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Puppet theater is appreciated as an art intended exclusively for children. However, puppet theater has proven to be much more than an art that replaces another, a derivative of theater – it offers innovative approaches, interesting and core artistic experiments.

The essential element of this theater is the marionette, the puppet. In the strict sense of the word, the puppet is either an anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figure, or an object that represents a character designed to animate him in a show. However, if the central element is an object, an artistically processed matter, the question naturally arises: is the puppet theater a sculpture in motion or a game? Is it closer to the visual or interpretive arts?

An important feature of the puppet theater in relation to other genres of show is that the object or animated material is subjected to transformations that highlight its relationship with plastic creation, in the sense that the process of visual creation is an integral part of the show. The actor-handler creates images during the show, changing the initial appearance of the object. From this perspective, the puppeteer has a function similar to that of a visual artist. On the other hand, a puppet that does not “come to life” is just a useless object. The puppet is specific to the movement, the stage action. The movement profoundly changes the forms and the very transition from inanimate to animated has major consequences.

From the perspective of anthropology, the analysis of the puppet highlights essential aspects of the art of animation, if we take into account that in almost all its history it is considered to be not a representation of a real character, but a supernatural being. This essential quality has made possible, in fact, the free expression of unacceptable ideas in other artistic formulas, in many historical periods. That is why every animation system – from the oriental shadow theater to the European fairground theater and from Burnaku to Karagöz – has developed a special stage language, which has its roots in the cultural tradition in which it appeared.

Therefore, some of the phenomena of spiritual and social life are of great importance for the development of art in general, puppet theater in particular. First of all, its magical and religious roots being obvious, the theoretical approach must be oriented towards detecting the cultural “layers” existing in the different traditions of puppet theater, in this art coexisting elements of original shamanism, worship of totemic deities, liturgical practices, the pre-Indo-European substratum, the oriental-inspired cults practiced in the Roman Empire and the beliefs of migrant peoples – all with an important role in shaping original aesthetic formulas.

Despite the diversity of cultures, however, some phenomena are universal. Many rituals – vigil, transition to a new agricultural cycle, etc. – they have as a central element a puppet, made of clay, wood or textile material, an object that replaces the human sacrifice absolutely necessary to move to a new life. Among them, a major role belongs, in the development of the puppet theater, to the cult of the ancestors in which the main role was played by the druid, who could interpret, with the help of elements that today we call theatrical (mask, costume, puppets that represent the deceased) the death and resurrection of humans or animals.

Karagöz cartoon made by the Cypriot project coordinator, Antonis Antoniou

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