Czech professional puppet theatres
Prior to World War II. there was only one single professional puppet theatre in Czechoslovakia – The Theatre of Spejbl and Hurvínek, which was founded in Plzeň in 1930 by an outstanding puppeteer and dramatist, Josef Skupa. It was only in 1945 that the theatre, the repertory of which was based on two protagonists – father Spejbl and son Hurvínek, moved to Prague. It is thanks to these two figures that the Theatre of Spejbl and Hurvínek is one of our most popular puppet theatres, known primarily by children but adults as well, both at home and abroad.
The creation of a wide network of Czech professional puppet theatres after World War II. is related to the Theatre Act of 1948 which legislated the foundation of professional regional theatres. Among the first ones was the Prague Central Puppet Theatre (today the Minor Theatre), which since the beginning of its history based its style (contrary to the Theatre of Spejbl and Hurvínek where only marionettes are used in performances) mainly on the use of hand-held puppets – javajans. In the early fifties, on this basis other puppet theatres came into being in Bohemia and Moravia – in Brno, Liberec (later the famous Naive Theatre), České Budějovice, Kladno and Ostrava. Some of these puppet stages of this era ceased to exist (Teplice, Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně), while on the other hand the puppet theatre in Plzen came into being (today’s Alfa Theatre) which ranked successfully among the best Czech puppet theatres. For a long time the DRAK Puppet Theatre (1958) of East Bohemia was the youngest puppet stage which started to attract considerable attention towards the end of the sixties and which gradually became our most important puppet theatre, the style of which is based on a return to Czech puppetry tradition on one hand and on an inventive use of combining the live actor and the puppet on the other hand, finding a large number of admirers and followers at home as well as abroad. For the time being, the latest puppet theatre to appear is the Theatre of Variety (1987) performing at the Most Theatre of Drama. Next to these companies operating in their own theatre buildings, some independent professional associations appeared (Buchty a loutky, the Dejvice Theatre, the Theatre of the Forman Brothers, etc. which use puppets in their stagings of a studio character.
At present, there is a total of 10 professional (statutory) permanent puppet theatres in Bohemia and Moravia.
In view of the history of Czech puppetry, where the amateur puppet theatre plays an irreplaceable part, a survey of Czech puppetry must include a mention of amateur ensembles. Although their number has, in recent years decreased (there are about 200 registered amateur companies), the work of these mature amateur ensembles can often be compared with the work of professional puppeteers. The ensemble with a tradition of long standing worth mentioning is the Divadélko Říše Loutek (Little Theatre of the Realm of Puppets) and among the younger inspired groups it is the Céčko of Svitava, Čmukaři of Modřišice, Bouda a Střípek of Plzeň.