BirthBad Ems, Germany (1888)
DeathHamburg, Federal Republic of Germany (1967)
German puppeteer and director of a puppet theatre company. An accountant by training, Max Jacob founded the company Hartensteiner Handpuppenspiele (Glove Puppet Shows of Hartenstein) within the Saxon youth movement in 1921. When he moved to Hohnstein in 1928 he renamed it the Hohnsteiner Handpuppenspiele. The company became one of the largest in Germany, with many admirers and imitators who saw it as the quintessential example of true artistic puppetry.
Max Jacob understood his performances for children and adults as group work. With two or three ensemble members in the stage, he developed a precise technique of manipulation and determined a relationship between speech and movement emphasizing the expressive potential of the figures. He reduced the sets to coloured curtains using them together with lighting effects to designate the place of the action and to create the atmosphere for each scene. The arrangement of textiles in layers all the way to the back of the stage allowed wider use of the whole area so the puppets were no longer confined to the front of the stage. This process helped to increase the number of appearances and carefully choreographed dance numbers. In the comedies he wrote himself, Jacob built strong patterns of relationships between characters.
The puppets, carved from wood by Theo Eggink (1901-1965), were staged in the stories of Kasper (Kasper-Märchen-Spiele, Kasper Tales-Plays) in which the plot was settled in a friendly atmosphere and always in a fun and morally respectful way. Jacob wanted to establish contact between stage and audience to foster a common understanding of the plot that was dominated and narrated by the figure of Kasper. This connection was accomplished by basing it on the idea of “common sense” as a kind of mental wire stretched between the stage and audience, guiding the plot and legitimizing actions. In a quiet but constant appeal to the “goodness”, the “reason” and the “pure humanity” of the audience, Max Jacob developed a very specific tone that found broad public acceptance and so was able to teach his audience in an entertaining way.
The members of the Hohnsteiner Handpuppenspiele formed two stylistically uniform groups of puppeteers, which made the company economically viable. Thanks to their achievements and good relations with officials of cultural affairs in the Nazi government, they were able to work between 1933 and 1945 with remarkable success. After World War II, Max Jacob continued his activities in Hamburg. His colleagues, Friedrich Arndt, Rudolf Fischer (1920-1998) and Harald Schwarz (1921-1996) created independent companies.
Even after he retired in 1953, Max Jacob remained the international representative for the German puppet theatre. He was president of UNIMA from 1957 until his death in 1967. He is the author of Mein Kasper und ich. Lebenserinnerungen eines Handpuppenspielers (My Kasper and I. Memoirs of a Puppeteer).