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Puppet theatre in Lithuania

Puppet theatre in Lithuania


Elements of puppet and mask theatre have been found in the ancient Lithuanian calendar holidays, hunting and farming, wedding and burial rituals. Knowledge about the puppeteers in Lithuania comes from the 15th century. Examples of church puppet theatre have reached our days from the 17th century; in the 18th century, marionette plays were known in the noblemen‘s manor houses. In 19th century, travelling puppeteers from Poland, Czechia, Germany, France and other countries would come to Lithuania; mechanical (automatic) theatre plays, as well as shadow theatre events too place in Vilnius. In the 20th century, after the World War I, amateur puppet plays would be performed in rural areas and schools.

Stasys Usinkas
Emergence of professional puppet theatre in Lithuania is linked to the personality of Stasys Ušinskas. While studying in Paris in 1929-1931 (painting – with F. Leger, and scenography – with A. Exter), Stasys Ušinskas became interested in puppet theatre, its history, in the practice of puppet making. When he returned to Lithuania, he started making puppets, then later he commissioned to script a play for the puppets he had manufactured, rehearsed with the actors of the future play. On 6 May 1936, the play to be considered the first professional puppet show of the Puppet theatre organized by Stasys Ušinskas, "Silvestras Dūdelė" by A. Gustaitis (Directors H. Kačinskas and V. Sipaitis, author of puppets and scenography Ušinskas, composer V. Kuprevičius). Expressive puppets, with complex mechanisms, yet of mobile construction (~ 0.5-1 metre high) also acted in a sound-film Storulio sapnas by S. Ušinskas (1938; director H. Kačinskas, artist S. Ušinskas, film operator A. Žibas; shown in New York in 1939). As well, in ~ 1936-1941 S. Ušinskas wrote a book-tutorial for the puppet theatre about the making of puppets and masks, "Lėlių ir kaukių teatras" (published in 2005), in which he also briefly reviewed the history of puppet theatre. The mechanics of puppets improved by S. Ušinskas had been patented in the USA (May 28, 1940 S. Usinskas, patent number 220677).

The puppet theatre in Lithuania was promoted also by puppeteers from abroad (in 1935, the Czech theatre Spejbl a Hurvinek was on tour). In 1933-1941, a Jewish theatre Maidim, and in 1937-1941 Polish puppet theatres Bajka (established and directed by Jadwiga and Jan Wladyslaw Badowskis) and Wilenski Teatr Lątek (in 1937 established and directed by O. Dobuzinska-Totwenowa; since 1945 the theatre continued its work in Białystok, Lodz, Gdansk) were open in Vilnius.

The work of professional puppet theatre in Lithuania was cultivated by Mykolė Krinickaitė, who in 1941–1944 directed a puppet theatre company in the theatre Vaidila in Vilnius. Established on the basis of this company, Vilniaus valstybinis lėlių teatras (Vilnius state puppet theatre) was functioning in 1944-1949. The plays staged by the head of this theatre and the director M. Krinickaitė featured the attributes of imitation theatre (open until 1952).

The legendary performance of lithuanian puppetry "The Daughter of Earth" ("Žemės dukra")  by Vitalijus MazurasBy the initiative of Stasys Ratkevičius (in 1958-1997, art director) and his wife Valerija Gruodytė, the Kaunas state puppet theatre was opened in 1958. In the sixties, this theatre developed the trend of realistic imitation puppet theatre; from the end of sixties, the plays by artist V. Mazūras and director S. Ratkevičius (in 1968, "Zuikių mokykla" by P. Mančevas, "Eglė žalčių karalienė" under S. Nėris; in 1971, Spindulėlis by A. Popescu) started developed specific poetics of puppet theatre, using expressive plastic movement, change in rhythms, and generalizing conditional forms. From 1975, Laima Lankauskaitė and A. Stankevičius (from 1997, art director) staged at this theatre. Later, these directors R. Driežis, J. Januškevičiūtė, O. Žiugžda, and artists D. Barauskas, J. Račinskaitė, J. Stauskaitė cooperated with the theatre.

In 1958, the director and artist Balys Lukošius (until 1969, art director) initiated the establishment of Vilniaus teatras Lėlė. B. Lukošius mostly staged plays based on the work of Lithuanian writers; and they mainly featured the attributes of imitation puppet theatre. The new stage, that of artistic maturity in Lėlė began when Vitalijus Mazūras, the artist and director, who today has become a live legend of puppet theatre, staged his plays here. The plays directed by V. Mazūras (in 1971–1979 and in 1988-1993, art director)  - like "Pelenų antelė" in (1971), "Avinėlio teismas" (1976) and "Žemės dukra" (1981) by M. Martinaitis; "Gavrošas" (1973) by A. Gudelis, under V. Hugo; "Pasaka apie stebuklingą berniuką" (1974) by S. Geda; "Ak vija, pinavija", under J. Biliūnas, and "Dainuojantis ir šokantis mergaitės vieversėlis", (both in 1979), "Cirkas yra cirkas" (1982) by A. A. Jonynas and V. Mazūras, "Lakštingala" (1983) by J. Knauth, under H. Ch. Andersen, travesties (1986) by F. G. Lorca; also the artist of all) feature the unity of scenic view, text, puppets’ plastic and music. V. Mazūras created a universal, targeting not only children, poetical conditional theatre, requesting the audience to indulge in associative thinking, and highlighted the visual side of the play, its form (embodied in the puppets, stage view, composition of moving images), and stage atmosphere. The plays by the director A. Ragauskaitė ("Kicius, tetulė ir aš" (1970) by J. Čepoveckis, "Pieno pūko miestas" (1971) by V. Palčinskaitė – artist of both, V. Mazūras) employed conditional form of actor’s presence on the stage. L. Lankauskaitė, who directed in the "Lėlė" theatre in the eighties, staged musical plays of non-traditional forms (the first puppet opera in Lithuania - "Mes – žvirbliukai" (1983), by G. Mareckaitė, under J. Radičkov, artist V. Mazūras, composer O Balakauskas; the first puppet ballet in Lithuania – "Žvėrių karnavalas" (1984), artist. A. Bagočiūnaitė, music by M. Urbaitis, under C. Saint Saens). Starting from the eighties, many important plays in the theatre were staged by R. Driežis, A. Bagočiūnaitė,  A. Mikutis, N. Indriūnaitė, and J. Skuratova.

The reformator of lithuanian puppetry - director and designer Vitalijus Mazuras

In the 20th century, amateur puppet theatres took off in Lithuania in the fifties-sixties. It was influenced by the festival of amateur puppet theatres "Molinuko teatras" organised since 1967. Amateur puppets theatres were open in Utena ("Zuikis Puikis", established in 1973), Gargždai ("Arlekinas", established in 1976), Kaunas ("Nykštukas", established in 1975), Panevėžys (Panevėžio lėlių vežimo teatras, established in 1986).

From the eighties of 20th century, new independent puppet theatres started emerging in Lithuania (some of amateur theatres became semi-professional, municipal, independent). In 1988-1991, the director Gintaras Varnas, in the then relevant plays of Vilnius "Šėpos" theatre, revived the tradition of Szopka Akademicka plays organized in Vilnius University in 1921-1933: "Revoliucijos lopšinės" in 1989, and "Komunistinės nostalgjos" in 1990. The Vilnius stained glass puppet theatre "Vaivorykštė" (established in 1992) cultivated the shadow puppet theatre. The plays in Klaipėda puppet theatre (established in 1992) are directed by J. Januškevičiūtė, Gintarė Radvilavičiūtė (from 2000, art director of the theatre) and others. In 1995–2001, the plays of the environment theatre "Miraklis" were shown in public spaces; puppets of ~ 4 m were used in the plays. In 1997, Nijolė and Vitalijus Mazūras opened a theatre "Paršiukas Ikaras" in Vilnius; in 1999, Aurelija Čeredaitė – the theatre "Žalia varna". From 2004, there is a "Stalo teatras" (Table Theatre; director Saulė Degutytė) open in Vilnius; from 2009, audiovisual performances with puppets launched in the "Psilikono teatras" (director Auksė Petrulienė) theatre in Kaunas

In 1969 – 1994, puppet plays were staged at the Lithuanian Television. The TV showed also the plays of repertoire puppet theatres. Puppets also used in the plays of other genres: drama ("Mėlynieji žirgai raudonoje pievoje" (1982) by M. Šatrovas, "Golgota" (1987), under Č. Aitmatova – director of both, J. Vaitkus; "Ilga kaip šimtmečiai diena" (1983), under Č. Aitmatova, director E. Nekrošius; "Iš gyvenimo vėlių" (1995) by S. Parulskis; "Daktaras ir Mangaryta" (2003) – director of both V. V. Landsbergis) and opera  ("Pikų dama" (2001) by P. Čaikovsky, "Tankredžio ir Klorindos dvikova and Nedėkingųjų šokis" (2008) by C. Monteverdi – director of both G. Varnas).

Some of more important international puppet theatre festivals are organised in Lithuania: "Šypsos lėlės ir vaikai" (Puppets and kids do smile) in Kaunas (from 1991), "Lagaminas" (Suitcase) in Panevėžys (from 1993), "Aitvaras" (Kite) in Alytus  (from 1999), "Karakumų asilėlis" (Kara Kum donkey) in Klaipėda (from 1997) and others. Lithuanian puppet theatres are active participants of different festivals abroad; most are members of UNIMA and ASSITEJ organizations.

The collections of theatre puppets are stored at the Lithuanian Theatre, Music and Cinema Museum, Valerija and Stasys Ratkevičiai Puppet Museum in Kaunas, and the museum of Vilnius theatre Lėlė.

There are three state institutions of education that prepare puppet theatre professionals in Lithuania: Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre and Klaipėda University prepare actors and directors; Vilnius Academy of Art prepares scenographers.


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