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Reappraising Western European Repertoires for Puppet and Marionette Theatres

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PuppetPlays (Reappraising Western European Repertoires for Puppet and Marionette Theatres)

Reporting period: 2021-04-01 to 2022-09-30

PuppetPlays: Reappraising Western European Repertoires for Puppet and Marionette Theatres

This project aims at transcending boundaries between high and popular cultures by investigating their productions in the same medium: puppet and marionette theatre. From 1600 to 2020, it explores how puppeteers and authors both contributed to the rise of a specific dramaturgy.

Introducing these repertoires into the history of drama opens a double ground-breaking perspective: on one side, it exceeds the limits of local inquiries and reveals cultural transfers through social groups and nations; on the other, it leads to re-examine theatre historiography by giving visibility to a long neglected and scattered corpus.

The main objectives are:
- to gather a corpus of representative plays which document the development of puppetry in Western Europe (Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain);
- to identify the specific features of puppet dramaturgy and their variations through time, cultural areas, conditions of production and targeted audiences;
- to re-evaluate the contribution of these repertoires to the construction of European cultural identity.

Using tools and methods from the digital humanities, the project will produce a platform making the selected corpus available through a database and searchable thesaurus, and offering innovative resources to the research community, pedagogues, practitioners, and the public at large. The research will lead to a better integration of puppetry into theatre history, an increased knowledge of this heritage, and an enlarged institutional recognition.
WP 1 (Plays by literary authors):

Over 500 plays have been identified. Except for these Flemish and Dutch repertoires, we can consider that the identification of these resources was completed.

Despite the large number of identified items and the difficulties, due to the lockdown, in accessing many of them, the research team could begin the metadata description, the analysis, and the interpretative work on some collected and accessible corpora, as a preparatory work for their scientific publications.

First presentations of the results were a paper by PhD candidate Francesca Di Fazio (“Écriture contemporaine et marionnettes: la posture de l’auteur dramatique dans la collaboration entre Daniel Lemahieu et François Lazaro”, presented in the junior conference Work in Progress # 12 (Université Paul-Valéry, 25/11/2020). Four papers more, of all members of the research team, are under preparation.


WP 2 (Plays by puppeteers):

The research team began exploring collections in French, Swiss, Italian and German institutions. Digitalized sources were also collected on webportals, or given by their authors. Through discussions with experts in the different areas, the research team could select the main collections of resources and investigate some of them.

Because of the large quantity of materials, of their poor cataloguing, and of the sanitary crisis that prevented in the field inquiries, the selection of items to be described in the database is still under process.

During the International and Interdisciplinary Seminar # 2 (29-30/10/2020), “Pratiques du repertoire dans les théâtres de marionettes anciens ou traditionnels”, ten contributions were presented by international researchers. These contributions and their translations are being processed for publication.

Francesca Di Fazio published “Engendrer le genos: insolites familles de bois dans le théâtre de Gigio Brunello”, À l’épreuve, n. 7 (February 2021) and Dr. Carole Guidicelli “Zwischen Androgynen metamorphosen und Tier-Werdung” (Double, 2021/1). Didier Plassard prepared a paper “Puppetry for a Total War: French and German Puppet Plays in WW1”, to be presented in the conference Representing Alterity through Puppetry and Performing Objects (University of Connecticut, 10/04/2021).


WP 3 (Coordination, comparative analysis and synthesis):

The team had to set up the work on the project, meet partners, purchase equipment, organize collecting missions, and to prepare the public procurement contract and the Data Management Plan. It had to organize the recruitment of a Management Assistant, a Post-Doctoral Fellow, and a Computer Engineer. Preparing and following the scientific and dissemination events implies an on-going correspondence with experts and partners.
A first comparative analysis was given by a PI’s lecture “Répertoire populaire, répertoire littéraire: emprunts et circulations (À propos de La Tentation de saint Antoine)” (Facebook Live, 27/10/2021).
The PI began working on his concluding monograph: general documentation, survey of publications with significative critical and theoretical issues, first draft of the Table of contents.


WP 4 (Diffusion and valorisation):

With the provider Intactile Design, the team elaborated the conceptual model for the database architecture and defined the data and metadata sets categories. The provider developed a testing database, then the administrator and user interface. The official database is on line since the 12th of March 2021, and the team of researchers could begin filling in it.
The design of the web-platform and the definition of its basic functionalities have also been developed.

The team work has been organized to make all data and metadata FAIR: choice of the set of international perennial identifiers for works, DOI for each publication, choice of Nakala (a service provided by Huma-Num) as a long-term data storage.

A specific website has been opened. Other presentations can be seen on the following websites: Themaa, Portail des Arts de la Marionnette, European Association for the Study of Theatre and Performance.

The team commissioned the photograph Christophe Loiseau, a well-known photograph to create an original image for its website and communication.

A Facebook page was opened (63 posts, 435 subscribers in March 2021), and 5 issues of a bilingual monthly newsletter published (383 subscribers).

The pitch event in the Théâtre la Vignette (Montpellier, 07/11/2019) gathered 40 international guests (scholars, artists, museum curators, archivists, cultural officials and leaders…).

Other presentations include public meetings in Charleville-Mézières, Montpellier Toulouse, Palermo, on-line international events (lecture for the South-American webinar Titeres resistiendo al coronavirus, 29 /11/2020), or an article in Plays International and Europe (vol. 35, n° 1-3, Spring 2020, p. 42-43.
The project has already brought into light large parts of an ignored heritage. Thanks to systematic inquiries, to data-mining, and to discussions with experts, a revision and an enlargement of the history of Western-European puppetry is in progress.

The interest aroused by the project led two institutions (the Musée de la vie wallonne in Liège and the Musée Gadagne in Lyon) to improve the cataloguing and the preservation of their collections. We expect other institutions to do the same.

Among the main progresses already done in the field, we can list:

- discovery of forgotten animation techniques (“boîtes de curiosité” and “counterweight marionettes”) in the 17th century;
- discovery of unreferenced plays authored by relevant writers;
- discovery of a forgotten performing mode: the “living marionettes” in German-speaking area around 1800;
- conception of a specific metadata set for the description of puppet repertoires.