Swiss theatre founded in St. Gallen (French: Saint-Gall) in 1956 by Hans Hiller (b.1928 in St. Gallen). It was originally called the Sankt Galler Puppentheater. A teacher at the district school, Hiller produced and directed in 1956 Egon Friedell and Alfred Polgar’s grotesque play, Goethe im Examen (Goethe Takes an Exam), to commemorate the school’s centenary. The play met with such success that it was immediately followed by a proposal to establish a puppet theatre. Hermann Scherrer’s St. Galler Marionettentheater (French: Théâtre de Marionnettes de Saint-Gall) was still fresh in people’s memory. Initially, Hiller found several halls to host performances by amateurs from Eastern Switzerland but, in 1959, he managed to find a hall that could be reserved for his own productions in a building under construction. It was here that Hiller staged about a hundred and thirty performances every year for both children and adults.
Hiller himself produces one or two shows every year, taking them on tour within the country and abroad. In addition, the Kleines Sommertheater (Little Summer Theatre) presents original productions for an adult audience during the month of August. The plays are directed and produced by groups of amateur actors.
During the first theatre seasons the plays presented generally used string puppets. They included: Vom Fischer un syner Fru (Vom Fischer und seiner Frau, The Fisherman and His Wife, 1956) by Klara Fehrlin; Kalif Storch (The Swan Caliph, 1957) by Magda Werder; and Der Kreidekreis (The Chalk Circle, 1969) by Wilhelm Preetorius. But the theatre also produced many plays using glove puppets, including D’Lismerhex (The Witch of Lismer Who Knits) by Ursula Hiller, Vogel Gryff (The Griffon) by Jörg Widmer, and Wilhelm Busch Programm (The Wilhelm Busch Programme) by Rudolf Stössel. Later they also worked with shadow puppets and rod puppets, for example, in the opera Seraphine oder die stumme Apothekerin (Seraphine, or the Mute Pharmacist) by H. Sutermeister.
But it was the articulated “stereometric” characters, like the ones used for the cabaret Pressiflage (Persiflage, 1972) that were really experimental. Other experiments included figures with a root base used for Faust, or the half-figure half-projection device first seen in Schattenspieler Luchsens Neckarreise (Luchs, the Shadow Puppeteer’s Voyage on the Neckar), all of them written by R. Stössel. During the 1980s, they began to produce original plays, such as Nacht der offenen Tür (The Night of the Open Doors) and Bozzi, eine unglaubliche Geschichte (Bozzi, An Incredible Story).
Hans Hiller’s associate, Tobias Ryser, replaced him as director of the theatre in 1986, heralding a period of daring experimentation: tabletop puppetry for Erec und Enide (Erec and Enide, 1988), a story based on the Arthurian legend; combining puppets with actors on the stage for Hochzeitsnacht mit Noah (Noah’s Wedding Night, 1990). Ryser was also open to co-productions: Kalif Storch was staged with Puppentheater Störgeli in 1997, Odyssée (Odyssey) performed with the Parfin de Siècle company in 1999. Heidi, das Original (Heidi, the Original, 2001) was produced in partnership with the students of the Berlin Hochschule für Schauspielkunst “Ernst Busch” Berlin Abteilung Puppenspielkunst (Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Art Berlin, Department of Puppetry Arts), and Gott würfelt nicht (God Does Not Play Dice, 2005) with the Figurentheater Spalanzani. These kinds of co-productions, and the recourse to specialists in the field, makes for an ambitious repertory that constantly renews itself.