Text and interview: Valdemar Cruz
Museu da Marioneta de Lisboa
Exhibition Catalog, October 2001

The artistic director of Teatro de Marionetas do Porto sees the world of marionettes increasingly freed from the weight of tradition and open to a revolutionary attitude by freeing themselves from the weight of the text as a primordial element

What is a marionette to you?
It’s an agent of interpretation. Although it depends on an actor, it’s an instrument he uses to perform. It is, therefore, a theatrical instrument. It is also a plastic object, a sculpture. I think that this is why the marionette show always has a very important visual component, because what the audience sees are sculptures with a certain theatrical weight, which may even not be figurative. I have witnessed great moments of beauty in marionette theatre that are interpreted by marionettes that are either figurations of states of mind or are abstract objects in motion.

Is the understanding of marionettes today substantially different from a few decades ago?
Yes, it is, because of this issue of figurativism. In other times, marionettes were human characters. From the beginning of the 20th century, with the Russian school and the Bauhaus, experiments were made with regard to abstractivism and the exploration of the geometric forms of marionettes. This is in the restricted domain of the marionette-object. In the wider field of theatrical conception, I think that marionette theatre follows the evolution of the theatrical currents of the 20th century. The great revolution of marionette theatre as a theatrical form is recent. Firstly, I think that it is a reaction to a certain stagnation on traditional theatre. Because they are always associated with the plastic arts, and in particular because those who construct the shows are always sculptors or painters, marionettes are on the vanguard of the arts. Also because I think that theatre tends more and more to assume formal aspects to the detriment of the narrative. Marionette theatre is a theatre of forms that moves much more in the realms of the fantastic, of the dream and of a certain poetics, perhaps generating a new form of visual theatre, in which the text has much less importance than in the traditional theatrical narratives. From this point of view, marionette theatre is the performing art with the greatest ability to absorb, in a happy crossing, the new stage technologies, or new theatrical forms, such as dance, video, image.

How do marionettes stand in the context of contemporary artistic production?
As Roman Paska (director of the Institut International de la Marionette) said recently in Porto, marionette theatre is on the vanguard of the performing arts for the next century, due to this agglutinating spirit of theatre of pure forms, of visual theatre, at a time when image is the most important thing in your life. It accompanies the signs of contemporary language and always with a certain universality.

Has the increase of international marionette festivals erased or helped to affirm the cultural individuality of each of the creators?
Cultural individuality is one of the main characteristics of contemporary puppetry. Because, although the great leap in creation in marionette theatre, towards contemporaneity, has been obtained from the denial of the weight of tradition, which is heavy, tradition continues as something unconscious and subterranean in the performances. I can say that I am a paradigmatic case. For more than 20 years I’ve been working with Robertos shows, which are the oldest Portuguese tradition, and I’m now more interested in researching a contemporary language for this type of theatre.

What conclusions did you reach?
First of all realizing the weight of tradition is so strong, that there is always something that remains in us of ancient knowledge. We have more knowledge of the marionette theatre than of the theatre itself, because it is possible to preserve the agents, that is, the marionettes, but not the actors.

It highlights the importance of Marionette Museums…
Yes, they are very important. The small estate that exists in Portugal is kept in the Marionette Museum. So I would say that this place has an enourmous importance for a sort of collective memory of the marionette theatre in Portugal.

Aside from preserving the memory, can it open up new paths?
It’s very important to preserve the memory, but nowadays people’s image of the marionette theatre is still closely associated with tradition. Part of our struggle is to impose new ways of doing theatre with marionettes. I would like, therefore, that there should also be museums that refer to a certain contemporaneity.

From the mid-twentieth century there was a growing infantilization of the marionette. Is this attitude changing?
Until 100 years ago, marionette theatre was something universal, even for all ages. It suffers, in fact, of infantilization in this century. Recently it is rediscovered out of that context in which it began to be associated as a performance for children. One of the great efforts of puppeteers has been to mark this position, to recover that universalistic trait. I think that in the future this process of liberation from the weight of tradition will continue, evolving into more and more formal ways. Which is quite revolutionary, in signifying the loss of importance of the text as a primordial element of the marionette theatre. The marionette theatre will increasingly be an audiovisual show in which the audience is offered stimuli, more to the level of the plasticity of sound and image, than of its meaning.