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

deadline for submissions: 
July 15, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Salzburg University in Collaboration with the Salzburg Marionette Theatre

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 eighteenthcentury
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 streetperformances
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".1 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 stringpuppet
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
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