A Journey Into European Puppetry

Perníková chaloupka

Buchty Style in Prague

Buchty Witch

Whatever you do DO NOT eat any psychedelic gingerbread cookies this Old Witch might serve you. Especially if you are named Hansel and Gretel!

Wang Jue from near Shanghai found me through the video of my lecture on Puppetry as Antidote Art. (Evidently there’s not that much done in a serious manner about puppetry on YouTube.) She’s a composer, whose main task at the moment is to find a way to make avant garde music for children. Quite a task when you really ponder the idea. Anyway she had convinced the Chinese educational authorities of her proposal to make music from objects, somehow puppetry fit under that rubric. So she was also exploring the world of Czech homunculi, though for very different purposes than myself. She found me through the usual internet means and thus met me at my first Buchty a loutky (Cakes and Puppets) performance, a children’s piece called Norská Pohádka (A Norwegian Fairy Tale). She was accompanied by three students who were taking part in a two week puppetry workshop. We met after the show and I introduced them to B + L, who were glad to see me again and happy to meet a few future puppeteers. Radek, Vit and Zuzana were performing this particular piece, which did indeed feature Vit dressed up as a polar bear. The story involved a girl trapped by weird creatures in the fjords with dreams of a polar bear who is actually a prince, or so I understood it.

Buchty with Kids

Children playing with Buchty a Loutky’s set and features from a Norwegian Fairy Tale.

After the show Jue, the puppet students and I ambled towards what felt like a communist era eatery where the food was cheap, plentiful and bland, served in a smokey cafeteria style. We discussed puppetry and I told them to come back to see Buchty a Loutky’s Psycho Reloaded, their demented take on Hitchcock’s Psycho. (Sadly they all missed it.) Each of them seemed to intuitively grasp the need for puppetry to speak tactile reality into the abstract virtual present.

Buchty Trap

Trapped Puppets at the B + L Studios

I showed up a couple of days later at the Buchty studios where Marek and the gang greeted me warmly. (I suspect it makes a difference that I keep coming back.) And they allowed me to wander around the take photographs and watch as they began work on a new piece. They joked at the beginning as they sat around, saying “This is often how we work.” Don’t be fooled. They have created dozens of shows over the years, traveling around the country and beyond, once getting in trouble in Canada for some un-PC Czech sort of thing. The Czechs don’t really get being PC. If you have a culture largely based on dark humor much of what you do is going to be problematic in a friendly politically correct place like, say, Canada. And you wonder why I don’t dive too deeply into North American puppetry?

Buchty Devils

Buchty versions of the classic Czech Demons

The next Buchty a Loutky event was entitled Pět ran do čepice and involved the Czech rock band, Už Jsme Doma. I went there with French puppeteer Paulette. (I covered this in the essay immediately preceding this one.)

Jue & Paulette

Composer Jue & Marionnettiste Paulette meet at the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square in Prague

And then next night I ended up at some weird place called Cross Club, that reminded me a bit of the old New York City club Gargoyle Mecanique on Avenue B. Only it was much much bigger and so labyrinthine that I arrived at the Buchty a Loutky’s Psycho Reloaded ten minutes late because I got lost in the building. And I knew I was in trouble when I entered a room with five young dudes standing around Clockwork Orange droog style in old 19th Century Oom-Pah-Pah garb. Fortunately I had already experienced Psycho Reloaded before, back in 2012. And had taken a few shots, though I didn’t waste anytime getting more. Nevertheless they had actually dedicated this performance to me and I was lost in the old building escaping the Czech Sousaphone Society upstairs. Certain aspects of the show seemed crazier, then again this was NOT a children’s show… ever. But by the time you get to the big reveal that the dead mother is actually a stuffed weasel… okay let me say that again… that the dead mother of Norman Bates is actually, indeed literally, not exaggerating, this is a real taxidermy project, a dead weasel… It doesn’t matter too much that Norma has fallen in love with Marion Crane, who is still alive, as is Arbogast… well if you know Hitchcock’s Psycho you probably realized by the time that two of the Buchtys dressed as Mother start stabbing each other with violins while Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho shrieks are set on a loop, that this was a comic version!!!

Buchty Herrmann Stabs

Marek and Vit struggle it out before the Bloody Curtain in Psycho Reloaded

After the show Radek gave me a DVD copy of his new puppet film Malý Pán (Little Man), which proved to be a minor masterpiece, and which I’ll review separately in May. I helped Marek, Radek and Vit load the Buchty-mobile and then, after an animated ride through the parts of Prague tourists never see, was dropped off, in the same near to Nerudova Street, where I was staying. I said my farewell’s Radek, who wouldn’t be in my last show with them on Sunday and then trundled up the cobblestones to my temporary abode, the Residence Green Lobster.

Buchty Hansel

Hansel on Gingerbread Cookies

Finally on Sunday afternoon, my last official day in Prague, I returned to the Švandovo one more time for my 4th and last B + L show, Perníková Chaloupka, the Buchty version of Hansel and Gretel. Their version spends quite a bit of time with the woodsman father before the kids go traipsing off towards the gingerbread house and the evil old lady. But when she does appear? Watch out. She’ll feed you sweets… But oh my don’t eat them.

Buchty Psychedilic Hansel Gretl

Life After Gingerbread Cookies???

After the show I bid my fond farewells to Zuzana, Vit and Marek, promising to return yet again and hopefully with a real film crew, and disappeared into the evening; satisfied that I had gotten the most I could get out of my time in Prague for this edition of Gravity From Above. I had wondered if I really needed to go back to Prague this time. In truth, once the ball started rolling I was busy everyday.

Buchty Practice

Zuzana, Marek & Vit Rehearsing a new Buchty a Loutky show.

But there are a few more Prague stories next time and a little side trip to Plzen before I depart the Czech Lands. Won’t you keep reading and maybe even share these glimpses into Europe and puppetry with your friends?

More of our Buchty a Loutky visits can be found here. And here. And even here.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia (Just wait till I tell you about Georgia!)

April 1st 2016