The Republic of Cyprus (Greek: Κυπριακή Δημοκρατία; Turkish: Kıbrıs Cumhuriyeti), with its capital Nicosia, is an island nation in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, located south of Turkey, west of Syria and Lebanon, north-east of Israel, north of Egypt, and east of Greece. The Republic of Cyprus is de facto partitioned into two main parts, with the north administered by the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The karaghiozis, or Greek shadow theatre, was introduced into Cyprus in the late 19th century when the island was under both British administration and Ottoman sovereignty. Several showmen from the early 20th century have remained popular. George Laoutaris (1901-1965), considered one of the best puppeteers of his time, worked in the Nicosia area. Christodoulos Pafios (1904-1985?) began his career in 1923 after learning karaghiozis from the Greek puppeteers Yerasimos and Athinodoros. He travelled by donkey from village to village using his stage and puppets to perform in cafés, whenever he was permitted to do so, in exchange for room and board. His reputation gradually grew and he participated in festivals in Athens in the 1930s. Years later, in 1978, he participated in the Cypriot Cultural Festival in Munich and was invited to Reims in 1981. Another famous puppeteer of this generation was Nikos Ioannou (b.1904) who, after his apprenticeship with the Greek puppeteer Souliotis, began to perform his own shows for forty years. As for Athinodoros Georgiades (Omodhos, 1895-1958), he learned to present the shadow theatre in the army. After returning to civilian life in 1920, he formed his own theatre with its carefully created and very colourful figures and performed until 1950.
The next generation of karaghiozis showmen was represented especially by Yannis Kissonergis (b.1914) and Andreas Idhalias (b.1917). The first was a young carpenter when he was inspired by Nicos Ioannou, whom he then joined as his apprentice. He also worked with Athinodoros Georgiades, whom he considered the best puppeteer of his time. Although still working in the 1980s, Kissonergis was most active from 1948 to 1973. He added his own plays to the traditional repertoire of karaghiozis. Andreas Idhalias served as apprentice to George Laoutaris (his brother-in-law). He is one of several puppeteers who not only played the traditional pieces but also created new plays on topical issues, adapting his style to the age of the audience. Today, Cyprus’ karaghiozis is still represented by a few showmen, such as George Idhalias, son of Andreas (b.1939), or, to a lesser extent, by Yiannis Pafios, grandson of Christodoulos. The Folk Art Museum of Cyprus retains several puppets by Christodoulos Pafios and Nikos Ioannou.
In the Turkish part of the island, karagöz was also represented by showmen such as Jemal Arif (who played in the 1940s in the old Turkish quarter of Nicosia) and Kara Mustafa, originally from Dhali, a village near the capital.
The traditional glove puppetry of Greece, the fasoulis tradition – performed on a small lit, wooden booth, the puppeteer creating the voices and movements of the characters, the eponymous Fasoulis easily recognized by “his” characteristic fez with its long tassel (which revolves and can fly off and away) and his ugliness: a crooked nose, one eye – also existed in Cyprus along with the karaghiozis. But, as in Greece, fasoulis was never dominant.
New Forms and Applications of Puppetry in Cyprus Since the 1950s
The puppet theatre underwent a renaissance in 1953 when Fef Adler, the first Cypriot occupational therapist, brought to Cyprus puppet heads from Hohnstein (Saxony, Germany) sculpted by Max Jacob, whom she had met and who had convinced her of the therapeutic role of puppetry. She passed the puppets on to her daughter, Amaranth Sitas, who soon learned to manipulate puppets for children. By 1959, the troupe she formed with her husband and some friends performed on television. After independence and the proclamation of the Republic (1960), the puppets were introduced in kindergartens and preschools. In 1965, two teachers obtained a small theatre, which was installed in the only park on the island, in Limassol. A troupe of actors and colleagues joined Sitas, and the Kourkoulianós Theatre (“The Sandman” Theatre) played there until 1968. A fire destroyed the theatre in 1972, causing an eclipse of puppetry. However, during the 1980s, Androula Embedocleous began giving small performances in Nicosia.
Amaranth Sitas, who had left for South Africa in 1971, returned to Cyprus in 1986. She organized a company, and, by 1989 a new theatre was built in Limassol Park. Having co-founded the UNIMA chapter during her time in South Africa, she also tried to create a UNIMA-Cyprus chapter, but the effort failed.
However, Cypriot puppetry lives on thanks to the efforts of teachers such as Spyroula Skordas, an art teacher, who creates figures in her workshop. Furthermore, Angelo Evangelou, who was trained in Greece and in Great Britain, teaches puppetry to kindergarten teachers and offers evening classes. She is having some success with a television show in which she introduces Muppet-style puppets. Nevertheless, without official encouragement, the puppet theatre struggles to survive in Cyprus.