Art / Travel

Puppet Masters Around the World

Lele Theatre Door

We were wandering the streets of Vilnius, Lithuania one Sunday morning, watching the ebb and flow of people streaming in and out of its myriad churches, when we stumbled across an interesting sight.

James said, “Check out this cool door!”

We looked up and were instantly captivated by the figures above the door of the Vilnius Teatras “Lele”. Puppets.

Lele Theatre Puppets

“Lele” is a Lithuanian word for a puppet or puppet master. This state-sponsored theater, founded in 1958, occupies the former house of Duke Oginsky in the Old Town of Vilnius. Award-winning puppeteers perform for young and old, both at home and abroad, while skillful designers create a variety of puppets, as well as masks for the actors.

That night we started talking about all the different types of puppets we’ve seen around the world … and remembered from our childhood.

Photo courtesy of Ross Hawkes

Photo courtesy of Ross Hawkes

In the USA whether you were raised on Howdy Doody and Lamb Chop, or Kermit and Miss Piggy – or even Yoda – puppets probably created a strong visuals memory in your life.

It boils down to this: puppetry is all about storytelling – whether it’s a child’s fairytale, religious parable, national tradition, or adult morality play. These inanimate objects called puppets, are given life so they can tell the tale.

Punch & Judy

When we lived in London, Punch and Judy were all the rage. Of course these days, they have to be a little more politically correct. Judy no longer bashes in Punch’s skull, and Punch doesn’t drop babies from windows or kill witches. And they say video games are violent!


On our recent RTW we also encountered puppets in several other countries. For example, Italy is totally devoted to its Pinocchio, but few people realize that the original character was not the sweet, lovable Disney version. He was a spoiled child in need of some tough love.

Greek Puppets

In Greece we came across these shadow puppets in a busy flea market, so we asked for the story. It’s called Karagiozis – a form of shadow puppetry of Greek and Turkish folklore. The main character Karagiozis, is a trickster with a humpback that represents the weight of the world, one of his arms is extremely long, and he is barefoot with tattered clothes. Every performance revolves around his everlasting quest for money by impersonating someone wealthy, but he is often thwarted.

In Karagiozis the puppet master runs the show singlehandedly, manipulating each of the puppets and creating all the voices. The puppeteer stands behind a white sheet, with light shining through so that you can see the silhouette of the character.

Bali puppets

In Ubud, Bali we went to see a performance of Wayang Kulit, the famous shadow puppets of Bali. Wayang is an ancient form of story telling and often part of ritual ceremony. As in Greece, a single puppet master (“dalang”) works his magic behind the screen, using a kerosene lamp to create the shadows of his elegant leather puppets. This one-man show also creates all the voices — often in multiple Indonesian languages depending on the character! Many stories are based on the great Sanskrit epics from the Mahabharata and Ramayana; other performances depict local folktales.

It appears that the use of puppets is a universal practice. We would love to hear about your childhood … or adult memories of puppets.

And if you need a laugh for the day, and aren’t easily offended by puppets behaving badly, check out this talented street puppeteer. Remember … we warned you!

No Strings Attached!

What do you think? We'd love to know!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s