Sunday, July 6, 2008
Another subject that I had for that freelance gig that ended early (for which I have yet to be paid) was puppets. The odd thing was that as opposed to film criticism, I actually know something about puppets. I’ve built them, manipulated them, performed voices and manipulated puppets in plays. But my editor would not agree to run my puppet writing. So here it is.
Though puppets first are in our lives when we're children, they have been around a very long time, the past 30,000 years. They were some variety of representational figures used to perform for an audience. Puppets (in Greek "neuropasta" is "to pull the string") were first written about by Xenophon, ca. 522 BCE. After the Dark Ages, Roman Catholics used marionettes to perform miracle and mystery plays. Out of these grew comedic puppet plays, and finally the Italian Commedia dell'Arte. Today, puppets are still popular in some parts of the world: marionettes perform operas in Vienna and Salzburg; the Czechs still attend rod, marionette and black light puppet shows; and American Basil Twist builds and choreographs new shows frequently, his latest being a "Petrushka."
Small children play with hand puppets, made from socks, gloves or paper bags. They are also used therapeutically, e.g., for children with speech impediments. The above link and photo are from the Victorian and Albert Museum, which has a description of hand puppets, with reference to Punch and Judy (both in England and Europe), and other important puppet characters, like Faust. It is not chockfull of puppet trivia, like the fact that author George Sand had a big thing for hand puppets. One thing that drove Johann von Goethe to write his "Faust" is that the story was "only" performed as a puppet play; he want to return the legend to the pantheon of German literature.