Puppet theatre festival to take place in Prague this weekend

This coming weekend will see the 11th annual puppet theatre festival at Prague's Novodvorska cultural centre, a marathon of performances by thirteen puppet theatre troops from all over the Czech Republic. But it's not only kids who can look forward to seeing their favourite fairy tales - there will be performances specially tailored to an adult audience as well. More from Alena Skodova.

The festival has been around since 1991, when Czech puppeteers wanted to become more visible within the UNIMA international puppeteers' association. It's Czech name translates roughly as "One Flew Over a Puppeteers' Nest" and its director Nina Malikova told us that it is somewhat unique because it presents professional puppeteers alongside amateur enthusiasts. There are two even bigger puppet theatre festivals organized annually in the Czech Republic, with the one held in Chrudim being the oldest puppet theatre festival in the world. It celebrates its 50th birthday this year.

Looking at the programme of this year's "Nest" I couldn't find any troop from Prague, and Nina Malikova explained why:

"It was our intention. When putting together the concept of this year's festival we wanted to acquaint Prague spectators with other puppet theatres than those they know from Prague. Some theatres from other towns do extremely interesting performances which children in Prague have no chance to see. The most popular children's theatre in Prague, Minor, has been closed for more than two years now, and they are saving a new performance for their festive re-opening in December, so we decided to show theatres from outside Prague."

Mrs. Malikova told me that she and her colleagues usually choose the most successful performances that have been premiered in the past year in both professional and amateur puppet theatres. Every year, individual performances are assessed by the committee of the Czech branch of UNIMA, and most of the year's popular shows will be performed at the festival.

The festival has its own award, called the Erik, and Mrs. Malikova explained that it is the only prize in the Czech Republic to be awarded to puppeteers, otherwise they - unfortunately - do not receive much acknowledgement for their work.

"The Erik award was created again by the presidium of the Czech branch UNIMA, because no official prize for puppeteers exists. Our bird-figure is named after Erik Kollar, a famous Czech contemporary puppeteer, and it even resembles him. First it was considered more or less as a joke, as a puppeteers' Oscar, but over all those years it has become quite prestigious. This year we have made the criteria for awarding Erik more strict: the best performance will be chosen by 42 puppet theatre experts. The results will be announced on Sunday, at the end of the festival."

Mrs. Malikova explained that in the Czech Republic, puppet theatre has been becoming more and more popular among adults as well, and so the festival's organizers have prepared several treats specially for them - such as the opening play, called Tomorrow We'll Start the Ball Rolling, written by the Czech president, playwright Vaclav Havel.