Can we consider Barcelona as an important puppetry capital? I believe the answer can be “yes”, even if of course some explainations are needed. In the last years we are living a clear expansion of this type of theatre, which seems very clear from the increase of the number of premieres and new puppeteers —an unseen situation since a long time ago. This movement is essential to make statements like the answer I just wrote at the beginning, but still there are some points we should list to develop our arguments. These could be like the following:
1. Barcelona is a peculiar place in the history of puppets. At the beginning of the Seventies, several groups broke with the tradition and dared to go beyond it, searching for new horizons for the puppets theatre language.
2. Also at the early Seventies, in Barcelona, the first International Puppets Festival of the country started. This event lasted many years and had a big influence not only in local companies but also in all Spain and Europe, until it became NEO Festival (see this articles in Catalan).
3. This ongoing process raised the number of important companies that have set solid foundations of recent history, with an enormous influence on the new generations of puppeteers from or in Barcelona. Historical groups have presented their shows in the most important festivals worldwide and many of them are still world top companies.
4. This movement grew and developed arount the Institut del Teatre until the Nineties. The Institut del Teatre was not only organizing the Festival but it was also home of the Escola de Titelles (School of Puppetry) and the workshop run by Harry V. Tozer. All that generated audience, students and professors of a big importance.
5. Three teachers of the marionette, Harry V. Tozer, Herta Frankel and Pepe Otal, to whom it would be fair to add Mariona Masgrau, from a more independent scene, got to make Barcelona a real capital of string puppets known worldwide. The number of puppeteers practising this specialty nowadays is very high, and all of them have learned the job in the city.
6. All that creativity reduced its intensity in the Nineties, though. Institut del Teatre lost part of its attachment to the movement, in particular to the International Festival, and historical companies felt into a sort of routine. But also in the Nineties the creativity of new groups started to push and finally leaded to a new scenario that surpassed that momentary lapse of depression.
7. All this have been enriched recently by the outbreak of new groups and young puppeteers, with in addition a lot of female artists. This is why we can speak today about Barcelona as one of the most important centers of puppetry in Europe and the world.
Of course, there are some shades in all these arguments. One of them is the bad new of a change in the direction of Pueblo Español and the loss of two men that had done much for puppetry’s normalization in the city: Jacques Trudeau, UNIMA International Secretary-General, and Jorge Bernárdez, manager and director of the Pueblo Español and one of the most active impellers of the TOT Festival. At the same time, it would be good not to loose the regular presence of Jacques Trudeau in town. Another shade over the importance of Barcelona for puppetry is the difficulty that puppeteers face to perform in the streets, as now they can be prosecuted under new punishing laws.
By now, it would be good to build new networks —the reconstitution of UNIMA Catalunya is the very good news, a first step to have a puppeteers representation back—, set the existing ones and to try to project the future, despite of the economic crisis we have to deal with. A crisis that, like all crisis, can be seen as a good opportunity for the future proposals. Hopefully Barcelona is able to overcome the present difficulties and become in a not so far away future, with the energy and the creativity that local artists have always demonstrated, a Great Capital of Puppets worldwide —something that today already it seems it is trying to be.