Přelet nad loutkářským hnízdem

Puppetry Centre – Personalities

Outstanding Personalities of the Czech Puppetry (selection)

MATĚJ KOPECKÝ (1775–1847)

Legendary touring puppeteer. As the son of a touring puppeteer with whom he travelled throughout his youth across the Czech countryside, he obtained only a small education but he had a unique opportunity to absorb the long years of experience of the puppeteers of that time. His popularity especially grew after his death due to the publication of the plays from his repertoire collected in 1862 by his son Václav and also the drawings of the important Czech painter M. Aleš who created a fictional portrait of him. His name has been connected with many legends and myths. Based on historical research, today we primarily evaluate Matěj Kopecký as the symbolic representative of Czech puppet theatre during the National Revival. His sons continued his puppet theatre activities and his granddaughter, Arnoštka Kopecká (1842–1914), was an important personality in Czech puppet theatre at the turn of the century. His direct descendants belong among the important representatives of contemporary modern Czech theatre (Matěj Kopecký, 1923–2001; Rostislav Novák ml. 1979).

Alice Dubská

JAN NEPOMUK LAŠTOVKA (1824–1877)

Touring puppeteer. As a puppet theatre helper, already in his youth he had adopted the traditional style of Czech folk puppeteers. He excelled due to his acting talents, his natural intelligence and the considerable breadth of his reading. He understood that the traditional staging styles as well as repertoires had gradually become anachronisms and he tried to modify them to suit the mentality of the fast developing Czech society. He complemented the original puppet theatre repertoire with his own arrangement of Goethe’s Faust. His specialities were original songs which he improvised for themes of current political and local events which gave him the nickname of a puppeteer-politician. With his efforts to update the repertoire and strengthen the social communication function of his performances he became the most important representative of Czech puppet theatre in the second half of the 19th century.

Alice Dubská

JINDŘICH VESELÝ (1885–1939)

Historian of puppet theatre, editor and publisher. He was active as a secondary school teacher but he devoted all his interest and free time to puppet theatre. Initially he collected puppets, manuscripts of old puppet theatre plays and documents about the activities of Czech puppeteers in the 19th century. His research work resulted in a number of publications and numerous studies in magazines, especially the magazine Loutkář (Puppeteer) that he founded. With his research activities he laid down the foundations for the historical studies of Czech puppet theatre. He significantly participated in the founding of the International Organization of Puppeteers UNIMA in Prague in 1929 and he was its first president until 1933.

Alice Dubská

JOSEF SKUPA (1892–1957)

Puppeteer, visual artist and author of puppet theatre plays. In 1917 he became a member of the amateur Loutkové divadlo feriálních osad (Puppet Theatre of the Feral Communities) in Plzeň where due to his universal talent, he became a leading personality in the ensemble in a short time. At the end of WW I he found his place on this stage as a puppeteer and author in political cabarets focused against the Austrian monarchy. With these performances he refined his ability for improvisation and establishing contact with the audience. After the founding of the Czechoslovakia he continued along this line of repertoire in literary cabarets and revues. In the second half of the twenties the main puppet characters of Skupa’s revue programs became Spejbl, the confused and clumsy father and his clever son Hurvínek. In 1930 he founded his own professional ensemble which excelled with its high professional level of puppet control. In 1933 he was elected UNIMA President. With the growing danger of fascism Skupa placed himself among those artists who reacted to the threatening danger with their creative work. In 1945 he opened the Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre in Prague. In the fifties he educated several young promising puppeteers in his ensemble (M. Kirschner besides others) who in the following years took up the relay baton of the Czech marionette school. Before the war he realized several tours abroad with his theatre (France, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and others). After the war he successfully played as a guest in England, France, Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union. With his puppeteering art he influenced the development of the Czech as well as European puppet theatre.

Alice Dubská

JAN MALÍK (1904–1980)

Puppeteer, director, author of puppet theatre plays, theoretician and historian of puppet theatre, editor and pedagogue. Since his student years he had occupied himself with puppet theatre, first as puppet theatre actor in the Sokol puppet theatre in Prague-Libeň and later from the beginning of the thirties also as an author, director and organizer in the puppet theatre movement. Enlightened by the development of modern dramatic theatre he strove to also essentially strengthen the function of the director in puppet theatre. He tried to realize his views especially in the performance work of the Pražská umělecká loutková scéna (Prague Art Puppet Stage) which he founded in 1939. He wrote a number of plays for children of which the most successful was Míček Flíček (1936). Even before the end of the war he was preparing plans for a new organization for Czech puppeteering. He strove primarily for the creation of a network of state professional puppet theatres all across the country. In 1948 he was entrusted with establishing the Ústřední loutkové divadlo (Central Puppet Theatre) in Prague and its branches in Brno, Liberec, Kladno and České Budějovice. As a stage director of the Prague Central Puppet Theatre he was inspired by Soviet puppet theatre and following the example of S. Obrazcov he introduced bottom-controlled wayang-like puppets into the staging practices of Czech puppet theatres. He was the co-founder of the puppet theatre department at AMU (Academy of Performing Arts) in Prague. Since sixties he dealt more intensely with historical research. In 1933 he was elected general secretary of UNIMA and in this function which he held until 1972, he gained significant recognition for the postwar revitalization of its activities.

Alice Dubská

ERIK KOLÁR (1906–1976)

Puppet theatre director, dramaturgist and pedagogue. Since his student years he had played in amateur theatre ensembles and in the mid-twenties he became a member of the amateur ensemble Loutkové divadlo Umělecké výchovy (The Puppet Theatre of Art Education) in Prague where he was first active as a puppet actor and later in the beginning of the thirties as a director. Influenced by avant-garde art he staged several performances bringing new developmental stimuli to contemporary puppet theatre. After the war he took part in forming the network of professional puppet theatres in Czechoslovakia, worked as the dramaturgist for the Ústřední loutkové divadlo (Central Puppet Theatre). As a director he had cooperative activities with a number of Czech and Slovak puppet theatres. In 1952 he became the co-founder of the Puppetry department at AMU (Academy of Performing Arts) which he directed from 1953 to 1962. As of 1957 he was a member of the UNIMA board.

Alice Dubská

JIŘÍ TRNKA (1912–1969)

Painter, illustrator, director of animated films and puppeteer. Even during his studies he worked with Josef Skupa designing puppets for his theatre. At the same time he was active in the amateur Loutkové divadlo Feriálních osad (Puppet Theatre of Feral Communities) in Plzeň as a puppeteer, director and visual artist, displaying here his fantasy as well as the poetics of avant-garde theatre. In 1936 he founded a professional theatre in Prague called Dřevěné divadlo (Wooden Theatre). His performances were distinguished for their dramaturgical discoveries and mainly for their high level of visual stage artistry as well as the puppets. In spite of all that, this generously comprised attempt at modern puppet theatre lasted only a short time because the performances could not economically support the operation. In his further art activities he devoted himself to book illustrations and stage design. However, animated film became the dominant part of his creative work. In 1946 he founded a puppet film studio and he shot a number of poetic films for which he obtained many international awards.

Alice Dubská

JOSEF PEHR (1919–1986)

Puppeteer and author of puppet theatre plays. After the war he became an actor at the National Theatre in Prague. However, after that puppet theatre became an integral part of his artistic creations in the future too. In the experimental studio of the National Theatre he staged several puppet theatre performances in which the comic tradition of the folk puppet theatre was imbued with modern liberated acting. Later he oriented himself towards solo performances with hand puppets for the juvenile audience. In short humorous scenes with the puppets Doggy or Pepíček, he presented basic situations to children which they experienced in their relationships with adults and he tried to strengthen their s ense of mutual partnership. He wrote a number of puppet theatre plays, such as Guliver v Maňáskově (Gulliver in Hand Puppetland, co-author L. Spáčil) which belonged among the most performed Czech puppet theatre plays for a number of years.

Alice Dubská

JAN DVOŘÁK (1925–2006)

Visual artist, puppet actor, director and pedagogue. In 1949 he graduated as an engraver-finisher from a specialized applied arts school in Jablonec nad Nisou. Since childhood he performed in theatre as an amateur, both straight drama and puppet theatre. In 1951 he got a post as a puppet actor in the Prague Divadlo Spejbla a Hurvínka (Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre) where he also found a place as director, technolog and visual artist. In 1957 he became an important member of the creative group Salamandr which contributed by not only overcoming the creative crisis in the theatre but also with its impulses (such as first utilizing the so called “black theatre” technique in a cabaret programme in 1957). At that time it meant an enrichment of the set of genres as well as the revitalization of the Czech puppet theatre as such. In 1965–1985 he was the director at the Východočeské loutkové divadlo DRAK (East Bohemian Puppet Theatre DRAK) where he was active as a multi-faceted creative personality as dramaturgist, author, playwright, visual artist and director. Under his leadership the DRAK Theatre returned to the traditional Czech plays of Czech folk puppeteers and it gradually became a name among Czech as well as foreign puppet theatres. His pedagogical cultural work is wide. Since 1954 he has had cooperative activities as a pedagogue with the puppet theatre department of DAMU in Prague and since 1981 with Institute international de la marionette in Charleville-Mézières. He led a number of workshops for Czech as well as foreign amateur puppeteers. He was active in the international puppet theatre organization UNIMA and in 1980–1988 he was a member of its executive.

Nina Malíková

MILOŠ KIRSCHNER (1927–1996)

Actor, director and author of puppet theatre plays. In 1951 he gained a place in the Prague Spejbl & Hurvínek Theatre where, under the leadership of Josef Skupa, his extraordinary acting talent and feel for the specific vocal needs of Spejbl and Hurvínek puppets quickly developed. He became the successor to Josef Skupa after his death in 1957. In his theatre repertoire in the seventies, he mainly focused on the juvenile audience. With his wife Helena Štáchová, the interpreter of the Mánička puppet, he recorded a large number of records for children and he was often broadcast on radio and TV. He also gained recognition abroad for the popularity of Spejbl and Hurvínek. Also no small contribution was his remarkable ability to prepare dialogue in the language of the hosting country (in 18 languages across the world) thus overcoming the language barrier.

Alice Dubská

JIŘÍ SRNEC (1931)

Director, theatre visual artist, composer, script writer, actor. He graduated from a secondary graphics school, studied piano at a conservatory, and then he studied at the Puppetry department at DAMU (1956–1960) where he also experimented with the technique of the so called “black theatre” for the first time. After a short stay in the studio theatre Semafor he created a group at the Divadlo Na zábradlí (Theatre On the Bannister) in 1961 which became the foundation of a theatre named after the dominating technique – černé divadlo (Black Theatre, 1964) which he has lead up to now. He has created more than seventeen performances for this theatre which, due to their visual artistic and theatrical comprehensiveness, have addressed spectators in dozens of countries of all over the world.

Nina Malíková

JAN ŠVANKMAJER (1934)

Visual artist, director and script writer of animated films. He graduated in 1950–1954 from the stage department of the Higher School of Applied Arts and during 1954–1958 he specialized in puppet theatre set design and directing at the Puppetry department of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. In the sixties he had cooperative activities with the Prague studio theatre Semafor. Visual art and puppet theatre predetermined his further development to a considerable degree which was in the following years connected primarily with animated film. Even in spite of the fact that he has never studied film and its techniques, he has realized further creative plans mainly through cinematic art. He created two films that are strongly influenced by the Czech folk puppet theatre traditions – hand puppet Rakvičkárna/Coffin Story (1966) and Don Šajn (Don Juan, 1970). Švankmajer shot three full length films in which he used a combined technique of animated and acted film: Něco z Alenky/Something from Alice, 1987, Lekce Faust/Lesson Faust, 1994 a film inspired by Czech traditional puppet theatre and a “black grotesque” Spiklenci slasti/Conspirators in Bliss, 1996. Švankmajer’s creative work, whether film, visual art or theoretical is tightly linked with the collective activities of the Czechoslovak Surrealist Group.

Nina Malíková

JOSEF KROFTA (1943–2015)

Puppet and drama director, script writer, pedagogue. After completing his studies at the puppetry department of DAMU in Prague (1966) he entered his first position at the Státní bábkové divadlo (State Puppet Theatre) in Bratislava (1965–68) from where he went to Malé divadlo (Small Theatre) in České Budějovice (1968–1971). His striking directorial signature and creative personality developed in connection with his activities in the DRAK Theatre in Hradec Králové where he started to work in 1971 where he has been working as artistic director. A sensitive and gifted ensemble, a team of co-workers who have gained a profile over the years (set designer Petr Matásek, actor and musician Jiří Vyšohlíd, dramaturgist Miloslav Klíma), under his leadership created a style by which Josef Krofta and DRAK Theatre have become famous not only in Bohemia but also across the world. Among his the most striking and most successful performances at DRAK belong the following: Jak se Petruška ženil (How Petruška Got Married, 1973), Enšpígl (Eulenspiegel, 1974), Popelka (Cinderella, 1975), Šípková Růženka (Sleeping Beauty, 1976) with Tchaikovsky’s music, UNIKUM-dnes naposled! (UNIKUM-Today for the Last Time!, 1978), Zlatovláska (Goldilocks, 1981), Shakespeare’s Sen noci svatojánské (Twelfth Night, 1984), an adaptation of national opera Prodaná nevěsta (Bartered Bride, 1986), and Kalevala (1987). The best work of the eighties is Krofta’s staging of Píseň života (Life Song, 1985) inspired by the play Drak (Dragon) by J. Švarc which was a timeless urgent statement focused against the totalitarian regime. Besides guest-directing abroad a number of times, J. Krofta has realized several international projects. He led a number of international workshops and lectures popularizing puppet theatre, in 1992–1996 he was a member of the UNIMA executive. In 1990 he became the chief of the university Department of Alternative and Puppet Theatre in Prague which he has transformed.

Nina Malíková

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