Theatre of metaphors is never boring

Actors share stage with puppets
By Lyudmila Minakova

Petrushka, Pippi-Longstocking, Morozko and other fairy tale characters are soon to celebrate International Puppet Theatre Day. Made from paper, plastic and cloth, the puppets take centre stage, while their puppeteers remain hidden. However, no puppet theatre can exist without the controlling masters. Puppeteer Dmitry Rachkovsky shares his views on whether puppets can perform Pushkin’s Queen of Spades or Korotkevich’s Boat of Despair with sincerity.

Do you remember how you felt on first seeing a puppet show?

I remember very clearly. I wasn’t young, being 11 when my father took me to see ‘Master and Margarita’, saying: ‘You need to see it!’ It was wonderful: a staging that remains unsurpassed.

How do you really view your puppets? As marionettes, colleagues or rivals?

Puppets are a continuation of my own hands and my own existence. When an actor performs a dramatic role, they use their voice, gestures and facial expression as necessary. In working with a puppet, you use your voice but their hands to reveal the thoughts and soul of the character. Puppet theatre relies on the puppeteer being able to convey expression through ‘another’.

Oleg Zhyugzhda, the Grodno Puppet Theatre’s Director, believes that actors should make and mend their own puppets. Do you do so?

I’ve mended them many times but have never dared to create my own puppet: it’s a true art requiring training. My hobby is to revive household items or old toys — to keep my wife and nephews happy.

Puppet shows have been receiving a great many awards at contests and festivals of late, showing that they can rival those of traditional theatre. Do you think that puppets have the sincerity to perform Faust, Queen of Spades or Boat of Despair? For a long time, puppet theatre was viewed as an amusement but children so what makes it suitable for adult stories?

Puppet theatre has the capacity to be hugely expressive. Besides the actors and sets, props become important — such as a glass of water in ‘Boat of Despair’. I believe it has a great future but theatre overall is less popular than it was, being overtaking by cinema. Directors of puppet theatres actually have more scope for experimentation than traditional drama theatres, since you can use any type of puppet on stage, to create any effect you desire.

Puppetry tends to attract those who are fond of dreaming, since puppet theatre is a place of metaphors: more so than traditional theatre. There are no limits. For instance, when I’m reading a book, I always imagine it as a puppet performance in my head. Meanwhile, on watching traditional theatre performances, I imagine how they would look transformed into a puppet show. Oleg Zhyugzhda’s ‘Queen of Spades’ is a good example; I immediately noticed his imagination and fresh approach.

Is there any play in which you’d love to perform?

I often hear this question but never know how to answer. I’ve already played so many roles — including that of Death and of Yehoshua. Caligula and Hitler would be challenging roles!

Cinematic actors often look up to Sean Penn or George Clooney. Do puppeteers have their own idols?

I have no idols but there are many people from whom I’d love to learn. One is an actor from our theatre: Vladimir Gramovich, who is viewed by many, myself included, as a true teacher of mastery. A good puppeteer needs role idols among dramatic actors — and there are many such in old European, American and Russian films. We should follow their best examples while retaining our own identity.

Is puppet theatre popular? Who tends to watch such shows?

Puppet theatre is popular among those who’ve been, as it’s always unusual and surprising. It would be even more so if young people were encouraged to attend. Most audiences comprise intellectuals, who are unafraid of taking the leap of believing the stories are suitable for adults. I’m convinced that our Belarusian puppet theatre can break this stereotype. We are closer to Europe than Russia (where old puppet theatres mostly continue staging shows for children). In Europe, puppet theatre is more mature and intellectual: even children are treated like adults, with shows being educational and amusing.

Of what do you dream?

Artistically, I’d like to gather my former fellow students to jointly stage a major project. On a broader note, I’d like everyone to understand the importance of love; we are all God’s creatures, so we should live in peace rather than quarrel. We are facing tough times of discord but need to understand our nature — as human beings.

Have you ever met capricious puppets?

This happens often. Sadly, it depends on those who make them: artists and masters. Some puppets have technical faults or simply arouse dislike.

How does your family view your profession?

They’re happy for me. My wife watched ‘Church Wedding’ three times. She is also an artistic person, working in the sphere of journalism, so she knows a great deal. My family and friends understand my profession and, honestly, have never reproached me for earning a low salary. All understand that it’s impossible to make a lot of money in the sphere of art. Only two paths are possible: either make money or be involved in art.
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