Cultural Context and History:
Over many thousands of years, puppetry has changed throughout Europe.
- Dolls on strings have been found in the tombs of children from Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations from more than 2,500 years ago.
- Europe, specifically Italy is seen as the birth place for the Marionette: a puppet who is controlled by strings from above.
- In Europe, puppets were performed to a mostly illiterate audience (people who could not read). So in order to communicate stories from the Bible, they began to retell them through puppet shows.
Materials and Construction:
- Traditionally, most European puppets are carved out of wood, and use wire, string, fabric and paint to construct the finer details, and put the puppet together
- Marionettes, a more advanced form of puppet, differ from a classical puppet because they are operated entirely by strings. This is a very complex form of puppetry and takes a lot of skill and precision to learn.
- Although there are many similarities between marionettes and traditional puppets, the most important thing to remember is that a marionette is operated entirely by strings. Traditional puppets may use a rod style back, or the puppeteers hand, or handles.
All types of theatre have had a complicated past, and puppetry is no exception. Many forms of drama have been banned over time by the Church who found theatre to be inappropriate and/or devilish. When puppet shows were used to communicate stories from the Bible, the Church allowed the entertainment. Because people were mostly illiterate, Christianity was still being taught without having to read books. As soon as comedy was introduced, and puppets began to say or do things that would be considered inappropriate, the puppet theatres were shut down. Because theatres weren't allowed to run, puppeteers took to the streets and began performing outdoors. In the country of the Czech Republic, the entire town would gather in the town square or local pub to watch a show put on by a family of puppeteers. This tradition is still followed today. Many 'buskers' (the slang word for a street performer) still put on puppet shows in festivals, at carnivals, and circuses instead of inside of traditional playhouses.
- The Greek world for puppet: nevrospastos literally means : drawn by strings, string pulling
- Historically, different styles of puppets would be used for different performances with different classes: the rich would always see performances done with marionettes, and the lower class would see performances done by hand or rod puppets
- For thousands of years, not only in European countries, puppets have been used as a means to communicate ideas, thoughts or feelings that they would be otherwise punished for saying or believing. For example, if a member of court wanted to warn a powerful ruler about a bad decision they were making, or tell them that they disagreed with a rule they were proclaiming, they would create a puppet show using slightly made up characters to share their thoughts and feelings. Also, if rulers wanted to teach their children a lesson, but didn't want to openly reprimand them for behaviour, they would hire puppeteers to create puppet show around the particular type of discipline and teach their children.