Swiss puppet troupe established in 1943 by the self-taught puppeteer, Richard Koelner (Basel, 1904-1993). The Basler Marionettentheater was officially inaugurated on March 27, 1944, the date on which Koelner and his cast of puppets and actors first opened at the Kunsthalle in Basel with Karl Simrock’s Puppenspiel vom Doktor Faust. The company also performed at St Albans until 1955. The travelling company finally found a permanent home in an ancient cellar (Zehntenkeller) on the Münsterplatz where it also found the much-needed space for its workshop.
The Basler Marionettentheater performed almost exclusively for an adult audience with a repertoire that included adaptations of literary, dramatic and lyrical works among which there were three versions of Simrock’s Faust (1944, 1957, 1975), D’Mondladärne (The Lantern of the Moon, 1951) by Paul Koelner, Dr Dood im Epfelbaum (Death in the Apple Tree, 1956) by Paul Osborn, and Triptychon, a Christmas show by Felix Timmermans that has been performed almost every year since 1945. Other well known performances staged by the company included: Turandot – Prinzessin von China (1949) by Carlo Gozzi and Friedrich Schiller; Mozart’s Zaidet (1956); Der kleine Prinz (The Little Prince, 1960) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Nathan der Weise (Nathan, the Wise Man, 1983). Twelve years after it was established, the company started producing shows for children using the Basel local dialect. These puppet performances were based on popular fairy tales like Rumpelstilzli (Rumpelstiltskin), Kalif Storgg (Caliph Stork), Zwerg Nase (Dwarf Nose).
In 1969, Richard Koelner was one of the founders of the Association Suisse des Marionnettistes. The Association is a member of UNIMA.
In 1983, Koelner handed over the reins of the Basler Marionettentheater to his assistant Wolfgang Burn. The latter had trained as a painter at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel. The new artistic director brought a degree of experimentation to the stage with puppet manipulation in full view, new forms and plays performed by both actors and puppets. Marianne Marx was co-director of the theatre from 1996 to 2002. The most important among the productions of this period include: Himmelwärts (Skyward, 1987) by Ödön von Horváth; Calderón de la Barca’s Das grosse Welttheater (The Great Theatre of the World, 1989); Der Sturm (1994), based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest; Die Dreigroschenoper (The Three Penny Opera, 2000) by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, along with a large number of fairy tales for children. The troupe presented about a hundred shows every year and performed before close to thirteen thousand spectators both at home and on tour. The theatre also owed its busy schedule and artistic activity to institutional patronage and the voluntary participation of about forty puppeteers.
- Koelner, Richard. “Das Basler Marionettentheater”. Jahresbericht 1985 [Annual Report 1985]. Basel: Gesellschaft für das Gute und Gemeinnützige, 1985.
- Kotte, Andreas, Simone Gojan, Joël Aguet, and Pierre Lepori, eds. Theaterlexikon der Schweiz/Dictionnaire du théâtre en Suisse/Dizionario teatrale svizzero/Lexicon da teater svizzer. Berne: Chronos, 2005. (In German, French, Italian, Romansh)