Bucket List Items #142 National Marionette Theater
Prague, Czech Republic
I like puppets…a lot. Too much for an adult probably. I blame this on a lack of puppets in my own childhood and watching them in my favorite movies growing up. The number one thing that comes to mind is The Secret Garden. This was also one of my favorite books when I was a child and still is today. I recently read it again and it seems nothing has change in two decades. Anyway, there was this scene in the movie where Mary is entertaining Colin with puppets and a small theater. You know what I mean, right? The proper fancy one with the read curtains with gold trim. It’s awfully elegant for a child. I dreamt of something like that though as a kid. I don’t recall if I ever begged my mother for it, although I probably would have been smart enough to realize that while a Barbie dreamhouse was in reach, my personal puppet theater was not.
So, I attribute my obsession with marionettes to my love for puppets as a child. I actually spent a fair amount of time in the Czech Republic on marionette-related ventures. I visited the Marionette Museum in Český Krumlov (I will revisit this in another post) and I spent many days looking for a marionette to take home with me. There were shops all over Staré Město selling souvenir puppets, but I wanted the real thing. I searched so many vintage stores in pursuit (there was no way I could afford a new one), but alas, I was unsuccessful. Perhaps my favorite marionette experience in Prague was right on my own street. Less than a block away from me there was a marionette maker. It wasn’t a store, just a workshop. From the side street beside my apartment you could peer into a small workshop window from above. I stopped to look everyday on my morning walk with my dogs. They would be carving or painting or sewing little outfits. Perhaps it might even be my favorite Prague memory.
This is why right before leaving Prague I had to see the National Marionette Theater. I had intentionally left this for the end of my stay as my friends Rachel and Matt were coming into town and the four of us (Dave included here) had tickets! The show was Don Giovanni, which I was fairly certain might be a bit dry, but I was pleasantly surprised. They managed to make a marionette opera quite funny. They integrated a human in costume even at one point and it was a riot. I don’t want to spoil anything about the show in case you ever go. It really was magnificent though. And my god the marionettes were beautiful! So much attention to detail and character. The creators of them truly are artists, as are the puppet masters.
If you’re ever in Prague this is really a treat, especially if you like opera. Not to mention it’s probably one of the most Czech things you can do. There’s a long history of marionette theater in the Czech Republic and it’s easily one of the best places in the world to experience a marionette performance. Back in the 18th century quite a few Czech marionette theaters were established and were a popular occupation for families. An entire family would perform operas on the streets and they even used life-sized marionettes in the show as they were affordable substitutes for actors. It was a combination of actors and marionettes for shows that could afford it, or marionettes only for those who couldn’t. It was the only theater in Prague village life for many years, and only in German during the German occupation. However, there were many puppeteers that still performed in Czech, so at the turn of the century these puppet masters were largely celebrated for helping keep the Czech language alive. It’s just so special that the tradition has been kept alive for so many years.