Puppet theatre in South Africa

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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. New impetus came through the emergence of local companies during the 1940s, mainly through the efforts of John Wright (*) and Frieda Ollemans(*). *

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 reckoned 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 the Universities of Stellenbosch and *** (MK) (See Kruger, 198*, **, 19**)

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