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Puppet Theatre: In the Beginning were Puppets

Organization: Salzburg University
Categories: Miscellaneous
Event Date: 2020-01-30 to 2020-01-31 Abstract Due: 2019-07-15 Abstract Deadline has passed

Puppet Theatre: In the Beginning were Puppets
An Interdisciplinary Conference held at Salzburg University
in Collaboration with the Salzburg Marionette Theatre
30-31 January 2020

Puppets are a universal phenomenon that appears in all cultures. Varying in size from the miniscule to the colossal, puppetry is of an enormous diversity: from rounded (the string puppet or the marionette, the rod-puppet, the hand- or glove-puppet, the finger-puppet) to flat (the shadow-show, the toy or paper theatre); from 'living' marionettes and bodies fastened to performers, to 'held' puppets (Japanese Bunraku theatre), puppets come in all shapes and sizes. Performances involving puppets are no less variegated: spanning art forms as diverse as folk theatre and élite entertainment, one only needs to recall eighteenth-century operas penned for puppets; Gordon Craig's non-naturalistic refashioning of the actor as a mechanically operated 'Über-marionette' in turn-of-the-20th-century theatre; Modernist, avant?garde transformations of dancers and actors into puppets in experimental Bauhaus (Oskar Schlemmer's triadic ballet) and Dadaist performances; giant rod-puppets put to use by the radical political protest street-performances of The Bread and Puppet Theatre in New York in the 1960s; or Maurice Maeterlinck's symbolist dramas for marionettes and Alfred Jarry's proto-absurdist Ubu Roi (1888) for puppets, to name only a few examples.
Often wrongly classified in the Western world as puerile trifles, children's entertainment or educational tools, puppets are, in point of fact, enthralling - aesthetically, historically, philosophically and politically. As insensate, immobile figures mastered by human control to resemble animate beings, puppets are a welcome projection screen for human concerns and delusions, and are, indeed, often conceived as more than human. The earliest philosophical writings on puppets date back to Plato's conception of humans in terms of string-puppets; and the origin of puppets can veritably be traced back to ancient religious practice, ceremonial magic and animistic ritual, revealing the cultic function of puppets to the very day (e.g. Balinese Shadow Theatre).
Despite the high topicality of puppet theatre, there is a relative dearth of secondary literature thereon. This is unwarranted because research on puppet theatre is vital to exploring key theatrical parameters. Probably contemporaneous with the beginnings of theatre, puppets unclose essential qualities of theatre not least because of their semiophoric significance, i.e "the relationship between the material and the immaterial in the theatrical event, both in terms of the action on stage as well as in their Genetic and Paratheatrical components". In a city like Salzburg, a salient site for puppet theatre, given its tradition of the 'Salzburg Hanswurst' back to the late seventeenth century and its internationally acclaimed string-puppet opera productions of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, in 2016 included in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, this conference aims to chart the status quo of research on puppet theatre and foster interdisciplinary engagement with puppets in World Theatre.

To this end, we invite papers from a wide academic field as well as practitioners addressing topics such as:
the ethics and aesthetics of puppet theatre
the role and variety of puppets in performance
historical, anthropological, theological, political and intercultural perspectives
the practice of puppet theatre
case studies exploring individual puppet theatre traditions and productions

If you are interested in presenting a paper, please submit your proposal (400 words) and a CV (250 words) to ATELIER_GESPRAECH@sbg.ac.at by 15 July 2019. General participants are, of course, also welcome.

Organised by Professor Dr. Sabine Coelsch-Foisner and Dr. Christopher Herzog
University of Salzburg
Department of English and American Studies
Erzabt-Klotzstraße 1 (Unipark Nonntal)
5020 Salzburg

PLUS Kultur – Empowerment through Culture

Doctorate School Cultural Production Dynamics

Salzburg Marionette Theatre


Sabine Coelsch-Foisner