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Czech Puppet History

Why is the Czech Republic considered a puppet super power?


The  history of Czech puppetry is closly linked to the national sense of identity. When the country was part of the Austrian empire, all theatre was in German - except puppet theatres. With the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, puppeteers were seen as heroes who had kept the language and the stories alive. This led to an explosion of interest in puppetry, and the genre was embraced by some of the best Czech artists, as well as by the local population.

Early Puppet History

Czech puppetry came to the Czech lands in the late 17th century by itinerant puppeteers from Holland, England, France and Italy. Initially Czechs assisted the foreign groups; by the end of the 18th century Czech companies had been established.

Most companies first used puppets as cheap substitutes for actors, combining live actors and puppets onstage (these puppets tended to be large and life-like, with body proportions similar to that of a human). As the genre developed, companies specialized in pure puppet performances. The puppets got smaller and more stylized– the size of their heads and hands exaggerated, as these are the most expressive parts of the puppet.

Whole families were involved in running the itinerant companies; the business was passed down from generation to generation. Usually one puppeteer- the head of the family- manipulated all the puppets and did all of the voices. The texts were based on classical stories such as Faust, Don Giovanni or historical Czech plays. The intended audience was adults, who would gather on the town square or in the pub for a show.

Puppet shows were the only form of theatre performed in villages, and also they were the only shows performed in Czech (all city theatres peformed in the official language, German). During the Czech national awakening of the late 19th century, itinerant puppeteers were embraced as cultural icons who had helped preserve Czech culture and language.

Early 20th Century

The romanticization of the puppeteer gave him a definite place in Czech history. It also encouraged a boom in community and amateur puppet theatre in the early 20th century. Many of these „amateur“ groups were run by professional artists, designers, and intellectuals and of extremely high quality with generous funding. These companies aimed performances at children. The puppetry movement intensified after the Czechoslovak Republic was established- over 2000 companies existed in the country in the 1920s, many of high artistic quality.


The Czech magazine Puppeteer was established, and the international puppetry association – UNIMA - was established in Prague at an international puppetry conference (UNIMA still exists and has its headquarters in France). WWII brought many developments to a halt, though the famous „Spejbl and Hurvinek“ comic puppet characters – who had been created in the 1920s- continued to perform, criticizing the Nazi regime until their puppeteer was put in a concentration camp.

Family Puppet Theatres

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Communist Era

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Puppetry Today

In the late 18th century, family puppet theatres were designed and produced. This was the same time that a nationalist movement led by Czech intellectuals was gaining strength. One of the hopes of the movement was to establish theatres which would perform in the Czech language rather than the official German language. Because puppet theatres had been performing in Czech, they were embraced by leaders of the movement.


Family puppet theatres were designed by leading Czech artists of the time who were also involved in the national revival, and these theatres became very popular. Parents would buy them to perform stories for their children, and many series of puppets, theatres and scripts were manufactured at affordable prices.

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