Archives for posts with tag: history

This image is a close-up of a spider web with dew. It is an allegory of what’s going on in my head at the moment. I have all these great and sparkling ideas but the path there…

I want to share a couple more surprising tidbits from my reading lately.

So, the reigning powers tried to marginalize popular theatre  (I am not just talking about puppet theatre, but all forms of entertainment for the masses). In the article The golden age of the boulevard Marvin Carlson describes the rise of popular theatre from  fair ground attraction to permanent stages around the Boulevard du Temple in Paris, where all the entertaining stages conglomerated. The Boulevard got the nick-name Boulevard of Crime in the 1820s, not because it was dangerous to go there, but because what was on show. The Almanach of Spectacles  1823  published the numbers of crimes performed on the stages (for twenty years):

… Tautin has been stabbed 16,302 times, Marty has been poisoned in various ways 11,000 times, Fresnoy has been murdered 27,000 times, Mlle Adele Dupuis has been the innocent victim of 75,000 seductions, abductions, or drownings, 6,500 capital charges have tested Mlle Levesque’s virtues and Mlle Oliver, whose career is scarcely launched, has already tasted the cup of crime and vengeance 16,000 times.

Sounds like a normal year on TV to me.

John Houchin recounts in his article The origins of the cabaret artistique how the cabaret moved from a place where artists performed their own material for their peers to a public establishment to make money.

By 1900 the cabaret had become a competitive, commercial undertaking. Owners and producers had to devise a point of difference to stand out and attract audiences. The Cabaret de l’Ane Rouge (Cabaret of the Red Ass) had a large fresco depicting the crucifixion of a large red ass. Singers presented café-concert fare and the announcer was a huckster who encouraged the audience to drink. In the Cabaret du Néant (Cabaret of Death) visitors were served at coffins and lighting was provided by corpse lamps. The Cabaret du Ciel (Cabaret of Heaven) featured harp music, a master of ceremonies dressed as priest and a man costumed as an angel sprinkled the audience with holy water. The Cabaret l’Enfer (Cabaret of Infernal Regions) offered the alternative to celestial bliss, a glimpse of hell: The decorations that hung from the ceiling were sculptures of bodies writhing in pain.

All I can say: Move to the side Goths. We have seen it all before :).

Both articles were in Schlechter, J. (ed), Popular Theatre, Routledge 2003.

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]