Theatres now and then

The origins of the professional strolling theatre in Europe date to the 16th century when in Europe theatre groups started to cross the borders of their countries and play for foreign audiences speaking other languages. The most advanced theatre cultures were those of Italy and England, and it was the theatre artists of these countries who determined the development of theatre in Central Europe. German ensembles followed the example of Englishmen and Italians when they appeared at the beginning of the 17th century. Their productions were also known in Slovakia. Professional theatre culture (including puppet theatre) brought in that time to Slovakia was the culture of Germany and Austria.

The Central European puppet theatre tradition of marionette theatre was influenced by Italian Baroque puppet opera, Italian dell´arte puppet comedy and productions by English comedians, who often played the combined Elizabethan repertoire with both puppets and actors (for instance the play Faust), and later in the 18th century it also fell under the influence of Viennese folk theatre with its comic characters.

Foreign wandering groups played in their own language and that is why they needed a mediator between actors and the audience to explain the plot of the play in the native language. This gave rise to comic figures like Hanswurst or Kasperl; and later in Slovakia the character of Gašparko.

Historic sources show that a number of theatre companies of different nationalities visited the territory of Slovakia in the 18th century, including Austrian, German and Italian troupes.
By the 19th century they had been joined by Hungarian and Czech groups, and even a Swedish one with Czech roots which incorporated a marionette theatre.

Slovak wandering marionette theatre made its first appearance in the 19th century. The first Slovak amateur drama performances and the first professional marionette theatre were established around this time as well. On 22 August 1830, publisher, bookseller and bookbinder Gašpar Fejerpataky-Belopotocky introduced Chalupka’s play Kocúrkovo in Liptovský Mikuláš. However, the first written reference to and proof of existence of a Slovak puppet theatre dates from 1882 and relates to the theatrical activities of Jan Strazan. Slovak amateur drama actors and the first Slovak wandering professional marionette group constituted an important part of the process of building the foundations of the modern Slovak theatre culture.

Jan Strazan (1.7.1856- 15.9.1939, a native of Varín) was the founder of a dynasty of puppeteers which was to perform continuously for more than 122 years. He was the forefather of important Slovak drama actors like Jozef Strazan (b 1943), a long-term member of the Jonáš Záborský Theatre, Prešov, and Marian Zednikovic (15.8.1951-5.5.2007), a longstanding member of Theatre Astorka Korzo ’90, who prematurely died in 2007.

Jan Strazan presented marionette theatre with painted coulisses. He played the traditional repertoire and, like other European puppeteers, he also performed Faust and many other popular pieces. Apart from that, he also offered audiences an ‘optic’ show and what was referred to as ‘panoramas’. It was also discovered in the archives that he offered gymnastic numbers as well. Strazan’s marionettes are a real curiosity which particularly enriched the Slovak cultural heritage. At present, they are property of the Ethnographic Museum SNM, Martin in Martin. We can find here the marionette portrait of Jan Strazan, who let his portrait and the portrait of his son to be carved in wood as a puppet by Master Frantisek Breznansky of Hodruša sometime before World War I. There are several female portraits of his family members in the collectiont oo.

Sons Viliam (29.4.1882 – 16.4.1934) and Jozef (24.7.1902 – 1956) continued Jan’s tradition. Jan’s great-grandson Ladislav Strazan Jr (b 1952) has continued to perform with marionettes for children in the style of the First Slovak Republic until the present day.

Apart from the Strazan family, other families also presented the marionette theatre, including the Anderle family and three branches of the Dubsky family, including the brothers Pavol and Alexander Nosalek, brothers Novy, Karol Kunik and others.

The wandering marionette theatre in Slovakia survived to a great extent until the 1950s when the liquidation of private property, resulting from the communist coup in the former Czechoslovakia, finally brought it to an end. Gradually, all authentic traditional family puppet theatres which had been handed down from one generation to another disappeared under the pressure of enforced cultural and political concepts.

The most important traditional Slovak puppeteer in modern history was Anton Anderle (20.11.1944 – 16.5.2008), who restored the tradition of the wandering marionette theatre after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 as a tradesman and achieved international critical acclaim. His departure caused that the traditional (family) puppet theatre of ‘baroque style’ in its authentic form disappeared. Contemporary puppeteers or enthusiasts (e.g. Juraj Hamar and Ivan Gontko) have tried to revive various puppetry traditions.

The first professional puppet theatres appeared in the 1950s, when the Government resolved to create favourable professional conditions for a new generation of real artists in the field of puppet theatre as well as space for new puppetry techniques and repertoire by establishing state institutions with their own buildings, workshops, and administrations. The first members of such ensembles were mostly amateur puppeteers, but over time graduates of the Department of Alternative and Puppet Theatre of the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague, an internationally-recognised, and until 1989 the only puppet school in Czechoslovakia, entered the sector. As educated artists in puppetry, performing arts, technology, directing and dramaturgy they promoted a comedian craft to a new progressive form of theatre.

The first professional puppet theatre in Slovakia was founded in Žilina in 1950 and others followed in Nitra (1951), Bratislava (1957), Košice (1959) and latterly in Banská Bystrica (1960).

During the 1960s the Žilina Puppet Theatre initiated the tradition of mask theatre while also using a wide variety of other means of expression. During the 1970s the dominant personality in puppet theatre was director Milan Tomasek, who staged more than 30 productions in Žilina. The most popular genre of this period was buffoonery. During the 1980s this company was connected with a wide range of artists, notably directors Karel Brozek and Jozef Prazmari and dramaturgist Jozef Mokos.

The actors of today’s Žilina Puppet Theatre are drawn from a new generation of artists. The company prefers a repertoire for children but also creates shows for an older audience. Its recent successful shows have included the production Zvedavý sloník (‘A Curious Elephant’) whose scenographer, Eva Farkasova, was awarded a nationwide theatre prize DOSKY for the scene and puppets. The theatre also organises artistically acclaimed street theatre shows.

Žilina Puppet Theatre is one of the organisers of the nationwide authorial competition ARTUR and it also organises a nationwide parade of professional puppet theatres Bábková Žilina, which is the only festival, in which Slovak professional puppet theatres get space for creative presentation of their results. The theatre has the most beautiful building among all the professional puppet theatres. In 2014 it was opened after a two-year rebuilding. It was partly funded from a grant that the theatre got from the CBC Programme Slovakia – Poland 2007 – 2013. The General Manager of the Žilina Puppet Theatre is Peter Tabacek, a graduate of the field of puppetry at the Academy of Performing Arts, and the Artistic Director is Jana Eliasova.

The Karol Spišák Old Theatre in Nitra (previously called Staré divadlo (Old Theatre) and the Bábkové divadlo Nitra (Nitra Puppet Theatre)) is the second oldest puppet theatre in Slovakia. Its founder was a graphic artist and educator Pavol Horvath (1913-1995). Since 1951, when the theatre was founded, the theatre had been led artistically and administratively for two decades by Jan Romanovsky (1916-1989), a representative of the puppet theatre of international importance. He was the founder of the ‘Javajka School of Nitra’, an artistic style of large Russian puppets operated with long sticks. Several important Slovak personalities were active in the Nitra Puppet Theatre in that time including V Turekova, M Kozuchova and K Kucharik. After J Romanovsky the creative management of the theatre was taken over by the director Jan Hiznay (1943-2004). We could meet several important actors in the theatre during this era such as Jan Kozuch and Jan Hrmo. There were also some host actors, e.g. Ctibor Turba, a well-known Czech mime artist, directors Karel Brozek, Pavel Uher and others. Emilia Jakubisova- Cuckova also cooperated with the theatre. Maria Herodekova is a long-term visual artist in the theatre. The theatre had very lively working exchanges with Bulgarian actors in the past and Bulgarian plays for children were staged as well. Karol Spisak (1941-2007), a drama director, became the General Manager of the theatre in 1994. The dramaturgy of the theatre began to add into the repertoire productions for young and adult audiences. In 1999 Karol Spisak founded the Central European Festival Stretnutie, Setkání, Spotkanie, Találkozás, which became a working parade of puppetry high schools and theatres from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Ondrej Spisak is an important artistic personality in the theatre within the Central European extent. He often directs productions in puppet and drama theatres in Poland and in an independent theatre Teatro Tatro. His productions are characterised by inventiveness, theatrical magic with an accent on artistic aestetics. His most successful productions in the Karol Spišák Old Theatre in Nitra include Havran z kameňa (‘Raven of Stone’), which won the nationwide Hašterica Award for significant creative achievement in puppet theatre in Slovakia. An important moment in the existence of the Karol Spišák Old Theatre in Nitra was its participation at the congress festival UNIMA (International Puppetry Association/UNESCO) in China in 2012, where the ensemble performed another successful staging of Palculienka (‘Thumbelina’), directed by Ivan Martinka.

The theatre in 2010 took a creative and organisational part in a joint international Slovakia-Czech-Polish staging of Janosik (directed by O Spisak).

In 2011, the theatre together with the Academy of Performing Arts published a book written by Ida Hledikova – Snívajte s nami (‘Dream with us’) to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the theatre.

Members of the ensemble are several important personalities of the Slovak theatre field, among them especially Ivan Martinka, the current artistic director of the theatre. Since 2015, Martin Kusenda is the General Manager of the theatre.

Bratislava Puppet Theatre (founded in 1957, Štátne bábkové divadlo (‘State Puppet Theatre’) until 2002). It was known for its attempts to stage original productions and for its tradition of musical productions. Amongst its best-known works were Moment Musical (1967) and Concertino Unisono (1973), which also proved popular abroad, and a series of brilliant black light shows created by designer and director Bohdan Slavik. Slavik was a key artistic representative of the theatre. During the 1970s directors such as the puppeteer Ladislav Fuleky and a graduate from the Department of Puppet Theatre of the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Pavol Uher worked in the theatre. Fuleky’s production O muzikantovi Zvŕtalovi (‘About the Swinger Musican’) (1976), based on the Goral legend, and Uher’s musical shows Peter a vlk (‘Peter and Wolf’) (1979) by Sergei Prokofiev, Cisárove nové šaty (‘Emperor’s New Clothes‘) (1977), by Juraj Benes, Petruška (‘Petrushka’) (1979) by Igor Stravinskij, Vták Ohnivák (‘The Firebird’) (1981) by Igor Stravinsky and Drevený princ (‘The Wooden Prince’) (1981), by Bela Bartok intrigued audiences with their original dramaturgy. The State Puppet Theatre performed Uher’s musical productions e.g. at the Bratislava Music Festival (in 1979 and 1981). The director Uher directed and adapted some of the well-known works of literature for children and the youth, he wrote his own plays and directed the State Puppet Theatre in a wide variety of productions for children, including Feldek’s Botafogo with music by Jaro Filip.

In the 1990s the theatre followed the tradition of music dramaturgy with productions of Jozef Bednarik and Andrej Pachinger. Jozef Bednarik staged Mozart’s Magic Flute (1990), and Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (1994). Andrej Pachinger staged The Carnival of the Animals by C. Saint-Saëns and Peter and the Wolf, (1992), by S Prokofjev. Jozef Bednarik staged the ballet Luskáčik (‘The Nutcracker’) by P I Tchaikovsky and the musical Ču-čin-čau (‘Tchu-chin-chau’) by F Norton in 2007. Dusan Stauder staged in 2001 the production Faust-Pictures at an Exhibition inspired by Pictures at an Exhibition by M P Musorgskij and The Little Mermaid inspired by Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (in 2007). In 2004 Juraj Adamik directed the original musical O Rolandovej soche zaľúbených (‘About Roland’s Statue of Spoonies’) by Vitazoslav Kubicka.

Several of these productions received awards at international festivals.

In the past, the theatre hosted many outstanding theatre makers, including directors Roman Polak, Ondrej Spisak (he worked in the 1990s several seasons as an internal director of the State Puppet Theatre), Karel Brozek, Josef Krofta, Pavel Polak, Matus Olha, Martin Kakos, Gejza Dezorz, Kamil Ziska and designers Jan Zavarsky, Eva Farkasova and Hana Ciganova.

Significant artistic and leading personalities of the theatre were Jan Ozabal (author and director), Vladimir Predmersky (dramaturge), Katarina Revallova (dramaturge), and Jozef Mokos (author, dramaturge and artistic director).

The theatre represented Slovak culture at many national and international festivals, tours and representative international cultural events. Several productions of the theatre were broadcast not on national public television but also on television from the former Yugoslavia, Germany and Japan.

Since 2005 the theatre has concentrated on the repertoire for the smallest children called ‘Škôlkohry’ (‘Kindergarten plays’). The General Manager of the theatre has been Jan Brtis since 1986, and the Artistic Director is Katarina Janosova.

The Puppet Theatre in Košice is among the most important artistic ensembles of the Eastern Slovak metropolis of Košice. In stage work the theatre emphasises the puppets and puppetry dominance in its productions. The ensemble of Košice was profiled at the beginning of its existence in the 1960s by the director Bedrich Svaton and the designer Jana Pogorielova-Dusova, who left her artistic mark on the company since its inception in 1959.

In the 1980s, the theatre had a very successful period. There worked several important directors, among them playwright, dramaturge and director Jan Uliciansky, now an internationally-recognised author of children’s literature, and Karol Fischer (died in 2015).

These figures, along with Eva Farkasova and Peter Cisarik, have created a number of challenging and remarkable productions, including Peter Pan, Janko Pipora, Šťastný princ (‘Happy Prince’), Krajina Zázračno, (‘Magic Land’), Golego and Peter Kľúčik. Karol Fischer created successful productions such as Košeľa pre Jánošíka (‘A Shirt for Janosik’), Popolvár, Vajíčko (‘Egg’) and Štyri rozprávky o drakovi (‘Four Fairy Tales about Dragon’).

As the core of the production of Puppet Theatre in Košice is stage work for children, the theatre launched in 1995 a drama study programme entitled Jorik (Yorick), focused on experimental drama, with the possibility of placing drama repertoire for adult audiences. One of the most prominent directors of this study programme was Valentin Kozmenko-Delinde.

In recent years, the Puppet Theatre in Košice has extended cooperation with the Academy of Performing Arts. Several puppeteers from the Department of Puppetry of the Academy of Performing Arts have rejuvenated the ensemble and even young directors get their space here.

In the past and now as well the theatre gives a relatively large space to well-known domestic and foreign directors of the older, middle and younger generation (e.g. Karel Brozek, Petr Nosalek, Vladimir Cada Adam Badin, Gejza Dezorz, Pavel Uher, Oleg Ziugzda, Ewa Piotrowska, Jacek Malinowski and Silvia Vollmanova).

Puppet Theatre in Košice has active international cross-border cooperation with Poland and Ukraine and it actively organises several international events (Festival Virvar, conferences, publication activity, artistic cross-border projects and the hosting of foreign directors). The theatre also actively cooperates with UNIMA. In 2013, it organized together with the UNIMA Research Commission a major international conference, Puppet Transformation 1 with participants from Latin America, Asia and Europe. It cooperates with other artistic groups, e.g. the State Opera Košice. The General Manager of the theatre is Pavol Hrehorcak, the Artistic Director is Ivan Sogel.

The Puppet Theatre at the Crossroads in Banská Bystrica, (formerly known as the Krajské bábkové divadlo (‘Regional Puppet Theatre’)), is the newest of the Slovak network of governmentally managed and subsidised puppet theatres. Although it is the newest, its artistic history is remarkably rich.

In the 1970s it belonged, together with the DRAK Theatre in Hradec Králové, to the most highly-respected and progressive puppet theatres in the former Czechoslovakia. It was thanks to a group of artists led by the dramaturge and poet Jozef Mokos.
Jozef Mokos, being an exceptional poet, had other demands on dramaturgy, the theatre and the status of puppets in the theatre in comparison to what was usual at that time. First of all he sought a literary model of high quality (drama, poetry, prose). His dramaturgy did not copy the productions of other theatres, but brought in original themes. He had a different view on the creation of children’s puppet theatre, which, within some specific (reaching back to the First Republic) traditionalism and later within the new socialist ideology should influence children in a didactical way. However Mokos chose and remade more challenging texts. The theatre started to work with literary and theatrical metaphor and allowed the so-called experiment with the use of puppets. The puppet appeared from behind the screens and in some productions it was not used at all. In the Puppet Theatre in Banská Bystrica they dropped the illusionist style of puppet theatre in which puppets were the only protagonists. In this theatre, the puppet and the actor had the same status.

In 1975 the first important international Slovak-Polish-Czech project was realised, a joint production of the legend about the folk hero Jánošík (the Karol Spišák Old Theatre in Nitra together with LD DRAK Theatre in Hradec Králové and Lalka Theatre in Warsaw further developed the topic of this production in 2010), so the original project can be in hindsight considered historically significant.

In the 1980s a younger generation came to the fore as dramaturges and directors. Most protagonists left the theatre together with Jozef Mokos. Iveta Skripkova came to the theatre as a new dramaturge and Marian Pecko at first as an actor, then as a director. By the 1990s the theatre had become an ambitious stage which introduced new forms of puppet productions not only for children but also for young people and adults, while continuing to present a challenging repertoire. It presented G Buchner’s play Leonce and Lena, adapted the stories of E T A Hoffmann under the title Taverna Magica, and staged selected works by Slovak dissident author Dominik Tatarka, Vianočná koleda (‘A Christmas Carol’) by Charles Dickens and numerous other notable productions, including original writing. Designers Jan Zavarsky and Eva Farkašova worked closely with the director during this period.

Original writing has gradually become dominant. The theatre, based on its philosophy, was renamed the Puppet Theatre at the Crossroads and it has gradually abandoned the material theatre (including figurative puppets) and become a drama theatre with original pieces of writing presented. It continuously develops a number of remarkable activities. In the past, these included productions for deaf children and young people, the project Divadelný mlyn (‘Theatre Mill’) for very young children, joint production projects with university students and play readings.

The leading artistic personalities of the theatre are the author and dramaturge Iveta Skripkova, who became a director and since the time after the Velvet Revolution she has been the General Manager of the theatre, and Marian Pecko, a director and artistic manager of the theatre. Marian Pecko works as a renowned director in theatres in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The Puppet Theatre at the Crossroads organises the oldest puppetry festival of professional theatres in Slovakia today, an International festival Bábkarská Bystrica and other cultural activities.

PIKI Theatre is one of the most successful independent puppet theatres for children. Its leading personalities are Katarina Aulitisova and Lubomir Piktor. They create original author theatre, they act, write the scripts and direct their productions. Their theatre art is based on the theatre of movement with a puppet, and the genre it prefers is buffoonery. Their shows are full of intelligent situation humour, wit and ease. Among its most successful productions are Pipi dlhá pančucha (‘Pippi Longstocking’), O deviatich mesiačikoch, (‘On Nine Little Moons’), Elá Hop!, Kamoš Obor (‘Giant the Mate’) and Pes Prítulák (‘Snuggling Stray Dog‘). Katarina Aulitisova and Lubomir Piktor are known from television programmes for children, particularly as the couple Ela and Hop. The theatre represents Slovak culture at international festivals abroad (the Czech Republic, Poland, Spain, the USA etc.).

Teatro Tatro is an independent theatre company which uses means of expression of various kinds of theatre (drama, puppets, puppetry techniques, visual effects and elements of the buffoon comedian theatres) as well as versatile acting in its productions. It was founded in Poprad in 1991 by director Ondrej Spisak and designer Frantisek Liptak together with a group of actors and puppeteers, although its first production – Ghelderod’s play Sir Halewyn – was in fact staged as early as 1990. This play was based on the means of art theatre. The theatre later moved to study Tatra at the Puppet Theatre in Nitra (now Karol Spišák Old Theatre in Nitra). Teatro Tatro is a travelling theatre company, which plays in their own premises (caravan, open air, tent). It brings together actors engaged in several theatres (e.g. ASTORKA Korzo’90 Theatre, SND, Karol Spišák Old Theatre in Nitra etc.). Its most interesting productions have included Minas Thirit Minas Morgul (based on Tolkien’s novel The Lord of the Rings, 1993), Bianca Braselli, žena s dvomi hlavami (‘Bianca Braselli, the Women with Two Heads’, 1999), played in a trailer, and the street productions based on circus elements Lietajúca Frída (‘Flying Frída’, 2000), presented in co-operation with the Studio tanca in Banská Bystrica.

Important productions of the theatre include Prorok Iľja (‘Prophet Ilia’, 2005), a play by contemporary Polish author Tadeusz Slobodzianko and a staged adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel Master and Margarita. Teatro Tatras is one of the most progressive multi-genre Slovak theatres. It has received many awards, such as the last award for staging Master and Margarita at the festival ‘Meetings’ in Polish Toruni in 2015.

Teatro Neline is an independent theatre company established by puppeteer-actress Petronela Dusova, who concentrates on work for children and young people. Apart from staging the productions of classical titles such as Danka a Janka (‘Danka and Janka’) for very young children, she also prepares her own authored projects such as Janko Polienko (‘Jack the Chunk), which focus on the principle of interactive communication with young audience members. The theatre also stages musical works involving puppets in the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra. Petronela Dusova’s artistic partners include notably designer and technologist Miroslav Dusa and designer Jana Pogorielova-Dusova. The theatre has staged several productions in co-production with the House of Art for Children BIBIANA. Petronela Dusova is also a visiting director in professional puppet theatres (e.g. the Puppet Theatre Košice). A dominant feature in its staging is work with puppets.

Dezorzo Puppet Theatre, Bratislava is an independent puppet theatre established in 2014 by former students of the Department of Puppetry of the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (VŠMU). Gejza Dezorz is a leading personality of the theatre. The main means of expression of this post-traditional theatre is pure puppet theatre. The puppeteers present their repertoire through classical puppetry techniques – finger puppets and marionettes, but puppets and their artistic character are very recent (the author of puppets is Martin Dubravay). Dezorzo Puppet Theatre is aimed at a young, but adult audiences and its repertoire does not include productions for children. The theatre picked Dešperanduľa as their first production – a provocatively bloody puppet horror. This play was very successful at puppetry festivals at home and abroad as well as it has presented a new way how to work with historical puppetry techniques. The typical feature of this play is the use of pop-culture means of expression and genre diversity. In 2013, the theatre staged Sandokan – the Tiger is back and in 2014 the productions Fantomas and Lovec zombíkov (‘The Hunter of zombies’). Among further attractive productions there is a puppet musical Panopticon Frankenstain, premiered in 2015, when theatre took part in the festival Bábková Žilina.

In 2011, the theatre began to stage classical puppetry repertoire as Slovak marionette theatre as they have gradually staged few productions in the style of that era, for example Faust and Don Juan. The historical genre includes performances with puppets that are used for creating special effects. Here we can mention e.g. the staging Circus (2014).

The strength of the actors of Dezorzo Puppet Theatre is great animation of puppets combined with a mature interpretation of the characters (Kamil Kolarik, Alex Madar, Marian Mitas and Andrej Kovac).

Among theatres that stage remarkable and challenging productions and use the principles of applied puppet theatre we need to mention an independent group Med a Prach (‘Honey and Dust’). Leading personalities of the theatre are a puppet actor Ivan Martinka and a music composer Andrej Kalinka, who are also directors. The productions of Med a Prach include Bartimejove pašie (‘The Passion of Bartimej’), 2012, a monodrama inspired by biblical motifs and a post-dramatic collage Domov, eros, viera (‘Home, Eros, Faith’), 2014. Ivan Martinka belongs to the most distinguished personalities in the field of puppet theatre. He is an actor, technologist and animator. He cooperates on animated films, with puppet and drama theatres and also works as a film actor. He starred in Martin Sulik’s films (e.g. Krajinka (‘Landscape’) and Slnečný štát (‘The City of the Sun). He was also involved in cyclical encyclopaedic sessions of Slovak television for children called Gombík (‘The Button’).

Maškrta Theatre is one of the most well-established puppet theatre companies in eastern Slovakia. It uses puppets to present fairy tales to the youngest generation. Jana and Tomas Sebo create its productions and also serve as its actors, directors, designers and dramaturges.