Puppets are figurines that move because they are controlled by someone using strings, rods, or even hand movements. The earliest types of masks may have been the result of tribal ritual masks that were handmade with hinged jaws or jointed skulls. These were used in religious ceremonies or like Native American Indians, they were used to celebrate harvest festivals or in ceremonial dances. Unearthed Egyptian puppets were jointed and made from terra cotta material. There is puppetry entertainment, mentioned in the writings of Plato and Aristotle.
China is known to have made shadow puppets made from dried animal hides, like that of donkeys, sheep, pigs, buffaloes, and fish. The shadow puppet artistry was controlled by the puppeteer using one hand to control a rod that was attached to the neck, and their other hand was used to control rods that were attached to its wrists. The Christians during the Middle Ages were also master puppeteers, who spread church doctrine through puppet shows put on by monks and priests. The name of “marionette,” may have come from the figure of The Virgin Mary. Marionette carries the meaning of “little Mary” or another interpretation stands for “Marotte,” which stands for a “fool’s scepter.”
Modern Day Puppetry
By the 16th century, puppet theaters existed throughout Europe with professional and operatic style puppet theatres entertaining children, adults, and heads of royalty. In the 17th century, there formed the worldwide Punch and Judy theatres. Puppets by now were figures with heads, clothing, and societal comments disguise as humor. Modern day puppets have evolved to TV with shows that included:
- The Muppets and others.
- Shari Lewis and Lamp Chop
- Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy
- Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney
- Mr. Rogers
- Kukla, Fran and Ollie
- Howdy Doody
The Puppeteers of America was founded in 1937, and they produce over 160 national and regional festivals to celebrate and share the artistry of puppetry. There are several different international venues that hold puppetry sessions, shows, and its whole craftworks throughout the year. Puppeteers from throughout many countries attend these festivals, such as the “Izmir International Festival” and the Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival. Both festivals have long featured puppeteers from many countries across the globe.
The Oldest Puppet History
The puppet theater’s of Germany represents its earliest historical evolution and its cultural evolution because the puppet shows were expressions of what was taking place within this nation. While puppet theater or Figurentheater enjoys a higher level of prestige in German academic institutions because German puppet theaters were originally performed throughout the streets of Germany. Kasperle was the most famous puppet character in Germany and Austria. Kasperlewas developed in the late 17th century in Austria, and he was promoted as a clever peasant servant of the Viennese theatre, who was brought to Germany by traveling puppeteers. The Kasperle fame grew exponentially with its beginning as a hand puppet whose shtick was to beat his associates and supply slapstick comedy with political undertoned jokes. Kasperle still exists today in modern Germany. Other puppet and marionette venues take place throughout Germany and Austria, but more in an operatic and ballet style. Theatres were formed to house puppetry shows, with names like the Munich Marionette Theatre, the Lindau Marionette Opera, the Augsburg Marionette Theatre, and the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.
China deserves an honorable mention of the country that has the earliest and longest puppetry history. It is surmised that Chinese puppetry may have begun in its provinces at different times, like the eras in the 11the century, 446BC, 221BC, and in 206BC-24AD. The Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577) introduced the manufacture of jointed wooden figures that were activated by flowing water. Puppets that were activated by water were so very well engineered, that they were capable of mimicking human actions such as drinking, singing, and playing the reed pipe. The Chinese skill in puppetry continued to advance, especially in its musical adaptations and puppet shows. By the middle of the 1970’s, full-length plays were performed by the Quanzhou Puppet Troupe and today the Wenhua Award, like the Academy Awards, was set up by the Ministry of Culture for the best puppet shows.
Is There A Future For Puppets?
Puppetry is one of the oldest forms of entertainment and thus far, its art work can not be duplicated, not even in 3D animation. At least Brian Henson and the Walt Disney Corporation don’t believe that puppetry will ever disappear. If anything, these amazing entertainment entities will be supercharging their puppets. Speaking of the future, a Northwestern University professor is working on designing a robot puppet that can stage their performance, but the question being posed, is this still theater puppetry? For now and for the next several years, puppet shows will remain in existence and every adult and child’s heart and memories.