The Republic of Moldova (Romanian: Republica Moldova), a country in Eastern Europe, is located between Romania to its west and Ukraine to its north, east and south. Its capital city is Chișinău. Over the course of Moldova’s complicated history various parts of its territory were annexed by Romania, Hungary, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ukraine and Russia. As a result, Moldovan culture is imbued with many different cultural traditions.
Therefore, while there is no documentation on the origins of traditional Moldovan puppetry, it appears to have developed in a fashion similar to that of Romania (see Romania). Folk theatre historians have established that in the 18th and 19th centuries Moldovan festivals and popular games often included masks. Thus, representations of the Nativity, typical of Slavic countries, going by the names of irozii (King Herod) or vikleim (Bethlehem), were very popular. Puppet shows were known as papusari. One of its main characters was probably Vasilache, traditionally recognized as the hero of Romanian folk theatre.
The birth of Moldovan professional puppet theatre dates back to the 19th century, when Moldova and Romania were a single state. The first theatre was founded in the city of Iasi, and the famous poet Costache Conachi (1777-1849) wrote several pieces for its repertoire.
In 1944, Moldova became one of the republics of the Soviet Union and in the years that followed, Licurici, a puppet theatre operating in accordance with Soviet precepts (see Russia) opened in the capital Kishinev (today Chișinău). In the 1970s, recent graduates of the “school of Leningrad” joined the company. As they did, they brought with them the aesthetic theories of their teacher, Mikhail Korolev, that were opposed to those of Sergei Obraztsov. One of these young men was Vladimir Kantor, a talented artist who spent several years as chief designer for the Licurici (its official name today, Teatrul Republican de Păpuşi “Licurici”, Republican Puppet Theatre “Fireflies”).
After the fall of the USSR in 1991, several small companies were established in Moldova. The most notable has been the Municipal Puppet Theatre in Chișinău, Guguta (Teatrul Municipal de Păpuşi “Guguta”) founded in 1992 by Victor Stefaniuc (1947-2010) who became its artistic director. The repertoire consists mainly of literary classics and Moldovan epics adapted for children.
Licurici’s status as the principal theatre of Moldova was hardly challenged by the new political situation. Since 1991, it has been home to two companies, one performing in Moldovan and the other in Russian. Over time, it has also served as an anchor point for the Moldovan section of UNIMA.
Moldova hosts two international festivals. The first, “Sub caciula him Guguta” (Under the Hat of Guguta), was founded in 1998 and takes place twice a year at the Guguta theatre. The second, “Gala”, founded in 1995, is held at the Licurici every five years.
In 2005, UNIMA-Moldova was directed by Titus Jukov, also the director of Licurici.
The idea of creating a school of puppetry in Chișinău in 1988 was raised by Professor Ilarion Steihi, then the chair of Dramatic Art in Chișinău. He was concerned that at that time the nearest graduate-level training for puppeteers was in St Petersburg.
The first class (1988-1991) was directed by Titus Jukov, and the students’ education was a synthesis of the work of the dramatic actor inspired by Konstantin Stanislavsky and that of the puppeteer-actor who must learn manipulation.