The modern interpretation of the term “festival” (as a cultural event focusing on puppetry organized by a town or region) only really spread after the 1950s. Beforehand, there were, first of all, meetings between puppeteers, the first of which was in Baden Baden in 1928, then in the following year, 1929, the founding congress of the International Union of Puppeteers (UNIMA) took place in Prague with representation from eleven different countries. However, UNIMA was not the only organization to bring together puppeteers. In 1937, along with the Paris International Exposition, there was another important festival (competition), in which the first gold medals were given out to the best shows. Other reunions were organized by American puppeteers as well as Polish ones (in 1938).
After World War II, there was the First Week of the Art of Puppetry in Brunswick (Germany), organized by Harro Siegel in 1957. Margareta Niculescu proposed the 1st International Festival of Puppet Theatre to be held in Bucharest in 1958 (followed by three more editions of the festivals in 1962, 1965 and 1998), whilst in the same year Fritz Wortelmann launched the Days of Puppet Theatre in Bochum (Germany), the oldest of the ongoing puppet festivals (known since 1982 as FIDENA – Figurentheater der Nationen Figure Theatre of Nations).
Since then, these festivals have become both national and international, and their number has constantly increased: Belgium (1958), Poland (1960), France (1961), Italy (1961), United Kingdom (1963), Czechoslovakia (1964, however the first amateur theatre festival was organized in 1951), USSR (1964), Canada (1967), and Brazil (1967). From the 8th Congress of UNIMA (in Warsaw, 1962) onwards, the tradition of coupling these two events – UNIMA congresses and a country hosting an international festival – began.
Today, most festivals (numbering in their hundreds) have their own life and are organized, as they see fit, to attract the public. The oldest are those of Charleville-Mézières in France (est. 1961), of Opole in Poland (1963), and the Skupova Plzeň in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) created by Josef Skupa in 1967. Other festivals that deserve a mention include: the PIF in Zagreb (Croatia, est. 1968), with its festival of performances in the Esperanto language; the Hungarian festivals of Pécs and Békéscsaba (est. 1969); the Bulgarian puppet play festival of Varna (est. 1972); and the Italian festival of Cervia (Emilia-Romagna), called Arrivano dal Mare! (They Come from the Sea!), founded in 1975.
There are thematic festivals (notably, Schwabisch Gmundt’s festival of shadow theatre in Germany), regional festivals, as well as festivals of an individual puppeteer, of traditional theatre, of academic theatre, of puppetry schools, puppetry for adults, etc. Festivals now take place on all the continents: in Japan (Iida), in Indonesia (Jakarta and Bali), in Iran (Tehran), in India (New Delhi), in Pakistan (Lahore), in Mexico (Huamantla, since 1983) and in Brazil (Belo Horizonte, since 1967), as well as in Australia, Africa (Niger, Togo) and the United States (for example, the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theatre, held in New York, 1992-2000, and the annual regional and national/international Puppeteers of America festivals).