What is a repertoire for puppets?

What is a repertoire for puppets?
Repertoire practices in old or traditional puppet theatres
(17th-19th centuries)
29th-30th October 2020


Does the term repertoire, so commonly used in the context of theatre or music, have meaning for the puppet theatre? In the Encyclopédie mondiale des arts de la marionnette, Brunella Eruli uses the term “repertoire” to simply denote the set of plays performed by puppet theatres in the past, or parts of this set – the “religious repertoire” or the “parody repertoire” in particular.
Yet for the actors’ theatre, “repertoire” has taken on far more specific meanings. In his Dictionnaire historique et pittoresque du théâtre et des arts qui s’y rattachent (1885), Arthur Pougin identifies five distinct uses :

Repertoire: In the context of theatre, this word can have several different meanings which it is helpful to detail.

A theatre’s repertoire consists of the set of works which it owns, which have not been performed in any other theatre and which it can put on again as and when it wishes. (A) However, “current repertoire” is understood to denote all the plays performed at least occasionally; and plays which have not been performed for a long time and are no longer known by the artists, are said to be “no longer part of the repertoire”. – (B) On the other hand, in some theatres, lyric theatres for example, which change their programme on a daily basis, “drawing up the week’s repertoire” denotes the act of setting out a detailed daily schedule of every show that will be put on that week. (C) - Lastly, an artist’s repertoire consists of all the roles he has ever played in all the different shows in which he has performed. In provincial theatres, a director will never sign up an actor until he has been sent a list of these roles and shows. This list constitutes an exact and detailed account of his repertoire. […] (D)

The Comédie-Française uses the term ‘grand répertoire’ or simply ‘repertoire’ to denote the set of great classical works, whether tragedy or – more often – comedy, which are the glory of this theatre and which were the landmark pieces of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. […] (E)

When transposed to the marionette and puppet theatre, this notion raises several questions:

1) In the sense of “works belonging exclusively to a theatre or a company” (A).

- How is a puppet theatre’s identity constructed? What role does the choice of staged              works play in the construction of this identity?
- What role does the transmission of the works play in establishing a puppet theatre tradition? Can this transmission remain within a company, passing from one generation to the next?
- What is the function of author commissioning – a quest for renewal? An affirmation of filiation or artistic continuity?
- What place do plays written by the puppeteer or his artistic team occupy in the repertoire? Do they exclude other productions? Do they bear sole responsibility for constructing the company’s identity?

2) In the sense of “list of productions still being performed” (B).

- Unlike actors’ theatre companies which generally pass from one production to the next, puppeteers often continue to put on several shows in a single period. How have these practices evolved in the present?

- What role do the economic conditions of production and transmission play in the development of the repertoire? For example, in alternating short-form and long-form shows, or the current trend towards creating intermediate forms, preludes to the development of longer or more alternative shows, in response to constraints imposed by programmers? Is the choice of productions for children or for the general public?

3) In the sense of “alternating performances in a given period”. (C).

- How does a permanent, static puppet theatre construct its repertoire? What it its performance calendar? What is the relationship between the performance calendar and that of other human activities (religious or other holidays, seasons, etc.)?

- How is an evening programme constructed in traditional theatres? What place do the different genres occupy (drama or melodrama, farce, transformation acts, etc.)?

- What relationships can be observed between puppet theatre repertoires and those of the actors’ theatre? How is a society’s “theatre system” (Giovanni Marotti) constructed, with the respective functions of its different stages? Does puppet theatre help to keep alive a repertoire neglected by actors (fairy tales, melodramas, farces)? Does it mean that works being performed in prestigious theatres can be transmitted to a wider public (and in what form – reduced, parodic, etc.)? Does it allow us to explore different, more innovative, or experimental repertoires?

4) In the sense of “roles which an interpreter is capable of playing” (D). The puppet theatre interpreter is obviously the puppeteer. But certain puppet characters, who reappear in one production after another, have ended up functioning like a typecast character actor in a troupe, or like the masks in Commedia dell’arte. This raises the following questions:

- What different roles could a puppet like Guignol, Kasperl or Dom Robert have played, and what are their characterisations (social, psychological, etc.)? Are they limited to the comic register? Are they always protagonists, or do they also appear in secondary roles?

- For typecast characters which the actors’ theatre and the puppet theatre have in common (Arlequin), are the roles allocated to them on these two stages comparable?

5) In the sense of “grand repertoire” (E). This term, which denotes the “classic” artistic works of a given language, culture, or civilisation, is of little concern to the puppet theatre because of its traditionally marginal position. Nonetheless:

- Are there any works for puppets (or just arguments?) which could be said to have travelled around Europe and contributed to the building of a base of common cultural references?

  • Can we identify among the works performed in a particular form of puppet theatre those which, passing from one generation to the next, or even from one artistic team to another, are at the very heart of this form’s repertoire? Can the episode depicting Roland’s madness for the Sicilian pupi, Le Déménagement de Guignol in the Lyon tradition, Le Pont cassé for shadow theatre, be considered as “classics” of their art? With what consequences?

The challenge of the 2nd seminar was to reflect on the different practices involved in constituting a puppeteer’s repertoire in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as well as on the different traditions which took root and which have sometimes lasted until the present day.

Participants’ contributions to the online seminar were rich and took varied forms. This why you will find on this site:

  • articles in, at minimum, French and English (and sometimes also in their original language: German, Spanish or Italian)
  • video contributions
  • contributions in slide format (PowerPoint-type presentations).

Nota Bene: For access to these documents in French, please select the French version of this site.

◊ Dom Roberto Theater by Christine Zurbach,

 Puppet plays in Britain by John McCormick,

◊ Pulcinella, Punch, Polichinelle... Continuity and discontinuity in glove-puppet repertoires (17th - 19th centuries) by Didier Plassard.

◊ The repertoire of travelling puppet theatre in 19th -century France: The case of the Chok-Pitou Theatre by Yana Kor

◊ “Der gute Mercks” - The Skill of an Excellent Memory by Lars Rebehn (Puppentheatersammlung Dresden)

◊ The "Betlem de Tirisiti" and the traditional repertoire of puppet cribs by Jaume Lloret (University of Alicante)

Last updated : 17/05/2022