Асоциация на куклените театри


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Brief history

Popular Puppet Theatre:
The ritual-rite
Puppetry in Bulgaria has ancient roots. They can be found even in pagan rituals of the ancient Thracians from the VI century BC.
From time immemorial the homeland of Thrace Dionysus, Pan and Orpheus. Familiar Dionisiadi considered the source of the theatrical plays ever as a whole. The roots of the puppetry art can be found as early as the Thracian cult rites, some of which evolved through the centuries and have survived till the present – Koukeri, German, Mara Lishanka, etc. The puppet in these rites was a symbol and an object of the specific attitude of the ritual-performer.

"Koukeri" or "Koukeri’s plays" – masked bands of young men participating in one of the most colorful rituals of Bulgaria during Shrovetide. This plays inherited from pagan times, entered later in the Christian tradition. The Koukeri are dressed in furs, with sheep bells hanging. They wear high fur caps with colorful ornaments and masks. Every region, and often every village has its own masks. Zoomorphic masks prevail.

Peperuda (Butterfly) The decoration with leaves and twigs is a theatrical element is preserved even today in folk rites and rituals. The custom of " Peperuda" (Butterfly) is a masking of an yoang girl by decorated with twigs and leaves.

Gherman Traditional puppet used in ritual prayers for rain and fertility. The ritual has a definite theatrical element wherein the puppet is a passive participant. The figure represents a man and is about 20-30 cm tall made of clay. The head itself is crudely made, the hands are crossed as of the dead. On the contrary the phallus is especially emphasised. The Gherman puppet was put in the coffin and covered with flowers.

Mara lishanka "Mara-Lishanka" is a puppet made mostly of slippers. It is dressed in female clothing. The ritual is performed by young girls and it is for a good harvest and fertility of young women.

The home made puppet theatre
Puppets made from gourds, leaves, rags, corn cobs or fruit are found in almost every village and enjoy the play and fun for children.

                                martenici-1 martenici-2
The elaboration of Martenitsi is also Bulgarian specific tradition, where red and white tassels (formed respectively) represent male and female figures. The Martenitsas are presents who are given for health and prosperity with the coming of spring in the beginning of March (March = Mart – Martenitsa).

The popular traveling puppeteers
For nearly five centuries Bulgaria was under the yoke of Ottoman impery (1396-1878). The Turkish theatre traditions has have its influence on the bulgarians but the shadow theater, "Karagöz" was not so popular between Bulgarian population, like it is in Greece for exemple. The only traces that remain now "Karaghöz" are terms passed into common parlance as "karagöztchia" and "karagöztchiïstvo" employees, according to circumstances, either positively or negatively.

Between the forms of the popular puppet theater, we can point out: "Puppets on the toggle" and many varieties of "theater of the chest", over which are placed several (up to 4-5) different puppets operated by thread puppeteer's hand, playing fiddle or tambourine. Interesting is an accurate picture of one such performance from the late 19th century created by Austro-Hingarian historian, adventurer and artist Felix Kanitz.


The Chengi are also a variety of string puppets with a simple wooden mechanism that twirl or jump in the accompaniment of music.

nenoData on such a wandering Bulgarian artist can be found in the end of the 19-th century – Kukladjiyata Neno and others. The characters of the Bulgarian popular puppet theater have different names: Radka and Kolyo, Ivancho and Marika, Racho and Deshka, Karakolyo and Penka, etc. Their popularity has regional significance, no one has proved to be a national puppetry heroes.

Development the Thought for Puppet Theatre in Bulgaria (1892 - 1946)
pantomimeIn the idea of the creation the Bulgarian puppet theater, a considerable role has the pursuit of Bulgarian intellectuals to determine the European cultural values. The members of the circle "Rodno izkustvo" to "Slavianska beseda" adopted as its agenda upon the puppet theater in Europe to develop in the spirit of the national specificity. This model became the aesthetics of the entire Bulgarian puppet theater. European forms of puppet theater reach to Bulgarians relatively late (end of XIX c), by visiting a foreign puppet troupes. In 1892, during the First international industrial agricultural fair in Plovdiv, visit the famouse English Marionette Theatre of Thomas Holden, who conquered the hearts of the audience.

The Czech influence
cech-influenceCzechs actively present in the cultural life in Bulgaria before and after the Liberation. Realistically "European" type of Puppet Theater in the early 20th century, the country could be seen in Proshek’s family (home) theater and in the puppet theater of society "Czech" in Sofia. From there starts the ideas and draw revelers from the "pile of Brambazatsite", whose first show is about the creation of puppet theater to the "Slavianska beseda" (1924).

unimaIn May 1929, the Czechs are the initiators and hosts of the formation of the first theatrical organization in the world – UNIMA. In the work of the first congress in Prague took part Elisaveta Konsoulova-Vazova, co-founder of the puppet theater to the "Slavianska beseda".

The only puppets that are used in Bulgaria since 1892 till 1946 are marionetts. String puppets are used in the “Art Puppet Theater” to Slavianska beseda (1924-1940), leaded by Ekaterina Bazilevich; with marionetts were played: the theaters Stefan Pentchev and Ivan Russev (1928 and 1929); “The Bulgarian Teoatro dei Piccoli” (1930); The Batembergski’s Theatre (1942-1952) and The Theatre of Georgi Saravanov in Plovdiv (1946-1952).
The desire of puppeeers from this period is just "the illusion". Actor bent over the marionette. He protects and guides it from a distance, through the strings. He is the God and dominates the puppet by his impulses. In fact the marionetists create "a Drama Puppet Theatre", hoping that the puppet can successfully replace the live actor. Aim to achieve a harmonious and scenic style marionette is treated as an artificial actor, and its artificiality is accepted as a principle of artistic performances.

The German influence – the 40s
During World War II, Mara Penkova – an actress from the National Theatre in pension specialize puppetry in the Third Reich (1942). At the end of the war, surrendered to the German attitude changed dramatically, but Penkova was able to use the accumulated knowledge and in 1946 she has establish in Sofia a new “Children's Puppet Theatre", whose successor is now “Sofia Puppet Theatre”.
Penkova, even she was a member of the existing till 1940 “Art Puppet Theatre” brings something new for Bulgaria then – the hand puppet. Using the plasticity of the human hand, this puppet proves it self as much more dynamic and more grotesque. A different is the position of the actor after it. There is no patronizing aspect, but just the opposite – elevating it over him, the actor turns the puppet into an idol. He subjects to is. The puppet became a "god" and he gives it all his energy to live "it." The space behind the screen allows deployment of mise en scène compositions in depth, and movements of the puppets in various areas in the vertical space of the stage.

The Russian influence 50‘s – Obraztsov.
In the 50s, the place of leading puppet force has been granted to the Soviet Union. Sergei Obraztsov and his theater makes big worldwide tours. This earned him great international popularity and makes it the undisputed global leader in puppetry. His theory about "the miracle of vivify mattery" for years is a leading formula defining the subject of puppetry art in Bulgaria. He has a preference for puppets on screen. However marionette is blamed as humanlike depends of new non-metaphorical understanding of the puppet theater.
The performances of Obraztsov’s theatre with rod puppets become sensations. The Soviet modification of Javanese puppet "vayag golek" – so named “yavayka” (javayka), spread throughout Eastern Europe. This “model” dominates on the puppet stages over 20 years, and the puppet theaters in several socialist capitals placed in front of his name the adjective Central.
Large-scale performances with big number of puppets and many puppeteers become a benchmark for superiority over the West. Yavayka offers a special, romantic fairy-expression – flamboyant suit a wide gesture and smooth graceful movements. Those are new aesthetic elements for puppeteers in Bulgaria. Again has start tolks about “the artistry”, although it is a priority still at the “Art Puppet Theatre” (1929-1940), leaded by Ekaterina Bazilevich. But now, when the country is linked political with Russian culture, it sounds in new contexts. Moreover, henceforth demand a balance between the aesthetics of form and aesthetics of the content will become mandatory corrective.

“The Nightingale” by Pencho Manchev.
Directing:Luben Saev. Set Design: Milka Nacheva
Central (Capital) Puppet Theatre – Sofia (1954)

The French influence 60’sYves Joly.
In the late 50s the Bulgarian puppet theaters go on the international scene. They went to Bucharest, which hosts international festivals of UNIMA. The abroad travels literally open the eyes of the puppeteers from Bulgaria. Particularly strong are they triggered by a performance with miniatures for adults, presented by the French puppeteer Yves Joly. Valuable the show is not the plot, but the metaphorical language for associative transfer of events. Miniatures as "Tragedy of paper", "Just Hands" and of course "Les Parapluies Animes” show a completely new way of thinking and expression through symbols, signs and metaphors. As a result of the First International Festival the belief in the illusionary theater is shaken. It began to talk seriously about the conditional and signs nature of the puppet. This is the beginning of the de-mystification the puppet in Bulgaria.

Opening to the international
Real echo of this is the emergence of the Second Festival in Bucharest (1960) two completely different shows: "Rabbit School" by Pencho Manchev, director Liliana Docheva, scene. Yordanka Licheva and "Peter and the Wolf" after the music by Prokofiev, director Atanas Ilkov and Nikolina Georgieva scene. Yordanka Licheva and architect. Ivan Tsonev. Especially for the festival in a performance included shortened versions of both performances. This compilation show has great success.


Peter and the Wolf, a symphonic tale by Sergei Prokofiev.
Staging At. Ilkov and N. Georgieva, J. Licheva Scene and architect. Ivan Tsonev.

The Creative Labs
We can not but note that similar findings are achieved not just by making the theater, and through targeted searches in a particular aesthetic effect. Those laboratory operating principles found in all major periods in the theater world. They are the starting point for those who do theater or discuss its history and aesthetics - they just change his face.
Over 60th the Central Puppet Theater is a real theater laboratory. For 10 years it became the spiritual center of unprecedented competition. As directors put: Liliana Docheva, Sergei Visonov, Nina Stoycheva, Atanas Ilkov and Nikolina Georgieva. Then there are came displaced Julia Ognianova, Ivan Teofilov and later Lyuben Groys. As designers work Milka Nacheva, Yordanka Licheva, Lilyana Angelova, Gencho Simeonov, Arch. Ivan Tsonev, Lyubka Peeva, Iva Hadjieva.
Although it is the child-oriented theater, it makes shows for adult audience as well. The most successful performance in way is "The Treasure of Sylvester" (1962). Director Atanas Ilkov and Stage Designer architect Ivan Tsonev.
The main trends in demand are: the Puppet Pantomime; the Theatre of the Poetic Speech; the Theatre of the artist.


King Marko, script for puppet theater by Ivan Teofilov
Directed by Ivan Teofilov and architect. Ivan Tsonev. Scene Arch. Ivan Tsonev.

Architect Ivan Tsonev is one of the most prominent reformers in the country. Even today it remains unsurpassed master of puppet stage design. In its decision, the visual is so strong that direction often comes down to service the picture. It borns the formula "The Puppet Theatre is a dynamic scenography."

King Marko 1967, was his largest work, which became a legend. He decided the show with huge two-meter carved puppets dressed in sackcloth. He draws ideas for his work from iconography, which is very brave in the time of militant atheism. This practice is a large-scale, stylized "tableau", combined with poetic speech of Teofilov and the music of Penderecki.

“The Love of Alcest or Misanthrop”, burlesque for puppets after of Moliere.
Staging by Luben Groys. Stage Design Arch. Ivan Tsonev. Sculptor Lubomir Tsakev.

“The Love of Alcest or Misanthrop”, after the Moliere, directed by Luben Groys is again a peak in his work with unusual puppets memorable feeling of society of porcelain people.
The modern shows, definitely oriented not for children, have a great success at the festivals across the Iron Curtain. Discussions are ongoing: what is the puppet theater, a theater art or a plastic art. Is that belongs to the director or the playwright or to the painter? The performances for children filled the halls, but unfortunately in the festival podiums they sound infantile to adults who appreciate them and not carry so much needed confidence and prestige.

Radiation theaters in the provincesIn (1946), in Plovdiv, Georgi Saravanov – a circus actor and marionetist, based a new puppet theater – today The State Puppet Theatre – Plovdiv. Saravanov built in Plovdiv a real stationary stage with four marionette bridges. In addition to creating brand children's performances, its ambitions are directed towards the connection of the puppet with "high arts". He stages large-scale operas, under the accompaniment of a chamber orchestra. In some of them has paricipated about 100 marionettes.


"Cherevichki" – opera by Tchaikovsky, 
Staging and design – Georgi Saravanov, Conductor – Ruslan Raychev 
Puppet Theatre – Plovdiv (1950)

In 1952, Georgi Saravanov, went to town of Varna, where he based a new puppet theatre – State Puppet Theatre – Varna.
In the period between 1946-1990 twenty state puppet theatres were established and 2 municipal theatres. Among them are the State Puppet Theatres in: Bourgas, Blagoevgrad, Dobrich, Gabrovo, Haskovo, Kardzali, Pazarjik, Pleven, Rousse, Shoumen, Silistra, Stara Zagora, Sliven, Targoviste, Varna, Vidin, Vratza and Yambol. Many amateur puppet formations were founded as well.
Large-scale puppet productions were made with many actors and puppets (over 20) and with heavy sets.

The professional education
1962 marked the beginning of the professional training for puppet theatre art with the opening of graduate courses at the National Academy of Theatre & Film Arts, Sofia. The Academy has educated not only a greater part of the professionals in puppetry in Bulgaria, but also students from Nigeria, Mexico, Yugoslavia, Japan, Syria, Greece, etc.

The creation of the Bulgarian Centre of UNIMA and festivals
In 1963 the Bulgarian Center of UNIMA was established. Thus the country became part of the world puppetry process and the popularization of the Bulgarian school began world-wide. Bulgaria has had members for many years on the Executive Committee of UNIMA – proof of the international prestige of its puppetry tradition.
In the beginning of 70th to the puppet theatres comes the first wave of professional educated specialists as the directors: V.Apostolov, Zl.Zlatev and Y. Tzankova and the actors: A.Yankova, I.Apostolova, Tz.Neshkova, G.Georgiev-Getz, T. Dimitrov, V. Sivinova, Y.Raykova, etc. New Stage Designers as V.Nedelchev, L.Tzakev, I. Hadjieva cam’s to the puppetry land as well.
In the 80th arrive the second generation of yang creators: the directors: K. Argiropolous, Sl. Malenov and P. Pashov; Stage Designers: M.Petrova, S. Bachvarova, A. Poulieva; the composers. M. Ivanov and P. Tzankov and the new wave of actors: N. Hadjieva, Iv. Vesselinov, J. Pashova, M. Dimitrova, V. Kiosev, etc.

The Festivals
In 1972 the International Festival “The Golden Dolphin” was founded in Varna by Yordan Todorov. It still remains the most outstanding forum for achievements in the field of puppetry in Bulgaria. The initiative was followed by the foundation of other smaller forums - the chamber festival “Two Are Too Few, Three Are Too Many” - Plovdiv, “Pierrot" - Stara Zagora (for adult performances) and "Pupper Fair" - Sofia. All this stimulates the development of the Bulgarian puppet theatre and various companies began touring abroad and participating at international festivals.
The researchers and critics as V. Stefanov, D. Kanoushev D. Sinigerska,, E. Vladova and E. Belo took part in this process.

After the collapse of the communist regime a total economic crisis affected the entire Bulgarian society. The budgets of state puppet theatres were severely cut. Many puppeteers became unemployed. Some of them founded private puppet companies as an alternative to the state establishments. Between 1989-96 approximately 35 private formations were founded such as Theatre "Atelie 313", The ARIEL Theatre, Theatre CREDO, Theatre M.M. and others, a majority of which are in Sofia. The overall economic situation led to a decrease in the scale of productions, and so chamber performances became a preferred format. Despite the difficulties though, the Bulgarian puppet theatre tradition is still extremely vital, proof for which are the numerous awards and international acclaims Bulgarian artists receive at forums all over the world.

Author of articles: Slavcho Malenov
Translation: Lyubov Shtilianova

DZHOUROVA Rayna, et autres, Bulgarian puppet theatre, Sofia, Information Centre, 1979.
MARTIN-LAHMANI Sylvie, « La Bulgarie en chantier » in Mû, l’autre continent du théâtre n 10, Paris, 1998.
Théâtre, numéro spécial « Théâtre en Bulgarie », Sofia, 1978.
BARNEV Veliko, KENAROV Ivan, Théâtre d'État de marionnettes Varna, décoré de l'ordre « Drapeau rouge du travail », porteur de prix nationaux et internationaux, Varna, Théâtre d'État de marionnettes Varna, 1981.
VLADOVA, Elena – “Blessing of the puppets”, Saiuz na artistite v Balraria, Sofia 1997
VLADOVA, Elena, “History of the Thought for Puppet Theatre in Bulgaria 1892-1972”, IE - BAS, C, 2000.

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