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Reappraising Western European Repertoires for Puppet and Marionette Theatres

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PuppetPlays (Reappraising Western European Repertoires for Puppet and Marionette Theatres)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2021-03-31

PuppetPlays - Reappraising Western European Repertoires for Puppet and Marionette Theatres

This project aims at transcending boundaries between « high » and « popular » cultures—here between established playwrights and anonymous writers—by investigating their productions in the same medium: puppet and marionette theatre. Focusing on key-periods of drama history (1600-2000) it explores how puppeteers and authors both contribute 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 reexamine theatre historiography by considering the cohesion of “theatrical systems” (Marotti) and 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, 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.

The principal investigator brings to this project, besides a long experience of internationally recognized research, an excellent knowledge of artistic and cultural networks that guarantees the access to primary sources as well as the mobilisation of experts and partner institutions.

Using tools and methods imported 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.
Work Package 1 (Plays by literary authors)

a) Source collecting

During the period covered by the report, the research team explored collections held in the Département des Arts du spectacle of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Paris, the Institut Mémoires de l’Édition Contemporaine (Caen), the Institut International de la Marionnette (Charleville-Mézières), the Puppentheatersammlung of the Stadtmuseum (Munich), the Museo Internazionale della Marionetta Antonio Pasqualino (Palermo). Many resources available on the Internet, such as digitalized editions of printed material between 1600 and 1950, were also collected, and discussions with specialists of different areas helped to discover further resources.

Altogether, the team could identify over 500 plays for puppets, or for puppets and actors, written by Western European poets, novelists, and dramatists between 1600 and 2020. As a result of heavy national differences in the historical developments of puppetry, but also of very contrasting politics in publishing, collecting and preserving these works, the inquiry gave extremely unbalanced results.

When for the French-speaking areas (from Belgium, France, and Switzerland) and for the German-speaking ones (from Austria, Germany and Switzerland) we can observe a continuous production of hundreds of items, for some other languages (English, Spanish, or Portuguese) only a few dozen in each case could be documented, with important gaps during the 18th and the 19th centuries. In one end we have the French production, characterized both by the preservation of many manuscripts from the 18th century théâtres de la Foire in the Soleinne Collection (BnF), and by the high number of contemporary plays commissioned to authors. On the other end, we have the almost empty Flemish and Dutch literary repertoires, for which the project could not rely on any existing collection nor on any previous survey: only research team missions in Belgian and Dutch libraries and Museums will help to supplement the identified corpus and to slightly lower the imbalance.

Except for these Flemish and Dutch repertoires, we can consider that the resources identification was completed and that the inquiry gives an overall view of the corpus for this work-package. The list of the identified items has been published as an annex of the call for papers for the 1st PuppetPlays International Conference, Literary writing for puppets and marionettes in Western Europe (17th – 21st centuries) (Montpellier, 14-16 October 2021).

b) Analysis and interpretation

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:

• Didier Plassard: “Avant-garde Theatre and Puppetry: A Reappraisal” (keynote paper to be presented in the on-line Theatralia Conference 2020: Czech Historical Avant-Garde in the European Context (University of Brno, 02/06/2021).
• Carole Guidicelli: Comparative study of Louis-Edmond Duranty’s and Marc Monnier’s plays for Polichinelle (paper to be presented in the 1st PuppetPlays International Conference).
• Jean Boutan: Lecture “Plays for living puppets around 1800: Jacobi, Mahlmann, Kotzebue” (Rendez-vous PuppetPlays # 3, Facebook live, 23/03/2020, in English), and article in preparation.
• Francesca Di Fazio: “Écriture contemporaine et marionnettes: la posture de l’auteur dramatique dans la collaboration entre Daniel Lemahieu et François Lazaro”, paper presented in the on-line junior conference Work in Progress # 12 (Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier, 25/11/2020), and article in preparation.
• Francesca Di Fazio: “How to signify otherness and diasporic bodies through puppetry: two dramaturgies by Kossi Efoui”, paper to be presented in the on-line conference Representing Alterity through Puppetry and Performing Objects (University of Connecticut, 10/04/2021).

An important contribution to the understanding of literary strategies in contemporary playwriting for puppets and marionettes was given by public round-table discussions with authors and stage directors. One of these discussions occurred during the period covered by the report:

• “Drammaturgia della figura: il repertorio d’autore”, tavola rotonda organizzata e moderata da Francesca Di Fazio, con Beatrice Baruffini, Gigio Brunello e Marta Cuscuna, Rendez-vous PuppetPlays # 2, Facebook live (23/02/2021) (in Italian).

Work Package 2 (Plays by puppeteers)

a) Source collecting

During the period covered by the report, the research team explored collections held in the Département des Arts du spectacle of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Musées Gadagne (Lyon), the Institut International de la Marionnette (Charleville-Mézières), the Théâtre des Marionnettes de Genève (Geneva), the Puppentheatersammlung of the Stadtmuseum (Munich), the Museo Internazionale della Marionetta Antonio Pasqualino (Palermo), the Castello dei Burattini – Museo Giordano Ferrari (Parma), the Biblioteca dell’Archiginnasio (Bologna), the Fondazione Famiglia Sarzi (Reggio Emilia). Texts from the archives of the Clastic Théâtre / Compagnie François Lazaro (Clichy s/ Seine) were digitalized before their transfer to the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Digitalized manuscripts available on the Portail des Arts de la Marionnette were collected, and electronic versions of their plays were also given by artists and companies. Through many discussions and emailing with museum and libraries curators, or with experts in the different areas, the research team could identify the main collections of resources and investigate some of them.

Because of the large quantity of materials, of their poor description in the catalogues, and of the sanitary crisis that prevented the team to explore more systematically the collections, the selection of the most representative items to be described in the database is still in its first phase: the definition of working strategies (the prioritisation of the most ancient versions, and of complete sets of plays from relevant companies).

b) Analysis and interpretation

• The topic of the International and Interdisciplinary Seminar # 2, that eventually had to be transformed into a Webinar (29-30/10/2020), was Pratiques du répertoire dans les théâtres de marionnettes anciens ou traditionnels. Ten contributions were presented by international researchers, about traditional puppet and marionette repertoires in France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. These presentations and the discussions that followed gave access to the latest developments of research on traditional and ancient puppet or marionette repertoires in these countries: an important step, because of the lack of comparative studies in this field.

The first contribution to the Webinar was made by the PI Didier Plassard with a paper entitled “Pulcinella, Punch, Polichinelle: Continuity and Discontinuity in Glove-Puppet Repertoires (17th-19th centuries)”, elaborating the hypothesis of a common dramaturgical scheme in these shows.

3 other contributions (in English and in French by Christine Zurbach, John McCormick and Yanna Kor) are already accessible online (see ‘Publications’) and the others will be very soon (with some supplementary multilingual materials -in Italian, German or Spanishon our website and on Nakala, a free repository linked with Huma-Num).

• PhD Student Francesca Di Fazio published the article “Engendrer le genos: insolites familles de bois dans le théâtre de Gigio Brunello” in the academic journal À l’épreuve, n. 7 (Université Paul-Valéry, February 2021).

• Didier Plassard prepared his paper “Puppetry for a Total War: French and German Puppet Plays in WW1”, to be presented in the on-line conference Representing Alterity through Puppetry and Performing Objects (University of Connecticut, 10/04/2021).

Through an article published in a german magazine specialized in puppet theatre (special issue on gender in puppet and object theatre), Dr Carole Guidicelli gave insight into an example of a non-verbal dramaturgy for actors with puppets and animated objects dealing with gender:

• “Zwischen androgynen Metamorphosen une Tier-Werdung. Die Compagnie La Mu/ette spielt mit Geschlechtsidentitäten.” [Between androgynous metamorphoses and becoming an animal. The company La Mu/ette plays with gender identities] In Double. Magazinen für Puppen, Figuren and Ojekttheater: Puppe. Figurentheater und Geschlecht (Ausgabe 1/2020, Nr. 41 – ISBN 978-3-942449-35-9), p.26.

Work Package 3 (Coordination, comparative analysis and synthesis)

• The PI Didier Plassard began working on his monograph: general documentation, survey of publications with significative critical and theoretical issues, first draft of the Table of contents.

• He gave the lecture “Répertoire populaire, répertoire littéraire: emprunts et circulations (À propos de La Tentation de saint Antoine)” in the Rendez-vous PuppetPlays # 1 (Facebook Live, 27/10/2021).

Organising the official public launching of the PuppetPlays Project (7th November 2019); preparation of the Scientific Advisory Board meeting and of the 1rst Interdisciplinar and International PuppetPlays Seminar on 8th November 2019. That meant: 1) bringing to Montpellier about 40 Guests (scholars, artists, museum curators, archivists, cultural officials and leaders…) from different european countries (England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain) and sometimes from different parts of France ; 2) Organising the event in terms of administration and logistics, and task managing a team of volunteers consisting of Masters and PhD students; 3) programming two professional puppet shows and communicating to a wider audience on campus and in the city.
Co-supervising of an invited PhD Student from the Università di Catania, Italy (from mid-October to mid-December 2019).
Exchanges with researchers and curators of institutions for expertise: Prof. emer. John Mc Cormick (Ireland), Prof. Christine Zurbach (Portugal), Prof. Françoise Rubellin (France), Lars Rebehn (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden), Mascha Erbelding (Puppensammlung Münchner Stadtmuseum)…
Organisation of and participation in the recruitement of a management and administrative assistant.
Co-animation of the weekly team meetings (weekly task-managing of the team).
Organising and task managing and participating in the 2nd interdisciplinary research seminar on 29-30 October 2020 (online) about traditional puppet repertoires: 16 participants from 6 countries up to 5 different languages (English, French, German, Italian or Spanish), with simultaneous translations in English and French.
Retro-planning for the organisation and task managing of the 1rst Puppetplays international symposium on Literary plays for puppet and marionette theatres in Western Europe that will take place on 14, 15, 16 October 2021.

Work Package 4 (Diffusion and valorisation)

a) Web-platform

Under Computer Engineer’s Paul Robert guidance, and together with the provider Intactile Design, the team elaborated the conceptual model for the database architecture and defined the data and metadata sets categories through multiples iterations. 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 virtual machine that receives the source code of the PuppetPlays platform, hosted and maintained by the TGIR (Very Huge Research Infrastructure) Huma-Num, has been chosen and organized, with all the parameters in storage and processors capacity needed by the project.

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

b) Website and web-pages

A webpage with a short presentation of the project was published on the University Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 website in October 2019.
Other webpage presentations were published, during the covered period, on the following websites:
• Themaa: and
• Portail des Arts de la Marionnette:
• European Association for the Study of Theatre and Performance: )

c) Social medias

A dedicated Facebook page was opened in November 2019. It published 63 posts during the covered period and reached a number of 435 subscribers by the end of March 2021.

d) Public events

The official launching of the project (‘pitch event’) was organised in the Théâtre la Vignette (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, Montpellier, 07/11/2019), with a public presentation of the project, speeches of the University President Patrick Gilli, of the director of the research laboratory RIRRA 21 Marie-Ève Therenty, and of the members of the Scientific Advisory Board. Two puppet shows were performed on this occasion.

A second event (public readings of puppet plays in the Théâtre La Baignoire, Montpellier), scheduled on the 21/03/2020 in occasion of the World Puppetry Day, was cancelled because of the lockdown.

e) Project presentations

The project was presented during public meetings with the PI in Charleville-Mézières (Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes), Montpellier (Théâtre la Vignette), Toulouse (Carnet d’hiver n°3), Palermo (Festival di Morgana).

Because of the pandemic, various scheduled presentations had to be cancelled in Clichy s/ Seine (Ruines Clastic), Pantin (Questionner le patrimoine artistique d’un créateur du 20e siècle, Philippe Genty, Montpellier (Journée CasuHal, MsH-Sud), Padova (Consulta Universitaria Teatro), and Munich (Wunder, Internationales Figurentheater Festival).

During the pandemic, the project was presented in the following public webinars:
- A roundtable discussion with the ERC-PCN during the Session d’information du Point de Contact National ERC sur l’appel Advanced 2020, 10/06/2020.
- « Charla con Didier Plassard acerba de muchas cosas », Titeres resistiendo al coronavirus, Facebook Live, 29 /11/2020.
- A presentation of the Horizon Europe programme organized by the Région Occitanie, 23/03/2021.

f) Newsletter

Since October 2020, the team publishes a bilingual (French + English) newsletter, informing on the developments of the project and its coming events. The last issue in the covered period (mid-March 2021) was sent to 383 subscribers.

g) Press release

For the press campaign for the launching of the project (‘pitch event’), the PuppetPlays team was helped by the Service de la Communication of the University.
Among the main publications communicating on the project, we can list:
o « PuppetPlays », Manip’, n° 59, juillet-septembre 2019, p. 5.
o « Paul-Valéry dans les quatre lauréats français [en SHS] du dernier ERC », La Lettre du Président, n°7, Université Paul Valéry, octobre 2019, p. 3.
o Mathieu Dochtermann, « 3 questions à Didier Plassard », Manip’, n° 60, octobre-décembre 2019, p. 4.
o Didier Plassard, « Bringing an Invisible Repertoire into the Light of Day », Plays International and Europe, vol. 35, n° 1-3, Spring 2020, p. 42-43.
For both of the sub-corpora examined in WP1 and WP2, the project has already brought into light large parts of a forgotten or ignored heritage, and will broaden this latter in the following years of the project. Thanks to the systematic examinations in museum documentation centres and to the data-mining in on-line libraries and archives catalogues, in digitalized collections of newspapers, and to the discussions with experts in many fields, a complete revision and an enlargement of the history of Western-European puppet and marionette theatres can be expected by the end of the project: this will be done in the PI’s monograph.

The covered period already led to the discovery of previously unnoticed or poorly referenced works for puppets or marionettes by such prominent authors as Lewis Carroll, Edward Bond, Nelly Sachs, Heiner Müller, José de Almada Negreiros, or Jan Fabre. Adding their works to the (very short) list of the well-known plays of José Antonio da Silva, Federico Garcia Lorca, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, or Paul Claudel, will doubtlessly contribute to the reappraisal of puppet and marionette theatre as a branch of performing arts, which is the super-objective of the project.

The digitalization and the publication in the on-line anthology of transcribed manuscripts from the popular tradition will also give access to previously unavailable materials, and enable the researchers team to achieve Objectives 1 (“To document the development of puppetry in Western Europe”) and 3 (“To insert puppet and marionette plays into the history of Western European drama”) of the project.

The international interest aroused by the PuppetPlays project already led some institutions to improve the cataloguing, the referencing, and the preservation of their collections in the field: the Musée de la vie wallonne (Liège) decided to digitise its collection of plays, and the Musées Gadagne – Musée international de la marionette (Lyon) undertook to catalogue all its plays for puppets or marionettes in 2020 (2.961 items). We expect the Sammlung Puppentheater of the Stadtmuseum in Munich to do the same, because its library, with a huge collection of published and unpublished plays (ca. 1.500 manuscripts and typescripts), is only catalogued with very scarce information on cardboard index cards, classified according the successive donations.

During the covered period, one of the major decisions was to take into consideration works were only some of the characters have to be performed by puppets or marionettes, either as a play within the play (in Baroque or Modernist repertoires), or as a crossing of various levels of presence (in Post-modern playwritings). Comparing the parts played in a single work by living actors and by performing objects will help the team to achieve Objective 2 (To identify the specific features of puppet and marionette plays).

Among the main progresses in the field resulting of the project, we can already list:

• the discovery of forgotten animation techniques (“boîtes de curiosité” and “counterweight marionettes”) used during the 17th century, and the elaboration of some first hypotheses about their international circulation (Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands);
• the discovery of a forgotten performing mode: the “living marionettes” in German-speaking area around 1800;
• the hypothesis (still under verification) of a common dramaturgical scheme for popular hand-puppet shows (with Pulcinella, Punch, and Polichinelle) in Western Europe, between the 17th and the 18th centuries, as a result of the fact that traditional puppeteers had to travel, and to adapt to different cultural contexts;
• the analysis of reciprocal modelling and motives circulation between literary productions (Sedaine, Flaubert) and popular marionette performances in different versions of the so-called “traditional” play Les Tentations de saint Antoine (France, Belgium, 1750-1980);
• the conception of a specific metadata set for the description and the indexing of puppet and marionettes repertoires.

Other scientific and methodological progresses will certainly follow in the next months, that we will accurately document, make easily available and disseminate, in accordance with Objective 4 of the project (To give access and visibility to an ignored corpus).

A key-element of PuppetPlays’ success will be to stimulate the interest, the conservative actions and the scientific research in a field where heavy differences can still be observed: whereas the Italian and the French universities develop a growing research activity (with an historical focus in Italy, and a contemporary one in France), the German ones, despite the huge amount of existing resources, keep their distances towards an almost untouched heritage, and the Dutch ones seem to completely ignore it.
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