Swiss cabaret director and puppeteer. The young Fred Schneckenburger discovered puppets when he was working, gratis, as an extra and a stage hand at the Kamerny (Chamber) Theatre in Moscow, an opportunity he had because of his friendship with the founder, Alexander Tairov. He continued, however, to follow a career in business and rose to a managerial position in a Swiss industrial undertaking. He was for a while in charge of the firm’s publicity department and worked regularly with professional graphic artists but moved in the political and literary circles that met in Zurich’s nightclubs; he was particularly close to the members of the Cabaret Cornichon (Cucumber Cabaret). When he established his own theatre at Frauenfeld in Switzerland after the war the latter gave their voices to his puppets.
During the years 1945 to 1947, he produced his early shows with amateur actors and glove puppets. Much later he brought in rod puppets that he manipulated so that they appeared above a black screen. The special style of the puppets, which he made himself, played a part as important in his productions as the music and the scripts that were also written by him. He collected bits and pieces of different kinds of material from which he fashioned grotesque characters full of symbolic meaning, drawing comparisons with the work of Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and Joan Miró.
From 1945 to his death, Fred Schneckenburger presented some twenty productions that included miniature dramas and poetic, surrealistic sketches that greatly influenced the puppeteers of the time. An important example is Das Grün und das Gelb (The Green and the Yellow), a play for glove puppets with music by Bernd Alois Zimmermann, performed in 1952.
He toured all over Germany and participated in several festivals until the International UNIMA Festival in Colwyn Bay in Great Britain honoured him with a position as puppet master in the much larger field of Europe. But he retained his Swiss audiences, thanks to Harald Szeemann, who made available the Kunsthalle of Berne where he appeared along with people like Harry Kramer and Yves Joly.
In 1959, Schneckenburger contributed to the establishment of the Vereinigung schweizerischer Puppenbühnen (the Swiss Association of Puppet Theatres, now known as UNIMA-Suisse). Schneckenburger was its first president, and directed the first four issues of the magazine, Puppenspiel und Puppenspieler (Puppets and Puppeteers). The magazine was later renamed Figura.
In addition to his artistic activities, Fred Schneckenburger had put together a collection of fifteen thousand posters, mainly political, that are today housed in the Museum of Applied Arts in Zurich. The entire archive of his Puppencabaret (Puppet Cabaret) – figures, recordings, scripts, programmes, photographs, etc. – is in the care of the Museum Bellerive, also in Zurich.
- 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)
- Ribi, Hana. Fred Schneckenburgers Puppencabaret, 1947-1966 [Fred Schneckenburger’s Puppet Cabaret, 1947-1966]. Exhibition catalogue, City Museum, Munich, and Museum Bellerive, Zurich, 1991-1992. Exhibition reprised in 1999 at the National Museum in Prague. (German Edition)