Puppet Theatre in South Africa
For details and further information on the various aspects "Puppet Theatre in South Africa" outlined below, see the publications listed under Sources below.
Puppets, marionettes and other forms
Origins of puppetry in South Africa
Research suggests that there may have been a truly indigenous puppetry tradition in pre-colonial South Africa in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Karoo. However, a few puppets in mainly private collections are the only remains of it and the puppet theatre of today is mainly a product of the colonial cultural hegemony. *
Colonial puppetry in South Africa
The oldest documented puppet show was given on 12 August 1800 in Cape Town by a French amateur group with shadow puppets.
From 1837 puppeteers from Italy, England, France and Germany performed at the Cape, often with marionettes.
Among the companies active in the 19th century are:
Penn's Marionettes, a company that apparently performed on 15 May 1863 as part of a "Faney Fair" in celebration of the marriage of the Prince of Wales, and later in June put on a performance for a "select audience" in a schoolroom in Caledon Street.
South African puppetry in the 20th century
During the 1950s and 1960s there was a distinctive growth in the number of amateur- and semi-professional companies. In the 1961 the first local professional company was formed by Keith Anderson With the emergence of companies such as Puppet Space, The Royal Puppet Company and the Johannesburg Civic Marionette Theatre in the late 1960s and early 1970s, along with the beginning of broadcast television in 1976, puppetry succeeded in becoming a highly regarded entertainment and art form.
Puppets and TV
Television was especially influential in the development of popular characters in children’s entertainment with puppets such as Haas Das, Karel Kraai, Sarel Seemonster and Bennie Boekwurm. By far the most popular were Liewe Heksie and her friends, created by Verna Vels.
Puppets in adult theatre
At present the Handspring Puppet Company is the most prominent professional company and reflects puppetry as a powerful tool in an emergent crossover theatre in South Africa. Their latest woerk, combining actors and puppets, with directors such as Esther van Ryswyk and particularly with William Kentridge. ****
Puppetry and education
Puppetry is often used as an educational tool, as reflected in the activities of AREPP (African Research and Educational Puppetry Program) International links are retained by local puppeteers through affiliate membership of UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionette). It is taught at a number of institutions, including the University of Stellenbosch and Tshwane University of Technology.
Sources on Puppetry and Marionettes in South Africa
Kruger, M.S. 1987. Poppespel - 'n Ondersoek na die historiese ontwikkeling, die spelbeginsels, karakter en gebruiksmoontlikhede van die toneelpop. Unpublished master’s thesis. Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch.
Kruger, Marie 2006. The power of double vision: tradition and social intervention in African puppet performance. New Theatre Quarterly, 22(4):324-336.
Kruger, Marie 2011. Puppets and adult entertainment in South Africa: a tale of a tentative start, evolving prejudices, new and lost opportunities, and a fresh momentum. South African Theatre Journal, 25(1):13-34.
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