Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) – July 10, 2015

The Origins and Evolution of a Czech Tradition

By Fu Linmeng

PRAGUE — Walking along the street of central zone in Prague, you are prone to see hundreds of puppet shops, large and small.

“It was my desire to make marionettes since my childhood after seeing the astonishing animation in television, ” said Františka Nekvasilová, a designer of a puppet shop named Truhlář, who was sewing clothes on to the marionette.

Marionettes of all shapes and sizes which vary in price, such as a few hundred koruna worth of little puppets, which amount to ten to forty dollars, and thousands of koruna worth of marionettes, which amount to fifty even much dollars, are displayed in such an inconspicuous puppet shop. All these marionettes were designed and created by the staff in the shop. And the manufacturing process and time for make diverse marionettes is different.

Puppet shops in Prague can be roughly divided into two types. One is to sell the marionettes made by their own, just like Truhlář. The other specializes in business. According to the shop owners, the marionettes in these shops are supplied by different family hand-workshops. And the marionettes were made in craftsmen’s houses or flats, not in the factories. “Craftsmen usually come to our shop to sell the crafts they made monthly, we just acquire marionettes from them,” said Denisa Bartošová, shop assistant in a puppet shop named Galerie Michael. Tereza, saleswoman in a toy shop, explained that the puppets on display were made of kinds of cloth by three women in their flat.

As for marionette, Nekvasilová told us that it initially came from India, then it was brought in Czech from England, French and Italy. Due to the historical reasons, it was kept relatively completely. Under the control of the House of Habsburg, people in Czech were not allowed to speak Czech. Dramas and operas were almost in German or Italian. To a large extent, Czech was faced with the risk of losing. At that time, since the puppet show which was performed in the countryside was unrefined, people just play the puppets for fun on a informal occasion, therefore, people can play marionettes in Czech. In this way, Czech and culture preserved. And very soon, nearly every family has their own marionettes, for the purpose of amusing children and public. People like to communicate with children through marionettes. Also, they can express some deep thoughts hidden behind the jokes by means of marionette. A most famous puppet show created by Mozart, named Don Giovanni, combined life and philosophy, according to wikipedia.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Giovanni) Nowadays, marionette is used to create animation movies or theatre, and it’s quite a piece of art decoration.

Along the street of the central Prague, especially the tourists attractions, there are numerous puppet shops. However, the problem gradually emerges as the number of puppet shops increases. “Recently, marionettes are overproduced. It seems that everybody starts to make marionettes, because they are very attractive for tourists,” said Nekvasilová. With the development of modern technology, people are more likely to take shortcuts and use more convenient machine to make marionettes. Seriously, people even can’t distinguish which is handmade or which is machine-made. When people pursue quantity and speed of manufacture, the level of quality would go a little down. “The king of life is money, so we forget our heart. That’s what I really worry about.” said Nekvasilová.

In order to inherit the traditional skills, some special schools offer courses which are designed for young and old, for amateurs of puppet art, for children, for their parents, for those who want to rediscover their long lost creative soul, or just want to take a step back from everyday computers, cinemas or video games. PAVEL TRUHLÁŘ, a small marionette workshop, provided special courses for groups and individuals. Also, there are special-purpose courses, such as puppet making course and handling course in high education, which helps to pass on the skills from generation to generation.

“Besides classes we also cooperate with schools on long term projects in terms of activities for their students – as such, preparation of the puppet performances, which contains not just puppet and theatre making, but also get up a play.” said the manager of marionette workshop, Zdenka Owenová.

“We have been keeping our tradition for 22 years since the puppet shop opened,” said Nekvasilová, “Wether the modern technology would hit the craftsmanship or not, I would devote my life to my career.”