A Few Puppeteers You May Not Know

So yes, technically March was Women’s History Month and now it is April. Too bad, we’re still going to highlight three women puppeteers from around the world that you may not have heard of before. These women worked in very different forms of puppetry but each was a trailblazer in her own way.

Hand Puppet by Lola Cueto from the International Puppetry Museum.

Hand Puppet by Lola Cueto from the International Puppetry Museum.

You’ve probably heard of the painter Frida Kahlo, but a less familiar artist from the same era is Maria Dolores Velasquez Rivas (1897-1978), better known as Lola Cueto. She studied at the Academy of San Carlos along with the muralist David Alfaro Siquieros but her education was interrupted by the Mexican Revolution. She eventually became one of the few prominent women artists in Mexico at the time, taking her inspiration from Mexican folk art such as ‘papel picado’ and wooden children’s toys. Cueto lived in Paris from 1927-1932 where she first began creating hand puppets. After returning to Mexico, she founded several different puppet companies that performed educational shows for children. Cueto’s work can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City, the Brooklyn Museum and various puppetry collections.

This may surprise fans of Snow White, but Walt Disney was not the first person to create a full-length animated film. So far as we know, that was Lotte Reiniger, a German silhouette artist and puppeteer who created The Adventures of Prince Achmed in 1926. Born in Berlin in 1899, Reiniger combined her love of Chinese shadow puppetry and film into groundbreaking animated shorts and eventually feature length films that showcase her detailed shadow cutouts. She began by creating silhouettes for title cards and short sequences in live-action films and then gradually progressed to creating her own full-length work. Reiniger and her husband continued to create films even as they moved around Europe during World War II, eventually settling in England, where she died in 1981. You can see footage of Reiniger’s work, as well as an interview with her and a sequence she inspired in one of the Harry Potter films here. Below is her absolutely delightful short about Papageno, from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. 

Cueto created hand puppets and Reiniger silhouettes; now we turn to marionettes and Gretl Aicher, the artistic director of the Salzburg Marionette Theater from 1977 until her death in 2012. Aicher inherited the theater from her father Hermann, who in turn had taken over from his father Anton. Trained as a sculptor, Anton Aicher founded the theater in 1913, so Salzburg has been enjoying these marvelous performances for a century. Today the Salzburg Marionette Theater employs a staff of 12 puppeteers and over 500 puppets, and performs operas, ballets and children’s plays both in Salzburg and all over the world. Under the leadership of Aicher, they have collaborated with the Salzburg Festival, as well as various international festivals. When asked in a 2004 book about the theater why ‘a life with marionettes,’ Aicher replied “For me, it is the process of empathizing with mind and soul, of feeling at one with the music and movement that bring these much-loved creatures to life.” Cueto and Reiniger would probably agree.

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March Grab Bag

See #3.

See #3.

1. Creature Shop Challenge!  We’ve had reality shows about losing weight and finding romantic partners–why not about building puppets? Syfy channel has created a show where ten designers compete for a job at the Jim Henson Creature Shop. It airs on Tuesdays at 10pm, but you can also watch the episodes online. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m hoping to get some building ideas from watching what they come up with.

2. A theatrical version of Miyazaki’s film Princess Mononoke from 2013 that uses puppets made from recycled materials. Seriously, there’s absolutely nothing you can’t love about that sentence. This show is currently in a Research and Development stage again, so maybe there will be more opportunities to see it in the future!  From the UK company Whole Hog Theatre. 

3. The World Stages Festival has been amazing and inspiring and we will be writing more about the performances we saw soon. If you can, stop by the Kennedy Center before the end of the weekend and see the fantastic puppet installations.

4.The Manipulate Festival is an annual celebration of visual theater in the UK that encourages visitors to ‘leave preconceptions at the door.’ Here’s an article highlighting several productions this year that included puppetry.

5.Muppets Most Wanted needs no explanation. A new feature length film with Kermit & Co–what are you waiting for? Go see it!