Serbian puppet artist. Born in Slovenia, Janko Vrbnjak fought as a partisan in World War II, and after 1944 he moved to Belgrade. He was one of the founders of the Puppet Theatre of the People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, later renamed Belgrade Puppet Theatre. In 1951, he was employed at the Zrenjanin National Theatre, but later returned to his home stage – Little Theatre “Duško Radović”, where he was a leading actor for many years. He played in more than 120 acting and manipulating roles as well as five puppet films. He performed frequently for Belgrade Television and stage shows.
As a master puppeteer his most important achievement was the play Naše igre (Our Games, 1961), choreographed and staged by Jelena Beložanjski, in which he performed the Glamočko kolo (Glamočko circle) folk dance, animating eight puppets with a total of sixty-four strings.
Janko Vrbnjak was a master of puppet design. He used to attach hooks around puppets’ waistlines, by which he would gain more movability and lightness in his manipulation. He performed at many festivals and regularly presented for the Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito and his state guests from all over the world. Vrbnjak had his own group called the Theatre of Miniatures.
Janko Vrbnjak was the leading figure in Serbian puppet performance and manipulation of the second half of the 20th century. Today, a prestigious prize carrying his name is awarded to young puppet artists.