This painting The conspirators I have done a few years back, when I’ve just started painting in acrylic. This was well before the puppets, but looking at it now I think it is very foreboding, they were already in there.

I am reading this book about Popular Theatre at the moment (Schlechter, J. (ed), Popular Theatre, Routledge 2003). The subtitle is A source book and gee it really is. As a visual artist I never looked at the history of theatre and certainly not at popular theatre. I never really thought about, how important and wide-spread puppetry was in history. Puppets were always part of the common entertainment but their stories were passed on orally. Our (European) cultural inheritance is based on written works by playwrights who had to please their financiers, the small, aristocratic elite. I read somewhere that even Goethe, the great German writer was originally inspired by a puppet show to write his most famous work “Faust”.

Popular Theatre  had to earn their living by attracting the masses. Authorities were unable to control or manipulate it for their own ends and therefore it was often censored or dismissed by governments and academia.  But of course this didn’t work too well, quite to the contrary. As the performers weren’t financially dependent on one particular source, they didn’t need to conform to externally imposed standards. They basically could say what they wanted. Often the more they made fun of the establishment, the bigger audiences they attracted.

Peter Schumann, the great contemporary puppeteer and founder of the Bread and Puppet Theatre said: [puppet theatre is] by definition of its most persuasive characteristics, an anarchic art, subversive and untameable by nature, an art which is easier researched in police records than in theatre chronicles, an art which by fate and spirit does not aspire to represent governments or civilisations, but prefers its own secret and demeaning stature in society, representing, more or less, the demons of that society and definitely not its institutions. [p41]

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