This country enjoyed puppets as early as in the Middle Ages, when puppet shows became a part of comedians' performances at fairs and markets. From the 17th century onwards, Bohemia welcomed English, Dutch, Italian and later also German theatre ensembles, which, besides the classical dramas, staged marionette shows as well.
The first puppet makers of Czech nationality appear in historical records in the late 18th century. Regarding the artwork, their marionettes drew especially on Baroque traditions. The Pimprle, later Kašpárek, was a typical comic character of the puppet shows, whose nature resembled that of a common viewer. In the first half of the 19th century, Czech puppeteers played an important role in the process of the national revival, as their shows made the mass audiences familiar with the ideas of the Enlightenment and national resurgence in a simple and comprehensible language. Matěj Kopecký, a puppeteer
, is regarded as the symbol of these puppeteers and revivalists and also the founder of the Czech puppet theatre.
From the mid-19th century on, the puppet theatre began to spread to small domestic stages, so-called family theatres, many of which achieved an outstanding level and became the basis for public amateur ensembles. These puppet theatres reached the height of their glory after the formation of the Czechoslovak Republic. Marionettes were produced serially; the stage decorations were printed in high quality and the country was the home of more than two thousand groups that staged shows for children on a regular basis.
The key role in the further development of puppetry was played mainly by ensembles emphasising artistic value. One of the most prominent was the Pilsen Puppet Theatre, founded in 1930 by Josef Skupa
, one of the most significant Czech puppeteers and later founder of the world-famous Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre (S & H Theatre)
The upswing of the puppet theatre continued even after World War II. One of the leading figures of this period was Jan Malík, who, together with other artists, strove to create a large puppet theatre with balanced literary and artistic components. In 1949 he founded the Central Puppet Theatre (Ústřední loutkové divadlo), nowadays known as the Minor Theatre (Divadlo Minor)
. He replaced the until-then traditionally used folk marionettes with rarely seen wayang puppets, so-called Javanese puppets, which gave a wholly new dimension to the staging. Jan Malík was also one of the key initiators of the establishment of the Department of Puppet Theatre at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts and significantly contributed to the renewing of the activity of the UNIMA
, an international puppet theatre organisation.
, who is also inseparably linked to the Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre (S & H Theatre), represents another influential figure of Czech puppetry after World War II. Under his management the S & H Theatre became famous worldwide.
In the early 1960s the importance of the direction of puppet shows grew and new dramatic methods found their way to the puppet theatre, too. Live actors begin to appear on puppet stages more and more often. The juxtaposition of an inanimate puppet and a live actor opens entirely new possibilities of the means of artistic expression. One of the key figures of the Czech contemporary puppet theatre is doubtless Josef Krofta
, whose work exceeds the limits of puppet theatre and influences and inspires the world of drama, and not only in the Czech Republic.
The Puppet Museum in Chrudim (Muzeum loutkářských kultur v Chrudimi) (map)
is a place where you can learn much more about the development of puppetry.