International puppet institute founded in 1981 in Charleville-Mézières (Ardennes, France) and initiated by Jacques Félix. The project had partners such as André Lebon, city Mayor at the time, and the Union International de la Marionnette (UNIMA), represented by Henryk Jurkowski and Margareta Niculescu as founding members. Accordingly, Sergei Obraztsov, UNIMA president, and Jacques Félix, president of IIM, signed a draft agreement urging UNIMA to provide their competencies regarding professional training. Furthermore, creating IIM fulfilled the wish of many itinerant puppeteers throughout the world to have a fixed and active location permanently at their disposal. The national and international context was favourable. The French puppeteers represented by the Centre National de la Marionnette (CNM National Centre of Puppetry, known today as THEMAA), UNIMA-France and by the Marionnettes et Thérapie (Puppet Therapy) association also offered their support.

The Institut International de la Marionnette (IIM) operates as a non-profit organization (1901 Act) and enjoys financial aid – essential for its functioning and its projects and activities – from the Ministry of Culture (DMDTS), from the Champagne-Ardenne region, from the Ardennes local council, and from the city of Charleville-Mézières.

One of the first initiatives, taken under the direction of François Larose from 1981 to 1983, was the opening of a research centre following the donation of a sizable collection of books by puppeteer Jean-Loup Temporal.

Margareta Niculescu, in charge of the international continuing education workshops since 1981, was named IIM director in 1985. She gave the institute a professional orientation, affirming IIM’s international vocation and her determination to take a dynamic and innovative part in the development of puppetry arts. IIM is the only international establishment dedicated to a fast growing art and profession, accommodating a whole set of activities in a single location. It is designed to be a gathering place for puppetry arts without distinctions based on genre, expression or technique, seeking to open up puppetry and promote the interplay of ideas with other performing arts. It is meant to be a place for encounters, reflection and research, so as to accompany contemporary creation on paths to renewal. Its two pillars of activities of an enduring nature are training at all levels on the one hand, and scholarly research with its corollary, publishing, on the other. In order to successfully carry out the tasks it takes on, IIM has created other organizations and facilities responsible for their own programmes and having specific means: the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette (ESNAM, National School for Higher Education in Puppetry Arts), a theatre, IIM publishing, and the Villa d’Aubilly, a residence for researchers and creators.

Teaching and Training

The École Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette, the one and only school in France offering professional training to young French and foreign puppeteers, first opened its doors in 1987. The school ensures that its educational programme is of an interdisciplinary nature, allowing the student to acquire the fundamental knowledge of the trade while associating that knowledge with the most experimental practices. The constant presence of creation workshops, led by artists recognized for their innovative work, motivates personal research. The very first teaching committee included Jean-Luc Félix, Claire Heggen, François Lazaro, Jean-Pierre Lescot, Margareta Niculescu, Alain Recoing (see École Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette).


Workshops open to performing arts professionals take place every year. Two or three per year are scheduled, each lasting from three to four weeks. They are thematic and conducted by master puppeteers whose experience is recognized: Alvaro Apocalypse, Gavin Glover, Claire Heggen, Jean-Louis Heckel, François Lazaro, Henryk Jurkowski, Jan Dvorák, Albrecht Roser, Frank Soehnle, Fabrizio Montecchi, Ilka Schönbein

Workshops for passing on knowledge

These workshops are conceived as veritable encounters. They welcome performing artists in general who wish to live and share the creative experience of great masters who have left their mark on the evolution – an actual revolution – of the arts. Artists available and open to the “play” of passing on their knowledge and experience have included: Tadeusz Kantor, Josef Svoboda, Peter Schumann, Jim Henson, Leszek Madzic, Philippe Genty, Henk Boerwinkel, Josef Krofta …Asian masters such as Nyoman Sumandhi, Asep Sunandar Sunarya, Yoshida Minotaro, Koryo Nishikawa, and Yang Feng have also passed on their traditions.

Research, Publishing and Documentation


The Villa d’Aubilly was put at the disposal of researchers and creators wishing to have access to the research centre and who would benefit from scholarly support. Grants are offered by IIM (aid support for consultation, for the stay in the residence, for projects). The residence proposes seminars and conferences on targeted subjects. In the same interdisciplinary spirit, IIM launched an International Network of research sources (Réseau international des sources de recherche).

IIM publishing

The publishing of publications was created to make up for deficiencies existing in the sphere of scholarly research in the field of puppetry. As such, IIM has maintained a publishing programme since 1986, and since 1988 has published the annual review PUCK, la marionette et les autres arts (PUCK, Puppetry and Other Arts), of which Margareta Niculescu is the founder and Brunella Eruli the production editor.

The principal works include: Théâtre d’ombre, Tradition et Modernité (Shadow Theatre: Tradition and Modernity, 1986), edited by Stathis Damianakos, published jointly with L’Harmattan; Écrivains et Marionnettes. Quatre siècles de littérature dramatique en Europe (Writers and Puppets. Four Centuries of Dramatic Literature in Europe) by Henryk Jurkowski; L’Acteur en effigie (The Actor in Effigy, 1992) by Didier Plassard, published jointly with L’Âge d’homme; Images de la marionnette dans la littérature (The Image of the Puppet in Literature, 1991) by Annie Gilles, published jointly with Presses Universitaires de Nancy; Opéra baroque et marionnette (Baroque Opera and Puppetry, 1993) by Jean-Luc Impe; Les Mains de lumière (Hands of Light, 1996), an anthology of texts brought together by Didier Plassard; Métamorphoses, la marionnette au xxe siècle (Metamorphosis, the Puppet in the 20th Century, 2000) by Henryk Jurkowski.

Moreover, the Institute has published exhibition catalogues: Marionnettes en territoire africain (Puppets in African Territory, 1991) by Olenka Darkowska-Nidzgorski; Marionnettes en territoire brésilien (Puppets in Brazilian Territory, 1994), a collective work edited by Bruno Mikol; Marionnettes en territoire japonais (Puppets in Japanese Territory, 1997) by Michiko Ueno-Herr.

In 2007, Lucile Bodson, director of IIM, took over the editorial programme in partnership with Editions l’Entretemps, and entrusted the directorship of the “La main qui parle” (The Hand that Speaks) collection to Margareta Niculescu. Other recent publications include: Métamorphoses (2008), second edition, revised and enlarged, by Henryk Jurkowski; Les oiseaux architectes-Le Montreur d’Adzirie (Architect Birds/Showman of Adzirie, 2009), by Roland Shön; Passeurs et complices (Passing it On, 2009) by Lucile Bodson, Margareta Niculescu and Patrick Pezin; Mémoires improvisés d’un montreur de marionettes (2011) by Alain Recoing (2011); Le théâtre des fous/The Drama for Fools (2012) from the manuscripts belonging to the Institute’s Edward Gordon Craig collection, edited by Marion Chénetier-Alev, Marc Duvillier and Didier Plassard, French-English bilingual edition.

IIM collection

IIM possesses a collection of old traditional puppets, including Indonesian wayang (wayang golek and wayang kulit), puppets from the Turkish karagöz shadow theatre, and characters from the Vietnamese water puppet theatre, all of which are the subject of occasional exhibitions.

The research centre

The Research Centre – Centre de documentation – for puppetry arts is open to the public and consists of a library (8,000 works to date, 130 of which are old works published from the 17th to the 19th century, and approximately sixty periodicals from all over the world), a video library (1,800 videos of performances) consisting of recordings of shows, ESNAM student works, and training workshops. The Centre’s documentation resource is systematically enriched by the activities of IIM, the school, the Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes (World Festival of Puppet Theatres) and French and foreign companies producing their own documentation. The Centre updates thematic files on French and foreign puppet companies’ activities and creations, which is a source of indispensable information for researchers, journalists, creators and professionals in the field of the performing arts.

Encounters and Exchanges

IIM organizes events to inspire shared reflection between puppeteers and personalities from the world of culture – university graduates and professors, critics, teachers, students, theoreticians and historians. For example there was the Rencontres internationales des écoles de marionnettes (International Encounters of Puppetry Schools) in 1990 and 1993, which became the Rencontres internationales des enseignements artistiques (International Encounters of Artistic Teaching) in 1996 and 1999. There are thematic encounters serving as bridges between puppetry and other arts, such as the 1988 Rencontre internationale des critiques de théâtre (International Encounters of Theatre Critics), which has been in collaboration with the International Association of Theatre Critics/Association Internationale des Critiques de Théâtre. In 1992 there was Musiques en movement (Music in Movement), an encounter between musical theatre, visual artists and puppet theatre, presided over by Georges Aperghis. And in 1995 the Rencontre sur l’enseignement de l’histoire et de la théorie (Encounter on the Teaching of History and Theory), presided over by Robert Abirached, was conducted within schools for higher education in puppetry arts.

In 1990, IIM proposed the creation of a Convention Internationale des Écoles de Marionnettes (CIEM, International Convention of Puppetry Schools), which was signed by seventeen schools. In 1992, CIEM joined the Ligue Européenne des Enseignements Artistiques (ELIA, European League of Artistic Teaching). Thereafter, encounters have been held in numerous other countries such as Poland, Russia, Slovenia and Finland.

True to its plan for constructing bridges in the direction of other cultures, IIM put forward the idea of multifaceted events offering a wide glimpse of “the puppet as a culture factor”, under the generic title, Marionnettes en territoire (“Puppets in territory”, or puppetry by geographical region) – Africa in 1991, Brazil in 1994 and Japan in 1997. These events would take place during the Charleville-Mézières festivals. The events consisted of an exhibition, performances, and demonstrations of playing and specific techniques. They also afforded the opportunity to discover sometimes faraway traditions and expressive paths in today’s theatre.

The Premises

Three buildings, conveniently located to each other, form a kind of triangular-shaped campus in the heart of Charleville-Mézières. In addition to the research centre, publishing unit and the administration offices, IIM headquarters houses a theatre. The theatre is equipped with 80 seats and offers a varied programme throughout the year with invited French and foreign companies as well as the works and creations of IIM students. The theatre also accommodates all occasional events. The Villa d’Aubilly offers a residence for researchers and creators in a beautiful 18th century building. The École Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette (ESNAM) has workshops, rehearsal rooms and an outdoor theatre equipped with terraces making it possible to construct an active relationship with a large public.

The directorship of IIM has been successively provided by Margareta Niculescu (1985-1998), by Roman Paska (1999-2002), by Lucile Bodson (2003-2014), and, since 2014, by Eloi Recoing. Lucile Bodson’s arrival introduced new initiatives and enriched the array of IIM’s activities by diversifying its public. The creation of shows and the professional integration of young graduates, backed by the Champagne-Ardenne region, are Lucile Bodson’s priorities. Work placement in companies are offered. Young artists are also welcome through creation residencies.

IIM’s presence on the cultural landscape of the region has been reinforced in recent years, especially through student presentations and touring exhibitions. The Portail des Arts de la Marionnette (PAM), (Portal of Puppetry Arts), dedicated to promoting puppetry just as much from the perspective of its traditional heritage as its contemporary practices, has been administered and animated by the Institut International de la Marionnette since 2011. Today, more than 30,000 documents are to be found on the Portal. Its mission is to expand to European dimensions.