- Puppetry in Greece
1. Puppetry in Greece
In ancient Greek mythology, Hephaestus, one of the twelve gods of Olympus, who was also called King of the Hands (cheironax), conceived the primordial technological dream that led to our high tech civilization. The “golden maidens” of Hephaestus are considered as the first creatures made of gold with autonomy of movement. Hephaestus also created a bronze monster, Talos, as a wedding gift to Europe. Talos was used to guard the shores of Crete. According to ancient testaments, Daedalus, the legendary Athenian craftsman, created statues that could move themselves. He also was the first to put eyes in statues and to articulate the legs and arms of figures so that they incorporated the sense of movement.
In Ancient Greece, the doll played a very important role in everyday life. The doll-idol, an image of the gods is an inseparable element of worship ceremonies. Traditions about Dionysus report the enigmatic form of dolls concerning the tearing into pieces and the devouring of the god by the Titans. The puppet is present in the Orphic texts connected with the initiation ceremonies of Dionysus.
The articulated puppet is called by the Greeks “nevrospaston” (moved by strings). Nevrospasta were the first marionettes of home performances. Their performer was called “nevrospastis”. Thereafter the art of nevrospastis is identified with that of the mime, the juggler, the rope-dancer etc, a marginal art practice, but well enough established so that its symbolisms and characteristics (i.e. the strings as a symbol of the puppet’s dependence from the puppeteer) are already at that times used in literature and philosophical thinking (as in Plato’s “Republic”).
Xenophon describes a symposium where a puppeteer from Syracuse entertained the guests. It must have existed as a popular spectacle through the entire duration of Greek antiquity, since Athenaios, six centuries later, refers to Potheinos, one of the well known puppet players of that time, who set up his theatre on the foundations of the Theatre of Dionysus, in Athens. In Plato’s writings is also where we meet the first curtains –a kind of primitive puppet stage. In the 3rd century BC. Heron of Alexandria, in the 1st century BC describes in his book “Automatopoetici” (the art of making automata) two kinds of automatic theatres –the one with a moving stage and the other with a fixed stage- as well as the dramatic myth which was presented through automatic movement and scene changing on these stages.
There is not enough information about the puppet theatre in Byzantine. The early Christian Church did not oppose puppet theatre in the way it did oppose theatre and spectacle: indeed, the 92nd article of the Synod of Trullo encourages the presentation of the Holy Scriptures with non-human figures. It is most likely that performances were given at the fairs as well as in the streets. The performers used probably string marionettes. In the 6th century, the performers used little wooden icons which could move as if they were alive and gave performances to weddings. Puppetry was still a marginal art. However, this tradition did not affect modern Greece.
It is interesting that puppets and effigies widely used in popular customs and rituals (the burning of Judas, the procession of Lazarus, the “holy puppet” (Christ) of the Sarakatsani, the Zafiris in Epirus, the Lidinos in the Aegean, etc) never went beyond the level of the religious worship in the popular agricultural culture and did not develop into artistic and professional forms of popular theatre performance.
In Greece, there are two popular puppet traditions: Karaghiozis and Fasoulis. Both take their names from their leading comic characters, being brothers (or cousins) of Pulchinella, Punch, Petruska, Kasper etc sharing all the well known carnivalistic context, phallic symbols, fast body action and satire of life and death of these shows. Greece has been a much more eastern than a western country at that times and this is probably the reason why Karaghiozis -coming from the East- became the main Greek popular tradition instead of Fasoulis who never managed to prevail over Karaghiozis. (See special articles for these traditions)
Just before the Second World War, puppet theatre is performed in Athens by the G. Rotas group “The Living Marionettes of Zappeion” founded with N. Akiloglou in collaboration with the National Theatre (1934-1935). Puppetry now turns firmly into a spectacle for children. Many young artists start experimenting with puppets, but soon the War starts. N. Akiloglou moves with his puppets and travels the mountains entertaining the partisans of the resistance.
The “Puppet Theatre of Athens” is founded in 1939 by Eleni Theohari-Peraki. The main personage, Barba-Mytousis will last for 46 years. The war meets this attempt at its first steps. The puppet theatre is obliged to adapt itself to the difficult conditions of the German occupation. The characters became standard: Barba-Mytousis, the good uncle (a rod puppet), his nephew Klouvios and his niece Souvlitsa (glove puppets). Very quickly they became famous and popular and the company built its tradition of good quality children’s theatre transferring on stage mostly Greek folk tales and myths.
Since 1960, in Greece, there are a few professional and amateur puppet players who work in an autonomous and self-created place of action, developing this art with their own attribution. Classical techniques of puppetry are used in the beginning and slowly evolve in a research of new forms and ways of expression. The classical theatre also started borrowing element of the puppet theatre in its own research for new means.
Lakis Apostolides performed with classical string marionettes, pre-recorded dialogues and music, on theatre and the new-born Greek television.
In 1961 D. Sofianos founded the “Little Scene” with many important productions for theatre and television. His son Faidonas still continues his art.
In 1975 Eugenia Fakinou produces “Denekethoupoli” (The Can City), influenced by the techniques used in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. This clearly political series of performances for children come right after the 7 years dictatorship and inspire many young artists introducing object theatre in Greece, a very successful experiment that lasted for years.
In 1978, the actor Takis and Mina Sarris founded his “Greek Puppet Theatre”. Their performances also escape from the traditional forms of puppetry and the limitations of the small stage. The performers are visible and the performance is enriched by many different techniques (shadows, black light, masks etc).
At about the same time, in Crete, Ariadni Nowak starts experimenting on black light theatre. Later she also uses many different techniques in her productions.
In the 80’s, two festivals made their debut: The International Puppet Theatre Festival of Hydra, established by Michael Meschke in 1985 and the International Festival of Marionettes, by A. Nowak in Crete. Through these festivals the Greek audience and puppeteers suddenly came in contact with the production of other countries and this was a great influence and help for the development of a new generation, closer to the western type of post 60’s European puppetry.
Tiritomba Puppet Theatre (Kostas Hatziandreou), Harhout Puppet Theatre (Christos Aftsides), Ayusaya! Puppet Co. (Stathis Markopoulos), the TV muppet productions of Manthos and Anna Santorinaiou, Baruti Marionettes (Francisco Britto), Gri Kouti Company (Antigoni Paroussi), Prassein Aloga Company (E. Kapokaki), Chryssoula Alexiou are some of the professionals of this generation who work now in Greece. The interest of young people in puppetry is steadily increasing and every year more young companies arise promising an interesting future.
As far as Karaghiozis is concerned too, there is a very vivid new generation of performers (Kostas, Yannis and Argyris Athanasiou, Yannis Dayakos, Athos Danelis, Tasos Konstas, Helias Karelas and many more) who continue the art of their old masters, working mainly in schools but also in theatres and festivals.
In 1990, Michael Meschke initiated the foundation of the Greek Centre of UNIMA.
Since 1996, there is the UNIMA Puppet Centre in Athens where various activities are organized promoting the art (exhibitions, workshops, puppet library, videotheque, magazine “NIMA” etc).
At the moment, one big international annual puppet festival exists, in the city of Kilkis, at the north of the country.
In Greece, there is no official professional training for puppeteers. Young ones find their way, either studying abroad (usually in Europe), or attending various courses at the workshops of professional companies. The lesson of puppetry exists only in the Pedagogic Dep. of the Greek University and it is directed to the use of puppetry in education.
In Maroussi, Athens, there is a very good museum of the Karaghiozis tradition, established by Eugenios Spatharis, one of the most famous Karaghiozis performers.
A few puppets can be found in the Theatre Museum as well as the Peloponnesian Folklore Museum, in Nafplion.
For more information please contact: UNIMA-HELLAS, Palamidiou 41, 10441 Athens, Greece, tel/fax (++30-1-210-5141252), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www. unimahellas.org
The main comic character of the Greek popular shadow theatre tradition.
Shadow theatre –a technique unknown in Greek antiquity- appeared in the medieval Arabic world, more precisely in Egypt. It originated, according to recent theories, in India and Indochina. After the occupation of Egypt by the Ottoman Empire, this form traveled to Istanbul, where it first became court entertainment and later popular one (some sources also refer to its didactic use by religious authorities). Because of the prohibition of three-dimensional representation, two-dimensional shadow theatre found no obstacles in its way of spreading. From the 17th century and during all the Turkish domination, this performance form spread to the Balkan cities, to the court of the local pasha and later to coffee-houses.
The shadow theatre tradition of Karaghiozis [the main character’s name –in Turkish “Karagoz”- which probably means “black-eyed” (from Turkish language) or –as some new theory claims- “black hump” (from Iranian language) = the shadow hunch back] is the only theatrical form adopted from the East. During the 19th century in Athens, Ioannina, Halkida, Nafplion and other cities, it was still being performed with its eastern characteristics: phallic elements and obvious sexual jokes. Urban society repeatedly protested against the “Asiatic” theatre which was corrupting its youth.
After the annexation of Epirus (1880), a new tradition appeared, giving what was called “heroic” performances, which had real and imaginary heroes of the struggle against Turkish domination as its subjects and themes as well as the classical performance of “Alexander the Great and the cursed serpent”, which made use of popular booklets about Alexander and fairytales about a dragon-slaying hero.
The chief characters, however, simply acquired slightly different names. Karagoz became Karaghiozis, a thief but at the same time a model patriot; Hacivat became Hatziavatis, an acquiescent Greek, moral, honest and industrious, but enslaved to his boss; the Dandy became Sior Dionysios, who apes Western fashions; the Dwarf became Omorfonios, a figure of ridiculous appearance; the Jew became a merchant from Salonika, clever and arrogant but obsequious to his betters. The wife of Karaghiozis is called Aglaea, and nags her husband as she did in the Turkish version, but a scandalous courtesan also plays a prominent role.
In appearance, Karaghiozis has greatly extended the length of his articulated arm, so that it may contain four or five joints. The stages are larger than the Turkish ones; in the mid-twentieth century the stage used by Giorgos Haridimos was a permanent elongated rectangular construction of stone and wood, lit by up to 12 electric lamps. There was a second screen above the performing screen, not visible to the audience, so that this could be lowered while the lower screen was raised by pulleys, thus effecting rapid changes of scene. The chief performer moved and spoke for all the characters, assisted by one or two apprentices, who made sound effects, set and changed scenes and manipulated supernumerary puppets.
After the neo-Turkish revolution and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (1908), shadow theatre disappeared from all the former provinces since it no longer expressed an existing social reality. The same occurred in Istanbul itself, where the form survived mainly as a tourist attraction.
With Mimaros’ reformations in Patras (around 1890), new characters were created –like Barba-Yorgos, Nionios, Stavrakas etc- which reflected the linguistic and social reality of the 19th century Greece. Moving away from former models, the Greek shadow theatre flourished greatly between 1890 and 1930. During this period, Karaghiozis entertained an audience (mainly adult) larger than all other theatre forms put together.
Technical improvements were made (for example the discovery of the “hinged rod” which allowed the figure to turn on the screen, or the “double” screen for rapid scenery changes etc) and the sexual innuendos were removed. Apart from the phallic element, however, all the other characteristics remained: the hump, the large nose, the long articulated hand (used to administer beatings), the glittering eye, etc. Part of the repertoire came from the Ottoman type of spectacle (especially the plays of the category “Karaghiozis in various professions and trades”, which appropriately adapted, though, to contemporary occupations. Also there were plays based directly on current issues and events of the times.
A larger selection of Greek Karaghiozis plays has been published than for any other folk puppet theatre in Europe. About 280 texts are known to have appeared in print. Only ten of these, however, have appeared in English, French or German translations.
During the same period (1900-1930) shadow theatre faced competition from the Fasoulis’ puppet theatre, a strong rival for Mimaros, Mollas, Spatharis and other renowned shadow players. Shadow theatre declined gradually in the period before World War II. The limited success of the Karaghiozis was due to the general shrinking of popular culture which made up its aesthetic context and to the adulteration of its traditional audience on whose reaction the shadow player depended for his improvised dialogue, with the incursion of the urban population and audiences made up of children and tourists who did not respond in a way that allowed the player to perceive whether or not they liked the play and therefore enabled him to adopt the tone to their tastes, the traditional aesthetic context decreased and became dull, and experimentation began. The shadow player, rather than a craftsman, became an artist, and his production was no longer controlled and adjusted by the audience. The popular performance was thus converted into urban folklore theatre.
Educational use of the form in schools and private children’s theatres contributed to the folkloric quality; new subject matter was developed (based on Sophocles, Aristophanes, fairytales etc), the moralistic aspect was emphasized, even the central figure of the clever jester, with his pro- or anti- social behavior was rejected and discarded as nihilistic and therefore a bad pedagogic model. Pre-war booklets containing Karaghiozis plays have since disappeared (they were in any case dubious sources for the reconstruction of the improvised word in the oral tradition), but numerous videos exist and Karaghiozis is often a guest in television. Nevertheless, improvised speech is threatened by written culture, which is continuously and ever increasingly taking over the oral art of shadow theatre. Of all Mediterranean countries, it is in Greece, nonetheless, that the form still exhibits the greatest vitality.
Traditional neo-Hellenic puppet theatre performed with glove puppets on a small lit, wooden booth, under which the puppeteer is positioned creating the voices and movements of his heroes. This form appeared in Greece in the decade 1860-70 and probably came from Italy (the names of some characters are still Italian) via the Ionian Islands, where it accompanied an opera company which went bankrupt in Corfu. There is evidence of other marionette companies in Corfu in the middle of 19th century, and it is known that the British puppeteer Holden visited Patras as well.
The name “Fasoulis” may originate from the “Fagiolino” of Bologna, or it may be Greek. The figure can be recognized by its characteristic fez with a long tassel (which revolves and can fly off and away) and his ugliness: crooked nose, one eye, etc.
The puppets in the begging, kept their Italian names: Fakanapa, Arlekin, Konte-Denio, Pulchinella, Kassandro, and Colombina. Fasoulis, after his hellenisation, becomes a real type of “Romeos”, a person with all the -good and bad- characteristics of a Greek. One of the first Fasoulis players had been Maridakis.
The plots of the plays came from trivial – literature, novels with romantic or bandit themes, foreign adventure or romantic dramas etc. Many of the Fasoulis’ plots have been performed also by Karaghiozis. In the last decades of the 19th century, this form of (mainly street) puppet theatre, which was played in the summer and during the carnival in the cities, flourished and enjoyed first place among the popular spectacles before the spreading of the reformed type of shadow theatre after 1890. Basic elements, as in Karaghiozis tradition, were physical beatings, deaths and resurrections etc) Fasoulis was often performed by Karaghiozis players as a side show to their main Karaghiozis performance.
A more refined form of this kind of spectacle, which moved away from the Italian comic tradition, was created by Christos Konitsiotis (ca. 1870-1928), who also played the central character of Pascalis. The big success of his performances is due to his ample repertoire, his stage property and the excellent movement and appearance of the puppets. His assistants are his wife and daughter. He played speaking in dialect.
His repertoire numbers more than 200 plays, among them his own improvised adaptations of Moliere’s comedies, but also “The Bandits”, by Schiller, etc. Sources from the time praise his exceptional linguistic wit and his vast memory. The music of the performance was live with clarinet, cornet and percussions.
His puppets have been preserved and can be still found in the Peloponnesian Folklore Museum in Nafplion.
For the “Greek Entry”, there have been used writings by:
Prof. Walter Puchner
Prof. George Speaight
Prof. Antigoni Paroussi
Pup.(-peteer) Stathis Markopoulos