their groundwork of expertise increased the amateurish level of the other members of the group, many of whom were just learning the basic work of acting with puppets. It is therefore understandable that artists determined the basic direction of the majority of puppet theatres, in which there was a final preference for the visual impression of a production.
For this reason the period of the 20s is often spoken of as the period of artistic ascendancy. The most significant phenomenon of the expanse in the amount of post-war Czech puppetry was the establishment of several permanent puppet theatres, whose program included specific artistic aims. By emphasizing the attribute "artistic" they tried to indicate their higher aspirations and to distance themselves from the mass of theatres with lower standards. Their characteristic features were also an attempt to establish regular performances and supply the professional theatre for children which was still lacking.
The circle of these theatres was most notably joined, besides the Summer Camp Puppet Theatre of Pilsen (1913-36), which was continuing in activities it had already started before the war, by Prague theatres: The Puppet Theatre of Art Education (1914–1954) and the Realm of Puppets (1920 – present day). They were eventually also joined by the Sokol Puppet Theatre of Prague-Libe? (1922–1939) and several theatres from outside Prague, for example the Turnov Puppet Theatre (1922–1939) led by the painter Karel Vik, the Sokol Puppet Theatre of Liberec (1925–1938) and others.
Author: Alice Dubská
Czech Puppet Theatre over the Centuries