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Playing with dolls the adult way

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Playing with dolls the adult way


Sergey Vinogradov

International Puppet Theatre Festival “Ryazanskie Smotriny” (Showing-off in Ryazan), one of the largest and the most reputable festivals in Russia and whole Eastern Europe, will open in Sergei Yesenin’s home land on September 14th. Current show marks a milestone, not by its number, but by years: the Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary, and Petrushka, its symbol, shines out of posters like never before. According to the puppet masters, during years of the festivals existence the genre of puppet show has experienced absolute slump and unbelievable upswing. And it is still on the rise.

Tales about Mowgli and Aladdin are found here side by side with puppet performances of Bulgakov and Vampilov. Theaters from Russias regions, as well as from Spain, Poland, Bulgaria and Belarus, have come to Ryazan. Furthermore, the international production, which is being staged on the occasion of the festival, will bring actors from nine countries behind one screen.

Among participants of the Ryazan festival, the Russkiy Mir found theaters that use multimedia technology in their performances, and theaters that travel around cities, towns and villages with a screen and a suitcase of puppets. And they all are convinced that they develop the genre of puppet show in the right direction.

The Same Moon

Premier of We All Live Under The Same Moon will be one of the most prominent events at the Ryazanskie Smotriny. Nine actors from nine countries take part in the stage production. They come from Russia, the USA, South Africa, Portugal, Great Britain, Brazil, Iran, Japan and Australia. The director of the production is Boris Konstantinov, the Golden Mask winner, one of the leading directors of modern puppet theaters in Russia and the world. Rehearsals commenced a week before the show at the festival and, according to participants, lasted virtually days and nights.

Performance of the Ryazan Puppet Theater / VKontakte

The participants had certain doubts because of language barrier, but, having gathered in Ryazan, everyone saw in no time that language skills is not the most important thing for puppet masters, Anastasia Mashtakova, one of the projects supervising producer, told the Russian World. - They communicate with gestures, professional terms, and also joke a lot. The performance is being composed on the go, before rehearsals there was only a general topic - the moon, which unites everyone. It will consist of parts prepared by the participants. They brought some puppets with them, and some puppets are being created right along the way. The work is carried out literally from morning till night, they have been engaged so much that they do not want to stop.

According to the project authors, the moon was chosen as the most striking symbol of affinity - it belongs to everyone and nobody. The production participants want to emphasize the unifying significance of the puppet theater, which easily overcomes language and national barriers. Many believe that this is precisely the reason for endurance and worldwide popularity of puppet shows. Many of them do not require translation at all, and therefore are understandable to spectators around the world. Dancers and circus artists, perhaps, are the only competitors of puppets in this linguistic and cultural infinity.

Spotted Dog Running On Seashore. Performance of the Ryazan Puppet Theater / Facebook

Puppet Theaters do not have to compete with movies and internet

It seems that there can be no staff-related issues with new productions in a puppet theater, where performers are made by hand, the scenery is sometimes not higher than a meter, and the actors are not visible because of the screens. However, they exist. Staff shortage is particularly noticed when it comes to directors. Schedule of venerable directors, such as Boris Konstantinov or Oleg Zhyugzhda, is fixed for years to come. They work in Russia and abroad, where the Russian and Soviet puppet schools are highly valued.

Oleg Zhyugzhda, the principal director of the regional puppet theater from the Belarusian city of Grodno, is the maitre of this genre and is known in many countries. He told the Russkiy Mir how his theater in Grodno was making adult spectators getting used to come to the puppet theater, seeing in them salvation from video games and Internet that have captured children.

Puppet Theater, Grodno / VKontakte

Tradition of performances for adults has been actively instilled in our theater since 1990, the director said. For a very long time we had to work with the audience to raise at least a couple of generations interested in the adult repertoire of puppet theater. Now we have about 15 stage performances for adults. It was also important for us to create a large palette of productions, and our repertoire includes classics and performances based on modern plays.

According to Zhyugzhda, upswing of a puppet theater in contemporary art is rather hackneyed subject. It has been discussed far too often. He believes the upswing still continues. Why is popularity growing? Because the puppet show is philosophical, metaphorical and maybe even more understandable without text, he says. It is no coincidence that techniques made up in puppet theaters are often borrowed by directors on dramatic stage, such as using mannequins, large puppets, masks, and so on. Besides, puppet troupes go on tours and festivals more often because they are more mobile. Puppet theater actors travel a lot, see a lot and absorb more from their colleagues, which also promotes development of puppet theater in general. Russian and Belarusian directing professionals are in high demand in many countries of the worlddue to such mobility and ability to learn.

And what about children? Will theater performances be redesigned for adults completely? At some point there was a certain outflow of audience from puppet theaters, the director says. We are not able to compete with cinema, television and Internet. And I believe we should not try to compete with them. Most spectators have realized that the theater is a live, immediate spectacle that cannot be paused and rewinded, and this is what makes it valuable. Spectators, whether big or small, come to us for vivid emotions.

Puppet Theater, Grodno / Oleg Zhyugzhda is in the photo/ VKontakte

According to the Belarusian director, the changes affected not only the issues raised by contemporary puppet theaters, but also the very methodology for making puppets. We do our best to combine traditions and new technologies, we cant do without them, he says. And there are a lot of new good materials that we can use for making puppets - fabrics, frames and so on. To some extent, it has become easier, but creating a puppet is still manual and very meticulous process.

Muhammad must go to the mountain

And how does a puppet theater live in a province where sometimes philosophical and metaphorical matters are not enough to have a full house? Aminat Yakhyaeva, the director of the Dagestan State Puppet Theater told the Russkiy Mir that performances based on folk material and tours around the republics districts help the theater from Makhachkala to keep the lights on.

Currently we are preparing a large project which will include eposes of the main nations of Dagestan presented in the language of puppets, she says. The performance will be shown in Russian; it will have folklore, myths, songs and dances, as well as national costumes of the Dagestan nations. The premiere is scheduled for 2020.

Performance of the Makhachkala Puppet Theater/VKontakte

According to Aminat Yakhyaeva, performances at their theater are staged for children, as well as for teenagers, who are left without their specific theater and concert repertoire in many cities. There is no theater for a young audience in our Republic, and we have undertaken its responsibilities in introducing youth to the theatrics, says the director of the puppet theater.

It is commonly known that if the mountain wont come to Muhammad, than… The Dagestan Puppet Theater tours a lot overseas (it has visited a dozen countries from Turkey to Finland), around Russia and the republic, visiting large cities and small towns. The director shares that they perform in culture centers and in school gyms, but quite often, because of hot weather, actors unfold the screen on the street, bringing the puppet theater back to its roots. At such time, the village streets are empty. No disco or street cinema is able to attract as many residents as come to see the performance. And then it becomes clear why the ancient genre is still very much alive today.


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