caricato da didier.plassard

PuppetPlays progetto di ricerca ERC

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Reappraising Western European Repertoires
for Puppet and Marionette Theatres
October 2019 – September 2024
A Research Program funded by the European Research
Recipient of the European Research Council 2018 “Advanced Grant” call for
projects, PuppetPlays – Reappraising Western European Repertoires for Puppet and
Marionette Theatres (ERC AdG 835193), is a research programme led by Didier
Plassard (Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier, France). Its subject is the
repertoire of plays written for marionettes and puppets in Western Europe
from 1600 to the present day.
Have you ever seen a performance of the Opera dei pupi, the traditional rod marionettes of Naples and Sicily? If so,
perhaps you were surprised to learn that most of the stories told by the pupari (the puppeteers) are based upon the
adventures of Charlemagne and his paladins, although Sicily was never part of the Carolingian empire.
A question of transmission
And did you ever wonder how the pupari could
memorize all the episodes of these adventures, and
then also transmit them to the next generation? Of
course, the dialogues were often improvised during
performances, and yet the pupari had to daily perform a
new episode from very long epics, with their multiple
intermingling plots, over the course of several months.
To do so, pupari would make basic notes of the
narrative structure of these cycles, the divisions into
episodes, the scene changes, and sometimes also of the
most important parts of each episode.
And do not expect to read the plays or these canvases
in books because only a very small number of these
texts have been published by historians. While some
transcriptions of performances can be found in
university dissertations, most of these academic
works are only typed: just like the original
manuscripts, they lie dormant on library bookshelves,
Like other Sicilian institutions today, the Museo
Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino in
Palermo keeps dozens of these manuscripts, most of
them dating from the first decades of the 20th
Century. These texts were written on the cheapest
writing materials that could be found at the time:
school notebooks made of poor quality paper with high
acidity level, which became more and more fragile with
the passing of time. When turning the pages of these
precious notebooks, there is always the risk of tearing,
just as if they were ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls.
Giuseppe Canino, Costantino imperatore di Roma, Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet
Museum, Palermo
This situation is typical of the vast majority of marionette and puppet plays all over
Europe. Because puppetry in the past was largely a popular art, appealing to the lower
classes, and later to children, the plays were seldom published. They have therefore tended
to remain outside of the history of drama, or have been considered, at best, a separate,
even insignificant, branch of it.
Puppet theatre specialists themselves pay very little
attention to dramaturgical issues. When you look at
museum collections, exhibitions and publications,
puppetry often seems to be just a collection of dolls:
beautiful or moving objects, perhaps masterpieces of
sculpture or handcraft, without any indication of the
way they are animated, the scenes in which they
appeared, nor especially of the plays in which they
If they were playing Hamlet, for example, was the
puppet performance a parody, a summarized version,
or a rewriting of the play? Was the performance text
directly inspired by Shakespeare’s tragedy or did it
retain aspects of Fratricide Punished, or Prince Hamlet of
Dannemark, the anonymous play often considered as a
remnant of an “Ur-Hamlet”, which English travelling
companies used to perform in German-speaking
countries during the 16th Century?
In several European countries, the legends of Saint
Anthony or Geneviève de Brabant (Genovefa) were
among the most important successes on the
marionette stages; but no one has compared their
different versions and we do not know where they
were first performed.
This is not only due to the fact that large parts of
these repertoires are anonymous or were composed
by the puppeteers themselves, sometimes in the form
of reductions of actors’ dramas or adaptations of
novels, legends and tales, and sometimes as original
stories. Plays written by renowned playwrights are
also excluded from the history of theatre and current
editions of their works.
In France, Goethe’s Théâtre complet in the
prestigious “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade” series does
not include Jahrmarksfest zu Plundersweilern
(Plundersweiler Fair), nor Ein Fastnachtspiel (A Carnival
Play), nor the fragment Hanswursts Hochzeit
(Hanswurst’s Wedding).
In Germany, the Suhrkamp edition of Thomas
Bernhard’s plays, for example, did not include Der
Berg (The Mountain), a play “for puppet-men or menpuppets”, which was only recently included in the
complete edition of Bernhard’s works.
And who knows that the most important playwright
in Portugal during the 18th Century, Antonio José
da Silva, called “The Jew”, who was tortured,
sentenced to death and burned by the Inquisition,
wrote all his comedies for marionettes? Who today
knows that David Garrick, Gerhart Hauptmann,
Edmond Rostand, Paul Claudel, Hugo von
Hofmannsthal, Italo Calvino, Ernst Toller, Rafael
Alberti, or Howard Barker wrote for the puppet
stage? Who has read their plays or even some
analyses of their works?
Thousands of plays are thus scattered: Henryk
Jurkowski, in Écrivains et marionnettes – Quatre siècles
de littérarure dramatique (Institut International de la
Marionnette, 1991), has already listed 500 plays by
literary authors, although his inquiry did not go
beyond the 1930s. In some collections, such as that of
the Municipal Museum of Munich, around 1,500
handwritten or typewritten plays are currently held.
[António José da Silva], Theatro comico portuguez, 1759.
Making visible an invisible repertoire
Bringing into the light this fragmented and almost invisible repertoire is the principal
objective of PuppetPlays, an ambitious research programme funded by the European
Union and led by Didier Plassard, a professor of Drama and Performance Studies at the
University Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3. Recipient of the European Research Council 2018
“Advanced Grant” call for projects, PuppetPlays began in October 2019 and will continue
for five years, until September 2024. The programme plans to collect a large selection of
published and unpublished plays written in Western Europe (United Kingdom, France,
Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands) from 1600 to the
present. Around 2,000 plays will be analysed and then documented into a database
specifying the author, date, genre, the list of characters, the editions (or the place of
conservation of the manuscripts), and the staging, with a brief summary of the dramatic
An open source
Three hundred of these plays, identified as
particularly representative and difficult to
access, will be published on the digital
anthology which, together with the database,
will be accessible on the Internet platform of
The database and anthology can be searched via
keywords, an interactive map of Europe, and via
a timeline, in order to facilitate access to these
resources for all types of users: academics and
students from different disciplines, artists and
art students, teachers, cultural stakeholders and
mediators, as well as the general public
interested in the field.
The web-platform will also host a dictionary of
authors, thematic issues and other pedagogical tools,
video-excerpts and iconography, audio-recordings of
performances, as well as all the academic productions
of the programme (including a monograph, two
doctoral dissertations, the proceedings of two
international conferences, and articles). The
PuppetPlays programme follows ERC grant agreement
rules which promote the principle of open access to
published output and research data.
Following the example of the New York Public
Library (which invited users to participate,
through a dedicated software, in the
transcription of thousands of letters exchanged
between soldiers and their families during the
American Civil War), PuppetPlays plans to bring
together communities of users by offering to
help with online collaborative transcription
(crowd-sourcing) of handwritten documents.
Giuseppe Giacosa, Il filo, 1883.
The central hypothesis
The central hypothesis of PuppetPlays is that puppet theatre, which during the 17th and the 18th
centuries was essentially a practice for circumventing the prohibitions on the actors’ theatre,
gradually became a specific theatrical medium. It keeps alive fashions and genres that the actors’
theatre has abandoned; it gives life to specific characters deeply rooted in local and regional
identities; and it explores experimental forms of playwriting.
Taking into account puppet repertoires in the history of dramatic literature can thus lead to certain
revisions of the field: this will make it possible to introduce more diversity and complexity into the
traditional linear succession of poetics (Romanticism after Classicism, Symbolism after Realism,
Post-Modernism after Modernism, etc.), which does not reflect the variety of theatrical productions
within the same era.
A specific dramaturgy ?
This question of a specific dramaturgy arises particularly when we examine contemporary playwriting. Why do
some authors choose to compose plays for puppets, shadows, and all kinds of animated objects – sometimes as the
only performers on the stage, sometimes mixed with live actors?
When puppeteers require texts for a new production, what specific imaginary of puppetry do these playwrights
develop? It seems that the introduction of artificial performers on stage broadens the spectrum of dramaturgical
possibilities: writing is freed from the “laws” of realism and plausibility; but it can also lead to speaking of (or to
showing) the inexpressible: explosions of violence, cruelty (let’s remember the old Punch and Judy show!), or
obscenity. Birth, illness, disability, old age, and suffering can be portrayed on stage, with empathy but without the
risks of excessive or forced pathos.
Because they represent the human through the guise of an object, the arts of puppetry are undoubtedly the best
adapted instrument to tell stories of dehumanization and rehumanization: it is, in any case, one of the main
hypotheses that PuppetPlays proposes to test.
Tankred Dorst, A Trumpet for Nap (1959)
Whether a puppeteer, playwright, librarian or collector, you too
can contribute to PuppetPlays if you know of puppet plays/scripts
or collect original works (we do not take into account simple
adaptations). Please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss this
project or to request to be kept informed of our activities.
PuppetPlays (ERC AdG 835193)
Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3
Site Saint-Charles 1
DRED Offices 136 et 138
Rue du Professeur Henri Serre
34090 Montpellier - FRANCE
Tel. : +33 (0)4 11 75 71 83
e-mail : [email protected]
Web site :
Facebook page : PuppetPlays
Background picture: Coll. Istituto per i Beni Marionettistici e la Cultura Popolare, Turin.