Western European avant-garde theatre and puppetry : a reappraisal

Source document: Theatralia. 2022, vol. 25, iss. 1, pp. 13-26
  • ISSN
    1803-845X (print)
    2336-4548 (online)
Type: Article
The article addresses the question of how much the historical avant-gardes introduced radical breaks in artistic practice and can be considered as forerunners of what would happen after them. If we consider the case study of puppetry, where no homogenous tradition nor specific institutions existed at the beginning of the 20th century, we can observe that the experiments of the Cubist, Futurist, or Dadaist poets and painters in that field did not radically differ from those of the Symbolist and Modernist circles a few decades before. In many cases the avant-garde artists, when working on puppet and marionette theatre projects, were surprisingly open to collaborate with traditional puppeteers, as well as with theatre and art institutions. The dramaturgy often followed time-honoured patterns, with the prevalence of parody and folk or fairy tales as major sources of inspiration, a focus on artistic circles and children as audiences, and a composition of the show that respected the habits of mainstream marionette theatres. Original subjects are mainly to be found in Pierre Albert-Birot's, Fortunato Depero's, and Kurt Schwitters' plays for marionettes and shadows. Yet, because many of the avant-garde artists experimenting in puppetry were painters and sculptors, they introduced a major change in the composition of puppet plays: visual transformations of the figures marked the steps of the action, alternating biomorphic and non-figurative outlines, images of living beings and of mechanical objects. Thus, they put on stage a drama that was going much further than the conditions of the productions, or the dramaturgy they were using, could do: the drama of entering into a new mechanical age, where the place for mankind had to be re-invented.
  • This research has been funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement 835193.
[1] ALBERT-BIROT, Arlette and Didier PLASSARD. 1988. Pierre Albert-Birot et l'acteur en carton. Puck, la marionnette et les autres arts 1 (1988): 37–43.

[2] ALBERT-BIROT, Pierre. 1921. Scène birotechnique. Les Feuilles libres III (May 1921): 3. Bibliothèque nationale de France: Microfilm RES P-2–2235.

[3] ALBERT-BIROT, Pierre. 1977. Matoum et Tévibar. In Pierre Albert-Birot. Théâtre, I. Mortemart: Rougerie, 1977: 23–51.

[4] ALBERT-BIROT, Pierre. 1979. Matoum en Matoumoisie. In Pierre Albert-Birot. Théâtre, IV. Mortemart: Rougerie, 1979: 75–142.

[5] ALBERT-BIROT, Pierre. 1980a. Le Petit Poucet. In Pierre Albert-Birot. Théâtre, VI. Mortemart: Rougerie, 1980: 7–110.

[6] ALBERT-BIROT, Pierre. 1980b. Barbe-Bleue. In Pierre Albert-Birot. Théâtre, VI. Mortemart: Rougerie, 1980: 111–158.

[7] ALBERT-BIROT, Pierre. 1980c. Guignol veut s'enrichir. In Pierre Albert-Birot. Théâtre, VI. Mortemart: Rougerie, 1980: 222–238.

[8] ALBERT-BIROT, Pierre. 1980d. Les Mains. In Pierre Albert-Birot. Théâtre, VI. Mortemart: Rougerie, 1980: 241–249.

[9] ANTONUCCI, Giovanni (ed.). 1975. Cronache del teatro futurista. Rome: Edizioni Abete, 1975.

[10] APOLLINAIRE, Guillaume. 1910. Nos échos. On dit que... [online]. L'Intransigeant (5. 3. 1910): 2. [accessed on 11.04.2022]. Available online at https://obvil.sorbonne-universite.fr/corpus/apollinaire/apollinaire_intransigeant.

[11] APOLLINAIRE, Guillaume. 1918. Guignol-poilu. Artistique-Revue 9 (5. 12. 1918): 21.

[12] CONY, Gaston. 1917. Lettre à Guillaume Apollinaire (8. 10. 1917) [online]. In Guillaume Apollinaire. Correspondance. Lettres reçues. Vol. 5. Bibliothèque nationale de France. [accessed on 11.11.2021]. Available online at https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b100860703.

[13] APOLLINAIRE, Guillaume. 1956. OEuvres poétiques. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Paris: Gallimard, 1956.

[14] DEPERO, Fortunato. 1970a. Avventura elettrica. In Bruno Passamani (ed.). Depero e la scena. Turin: Martano, 1970: 78–81.

[15] DEPERO, Fortunato. 1970b. Ladro automatico. In Bruno Passamani (ed.). Depero e la scena. Turin: Martano, 1970: 82–85.

[16] DEPERO, Fortunato. 1970c. Sicuro. In Bruno Passamani (ed.). Depero e la scena. Turin: Martano, 1970: 86–87.

[17] DEPERO, Fortunato. 1970d. Suicidi e omicidi acrobatici. In Bruno Passamani (ed.). Depero e la scena. Turin: Martano, 1970: 74–77.

[18] EX, Sjarel and Els HOEK. 1985. Vilmos Huszár, schilder en ontwerper 1884–1960. Utrecht: Reflex, 1985.

[19] FOURNEL, Paul. 1975. L'Histoire veritable de Guignol. Lyon: Fédérop, 1975.

[20] JARRY, Alfred. 1903. Unpublished letter to Papyrus (i.e. Émile Straus), 16. 5. 1903 [online]. Pataplatform. [accessed on 6.3.2022]. Available online at http://pataplatform.blogspot.com/search/label/jarry.

[21] JARRY, Alfred. 1972. OEuvres complètes, 1. Paris: Gallimard, 1972.

[22] MEHRING, Walter. 1919. Einfach klassisch! Eine Orestie mit glücklichem Ausgang. Berlin: Adolph Fürstner Verlag, 1919.

[23] NOVARINA, Valère. 1989. Vous qui habitez le temps. Paris: POL, 1989.

[24] OUDOT, Robert. 1921. Au Guignol de la Guerre [online]. Comoedia (10. 4. 1921): 1 [accessed on 11.04.2022]. Available online at https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k7646758f

[25] PLASSARD, Didier. 1992. L'Acteur en effigie. Figures de l'homme artificiel dans le théâtre des avantgardes historiques. Lausanne: L'Age d'Homme, 1992.

[26] PLASSARD, Didier. 2015. Gaston Cony et le 'Guignol de la Guerre'. In Guignol 14–18. Mobiliser, survivre. Lyon: Musées Gadagne/Milano: Silvana editoriale, 2015: 66–73.

[27] RIGAUD, André. 1923. Le Théâtre des Marionnettes va s'ouvrir bientôt [online]. Comoedia (20. 12. 1923): 2. [accessed on 11.04.2022]. Available online at https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k7647219x/f2.

[28] SAZONOWA, Julie. 1926. Théâtre des Petits Comédiens de Bois. La Haye: Grand Bazar Royal, 1926.

[29] SCHMIDT, Kurt. 1972. Das Marionettenspiel 'Die Abenteuer des kleinen Buckligen aus Tausendundeinernacht' am Bauhaus Weimar 1923. In Staatliche Puppentheatersammlungen Dresden – Miteilungen, 15 fg., Heft 3–4. Dresden: Staatliche Puppentheater-Sammlungen, 1972: 38–40.

[30] SCHWITTERS, Kurt. 1977. Schattenspiel. In Kurt Schwitters. Das literarische Werk. Bd. 4: Schauspiele und Szenen. Köln: DuMont Buchverlag, 1977: 26–31.