Belarusian puppet theatre. The first puppet theatre established in Belarus (formerly Belorussia), it opened with the name of the State Puppet Theatre of BSSR in 1938 in Gomel with the production of Po Shtchuchyemu Velen’yu (Wave of the Wind) by Elizabeth Tarahovskoya. In 1939, Vital Volsky wrote The Old Man and a Crane for the theatre, based on folk tales (stage title: Fairy/Magic Gifts); it was soon to become the most popular play in the national puppet theatre. This production was recognized with a national stamp in 2013.

During World War II, the company performed musical revues for the military personnel. From 1940 to 1947, the theatre was headed by Mikhail Babushkin. During that period the productions based on the Russian classics (Pushkin’s The Tale of the Priest And His Workman Balda and Chekhov’s Kashtanka about a loyal dog) appeared on the company’s playbill. In 1949, the company was disbanded and reopened in 1950, now in Minsk, under the leadership of Arkady Arkadyev.

Anatoly Lelyavsky (1923-1995) was the theatre’s artistic director from 1956, with Leonid Bykov (b.1927), its chief designer beginning in 1957. Their first productions (Ivan Czarevitch and the Grey Wolf, Dwarf-Nose, and Old Man and a Crane) declared the end of the era of naturalism in the puppetry of Belarus, taking the company through a period of complete rejuvenation.

In the mid-1960s, the company was given a permanent location in the Pioneer movie theatre where it has remained ever since. A certain stability obtained in that decade inspired a number of experimental adult productions, including Isidor Stock’s Divine Comedy, Vladimir Mayakovsky’s Bedbug, Nickolay Leskov’s Left-Handed Craftsman, Vasily Shukshin’s Till the Third Rooster Crows, Jaroslav Hašek’s The Adventures of the Good Soldier Ŝvejk Schweik, and Jean Anouilh’s The Lark, among others.

In the 1970s, a new creative duo of director Viktoria Kozlova and designer Alina Fomina began to work successfully with the company. Continuing the line of the foreign classics, the theatre added such national authors as Anatol Vertinsky, Pyatrus Makal, and Svetlana Klimkovich to its repertoire. Since the late 1970s, actors might mix with figures/objects on the puppet stage.

From 1986, the Belorusskyi gosudarstvennyi teatr kukol (Belarusian: Белорусский государственный театр кукол; English: Belarusian State Puppet Theatre) was headed by Alexey Lelyavsky (b.1957), a modern, bold, and distinctly individualistic director. Deepening its work with children, the company offered a number of revisionist interpretations of the traditional fairy-tale plots (The Story of Snow Queen As Told by Herself; Massenet’s Cinderella). The adult playbill included not only the customary adult material (such as Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita) but also such rare items as Yakub Kolas’ Simon the Musician; Gerhardt Hauptman’s Hannele; two Chekhov adaptations, The Seagull: A Reading and Farewell to Paris (a version of The Cherry Orchard); and Eternal Song inspired by the work of Yanka Kupala.

In 2005, a group of Lelyavsky’s students from the Belarusian State Academy of Arts (Belorusskaja Gosudarstvennaja Akademija Iskusstv; Белорусская государственная академия искусств) joined the company. In 2008, following the decision of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus, the theatre was awarded the title “Honorary team of Belarus”. In 2011, the company’s version of The Three Sisters was highly praised as part of the Panorama Theatre Arts Festival and was lauded for revealing “the deepest loneliness of a person, about their helplessness in front of life’s mystery, about their inability to live ‘here and now’ and about routine chaos and illusions if it may be better somewhere” (Belarus magazine).

The State Puppet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus is one of the organizers of the Belarusian international festival of puppet theatres, held in Minsk. The Belorusskyi gosudarstvennyi teatr kukol often represents Belarus at international puppet festivals.

(See Belarus.)