The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland), in Western [Europe], is the main constituent country of the four-part Kingdom of the Netherlands (Dutch: Koninkrijk der Nederlanden), which includes the Caribbean island countries (landen) of Aruba, Curaçao, and Saint Maarten.

The first traces of puppetry in the Netherlands can be found in a cashbook dated 1363, by a certain “Count of Blois”, then living in Dordrecht under the name of Jean de Châtillon. He mentions a dockenspul (puppet show) that he had attended.

By the 16th century, the Netherlands (i.e. the geopolitical entity designated by that name) consisted of seven Protestant northern provinces (Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijssel, Friesland and Groningen), which were unified in 1579 by the Union of Utrecht, and were distinct from the Catholic provinces still under allegiance to Spanish rule. A strict form of Calvinism was practised in the Union, and all forms of theatre were banned there during this period, except in Amsterdam, where traders would provide entertainment for their foreign partners, and in The Hague, where foreign embassies required entertaining distractions.

For several centuries puppeteers, both Dutch and foreign, were touring artists, performing in public places and [fairs], especially in Amsterdam. There were no permanent theatres at the time, unlike further south in Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and Liège.

Puppetry in the Netherlands in the 17th Century to the End of the 19th Century

In the 17th century, there appeared the story of Jan Klaaszoon, a trumpeter in the army of Prince Willem II (1652) who became a puppeteer for a living. He gave his name to the character of [Jan Klaassen] (the Dutch Mr Punch), who emerged as a popular character in Dutch puppetry.

During the 17th century and the two centuries that followed, puppetry was played in the streets where showmen performed their puppet shows, similar in many ways to the British [Punch and Judy], in which the protagonists were called Jan Klaassen and Katrijn. Occasionally, more “refined” puppet shows would be performed “on order” in the richer homes. Dutch puppeteers, like those of other nations, toured abroad: some followed the stadtholder (Dutch: stadhouder, the de facto hereditary head of state) Willem III, Prince of Orange, when he became King William III of England, Ireland and Scotland in 1689; while others worked at the Leipzig Fair throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

As elsewhere in the 19th century, puppeteer dynasties were formed in the Netherlands, such as the Hofmans in Utrecht and the Remmerts in Rotterdam. In Amsterdam, Janus Cabalt, a puppeteer who claimed to be descended from the Italian

Cabalzi, had his puppet [booth] in the town centre, on the Dam, in front of the royal palace; (his grandson, Daan Kersbergen, was an active puppeteer into the 20th century). At the fairs, a theatre of the Three Crowns, probably from Cologne, gave performances under its own tent. [Travelling puppeteers] from abroad performed in the Netherlands, and many Dutch puppeteers played abroad.

Dutch Puppetry in the 20th Century

After World War I, the spread of the Art Deco style in the 1920s favoured the introduction of “artistic” puppetry, first in Holland, then in the rest of the Netherlands. [Paul Brann] and his Münchner Künstler theatre, [Max Jacob] and his Hohnsteiner often visited Holland during this period. Dutch puppeteers went to Salzburg to attend the puppet [operas] at the [Salzburger Marionetttentheater] ([Salzburg Marionette Theatre]) and to Vienna to see the Jugendstil puppet universe created by [Richard Teschner]. However, Dutch puppeteers were apparently not aware at that time of the influence the Indonesian [wayang] golek [rod puppets] had had on Teschner ([Indonesia] was a colony of the Netherlands until 1945).

Some of the Dutch puppeteers of this period, including Henry Nolles, Eric Kellenbach, Jacq Hazelaar, were teachers, and played for child audiences. They have, however, left little trace and, confused with street showmen, they were little appreciated at the time.

Beginning in the 1920s, permanent puppet theatres began to be established, with

the majority of these theatres specializing in children’s programmes. In 1923, Bert Brugman founded De Olijftack (The Olive Branch); his granddaughter Mariska Brugman still continues the tradition in the Nederlands Marionetten Theater in Amsterdam. [Guido van Deth] opened his theatre in 1936, which reopened in 1946 in The Hague. After his death in 1969, the theatre was led by Felicia van Deth until 2000. Cia van Boort, the first woman to practise the profession of puppeteer in the Netherlands (with [glove puppets]), began performing in 1938 in Voorschoten, later moving to Oisterwijk where she opened a theatre in 1951, and another theatre in 1954.

Other puppeteers marking this period between the two world wars include [Harry van Tussenbroek], Frans ter Gast and Pieter van Gelder and their [shadow theatres], Jan Nelissen, virtuoso glove puppeteer, Herman Hoebe, Henk Zoutendijk, and Wim Meilink who wrote the history of Jan Klaassen, and whose name is given to the Wim Meilink Prize awarded to outstanding puppeteers. 

After World War II

After the war, the discipline flourished. Many theatres opened and many puppeteers worked together, such as Don and Ly Vermeire, Jan Nelissen, [Feike Boschma], Guido and Felicia van Deth, Rico Bulthuis, and Frank Kooman. In 2010, Koomans Poppentheater celebrated 50 years in The Hague; his son, Arjan Kooman, currently (2013) continues the tradition.

In 1954, the puppeteers focused on De Kring van Nederlandse Poppenspelers. This was the predecessor of the Nederlandse Vereniging van Poppenspelers (Nederlandse vereniging voor het poppenspel, NVP – Netherlands Puppetry Association). As the NVP was not a union or a special interest group, in 1971 a number of professional puppeteers established an Association of Professional Puppeteers, renamed the Association of Professional Groups of Dutch Puppeteers (VGNB) in 1981. It ceased to exist in 1994. In 1980, the NVP became the centre of the Dutch branch of [UNIMA] (NVP-UNIMA). The Association published a magazine, initially called Wij poppenspelers (We, the Puppeteers), later Poppenpodium and, since 2003, WP (Wereld van het poppenspel, The World of Puppetry).

Professional growth continued during the post-World War II period. Between 1965 and 1975, the Kookurgroep, with [Henk Boerwinkel] (Figurentheater Triangel), [Damiet van Dalsum], Otto van der Mieden (Poppentejater Otto van der Mieden), Jan de Noord and Camilla Koevoets, encouraged a break from tradition. Some puppeteers performed without a [booth] for direct communication with the public. The booth (French: castelet) itself became part of the whole scenographic design. These groundbreaking puppeteers performed in larger venues, with several players performing together. These are also the formative years of Studio Hinderik, founded in 1967 by Hinderik de Groot. His evocative scenery inspired other companies, such as Warner en Consorten, Speeltheater Holland, and Dogtroep.

From 1970 to 1980, there was significant collaboration between theatre, music and dance companies leading to larger scope for puppet theatre presentations, including solo performers such as Koos Wieman (1979) and Poppentheater Dibbes (Trudy Kuyper, 1977), Stuffed Puppet Theatre ([Neville Tranter], 1978), Jozef van den Berg, Pieke Dassen, Otto van der Mieden (1970), Jan de Noord and Studio Peer (Fred Delfgaauw, 1981). Important companies that performed during this period include: Speeltheater Holland (Onny Huisink and Saskia Janse, 1976), Theater Terra (1978), Lucas Goudzwaard and Aad-Jan Coumou (Cartouche, 2001), and TAMTAM objektentheater (Gerard Schiphorst and Marije van der Sande, 1979). Permanent puppetry-producing theatres were: Amsterdams Marionetten Theater (Hendrik Bonheur), Phoenix Papieren Theater (Ab Vissers), and Grimms Papieren Theater (Frits Grimmelikhuizen). There was also permanent street puppet theatre in Rotterdam, including Koos Wieman, Wim Noordergraaf, and John de Winter. Hans Schoen began his career in puppetry in 1968 with Popstudio Hinderik, and started his own performances in 1983.

The Dutch Puppetry Institute was founded in 1988, and in 1992 it was absorbed into the Theater Instituut Nederland (TIN, Netherlands Theatre Institute), the knowledge and information centre for professional theatre in the country. Eliane Attinger became an important leader in the field, especially in organizing training courses, historical and thematic dialogues, and the project, “On the Road for Dutch Puppetry”.

New theatres that emerged during the late 1980s and 90s include Theater Gnaffel (Elout Hol, 1987), Firma Rieks Swarte (1992), ’t Magisch theatertje (Charlotte Puijk, 1996), and Hotel Modern (Pauline Kalker, Herman Helle and Arlène Hoornweg, 1997).


Since the 1980s, more formal training options in the Netherlands included the following. From 1989 to 1992, the Object Theatre provided professional training in puppetry and visual education at the Theatre School in Amsterdam. On occasion, special interest groups, festivals, and the TIN organized workshops for professionals. The International Puppet Festival in Dordrecht has traditionally organized master classes each year. In 1993, this encompassed the School of the Arts in Utrecht – Poppen- en maskerspel, and, in 2011, a course in Puppet Animation. Teachers included Rieks Swarte, Onny Huisink, Neville Tranter, Elout Hol, Max Verstappen, and Bert Plagman.

From 1998 to 2009, training options included De Proeve, a training and meeting place for puppet and [object theatre], led by Marla Kleine. The Proeve builds bridges to other disciplines including theatre, music, mime, dance, tap dance, art and literature, with the older generation of puppet makers passing their knowledge on to younger creators, such as Duda Paiva, Ulrike Quade, Marlyn Coetsier and Meike van den Akker, Jogchem Jalink, Eveline Agema, and Jochen Lange.

The year 2009 saw the emergence of Feikes Huis, a production house under the artistic direction of Eliane Attinger, where young theatre and arts college graduates create object and puppet theatre performances. The NVP-UNIMA organizes a one-year course in basic puppetry and a one-year follow-up course, as well as occasional workshops and master classes under the artistic direction of Peter Vrijman and teachers Trudy Kuyper, Marlyn Coetsier, Servaes Nelissen, Max Verstappen, and Neville Tranter. Also in 2009, Wim Kerkhove founded the Jan Klaassen Academie. In 2012, Jan Klaassen returned to the Dam in Amsterdam. Merel van Gaalen and Trudy Kuyper delivered puppet training for primary school teachers. For vocational training, however, Dutch puppeteers need to travel abroad.

Dutch Puppetry in the 21st Century and Newsletters (Documentation)

Puppet theatre in the Netherlands in the new century continued to develop, enjoying a place of high regard in the Dutch theatre system, education, media and leisure industries. Much of the demand for youth theatre consists of puppet and object theatre.

There are currently (2013) around 250 puppet groups in the country, of which approximately ten percent are professional. The NVP-UNIMA has over 200 members. The association’s goals are professional development and exchange of information; it publishes a bimonthly magazine, WPDe Wereld van het Poppenspel (The World of Puppetry) and is developing an all-round informative website and a monthly Newsletter. The UNIMA 2010 Councillors’ Meeting/Extraordinary Congress was held in Dordrecht.

Through the Puppetry Museum Newsletters (in Dutch and English) with tips and topical information about the collection, presentations, exhibitions, publications and activities and the so-called Puppetry Museum Pamphlets (Poppenspe(e)lmuseumpamfletten), the Poppenspe(e)lmuseum (Puppetry Museum) announce matters of interest relating to folk and mainstream puppet theatre. Moreover, these pamphlets sometimes also inform visitors about themed exhibitions and activities in the museum. Some of the Dutch pamphlets are also published in French, German and English and are available in PDF format. Doepak (Dupák) is the Dutch-language Puppetry Museum Newsletter (Poppenspe(e)lmuseumkruimelkrant), an educational, multicoloured leaflet full of interesting facts, things to do, and illustrations of puppet theatre. The Puppetry Museum Scribblings (Kruimelkrantkrabbels) are an added extra, which often invite readers to explore the “Try it yourself?” activity. Some of the Dutch Kruimelkrantkrabbels are also published in French, German and English and are also available in PDF format. It is also possible to subscribe to Doepak-by-post.

The Popellum magazine for traditional folk puppet theatre continues to appear, although irregularly.

Eight puppet companies currently work with structural government subsidies, together giving over 600 performances that reach around 180,000 spectators. There are companies that receive project grants, and venues that receive performance grants, as well as schools that devote a portion of their art and culture budget to puppetry. By 2013, many puppeteers own their own businesses.

Kunstfactor and Cultuurnetwerk Nederland, the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Education and the Amateur Arts (LKCA), support the amateur circuit. There are currently four international puppetry festivals: in Amsterdam, Meppel, Maastricht, and Harderwijk (paper [toy theatre]); as well as many other national festivals. In 2009, the Theater Instituut Nederland recorded 85 premieres of professional puppetry; in 2010, it opened a website about master puppeteer, Feike Boschma.

Many puppeteers create productions especially for children (and also adults), such as Jeroen Boerwinkel (Theater van de Droom) – son of Henk and Ans Boerwinkel, Damiet van Dalsum, Camilla Koevoets (Poppentheater Toermalijn), Frank Kooman (Kooman’s Poppentheater), Trudy Kuyper (Poppentheater Dibbes), Otto van der Mieden and Hans Schoen. Their shows are performed in about 150 venues around the country, including more than thirty [permanent site puppet theatres], at many schools as well as street and other festivals. There is a youth theatre specializing in puppetry in Amstelveen, founded in 1966 by Jan Nelissen. Some puppeteers and companies cater for adult audiences and may also play abroad, such as Ulrike Quade, Duda Paiva, ’t Magisch Theatertje (Charlotte en Ananda Puyk), Stuffed Puppet Theatre (Neville Tranter), Electric Circus, Hotel Modern, Speeltheater Holland, Caspar Rapak (Peter Zegveld), TAMTAM objektentheater, Theater Terra, Theater Espace (Judith Nab), Theatergroep Winterberg and Lejo.


Dutch puppeteers have acquired a significant reputation beyond the Netherlands, such as Feike Boschma, Henk Boerwinkel and Neville Tranter, and Dutch puppetry is internationally respected. Its strong visual nature makes it an ideal export item.

The vitality of the discipline is demonstrated by a number of prestigious prizes. The Hans Snoek Prize for Best Youth Theatre Production was awarded to Camilla Koevoets (1978), Jozef van den Berg (1980), Lucas Goudzwaard (1984), Studio Peer (1986), Theo Terra (1988). Eric Steegstra twice won a Gouden Kalf (the award of the Netherlands Film Festival) for his puppet films Metro and Rif. In 2011, Hotel Modern won the VSCD Mime Prize. The performance Adiós by Speeltheater Holland and Het Houten Huis won the Gouden Krekel prize for the Best Youth Theatre Production, and Servaes Nelissen won the prize for the most impressive Stage Youth Theatre Performance.


By 2013, the collections of puppetry and visual theatre had spread across several locations: the Amsterdam Museum, the Rotterdam Museum (closed at the end of 2012) –collection at the Stichting Poppenspelcollecties Dordrecht, the Poppenspe(e)lmuseum of Otto van der Mieden at Vorchten, the Netherlands Theatre Institute (closed at the end of 2012), the Tropenmuseum (Tropical Museum) in Amsterdam, the Ethnographic Museums in the Netherlands, and various theatrical collections of umbrella organizations, colleges and theatre studies in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Leiden.

Interest in the art is also reflected in public puppet collections. The main collections include that of the Theater Instituut Nederland (TIN, Netherlands Theatre Institute) in Amsterdam – the vast collection of the TIN has been transferred to the University of Amsterdam (UvA). This means that a collection of immense cultural and historic value for the Netherlands has been salvaged and will be preserved for the future. Other collections are found in the Historical Museum of Rotterdam, notably the Dutch tradition and the collection of the Poppenspe(e)lmuseum located in the village of Vorchten between Deventer and Zwolle, specializing in areas such as [shadow] puppets, paper ([toy]) theatres, [wayang] figures, hand and [glove puppets], [rod marionettes], [rod puppets], literature, documentation, graphics and contemporary pieces of puppetry art. The collection has been open to the public since 1984. Besides its own ever-changing temporary exhibitions, the Museum also organizes travelling themed exhibitions at home and abroad.

The Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam holds important collections of African and Indonesian puppets (wayang kulit and wayang klitik). In 1995, the museum presented an exhibition entitled “De verre vrienden van Jan Klaassen” (The Foreign Friends of Jan Klaassen): [Karagöz] from Turkey, [Krishna] from India, Teu from Vietnam, [Semar] from Indonesia, and Sigi from Africa. Traditional performances show these “friends” in action, as the institute has its own theatre.

(See also [Hilverding family].)


  • Alkema, Hanny, et al. Poppen, object: en beeldend theater in Nederland [Puppets, Objects: And Visual Theatre in the Netherlands]. Amsterdam: Nederlands Poppenspel Instituut, 1991.
  • Alkema, Hanny, et al. Bewogen beelden, poppen-, beeldend- en objecttheater sinds 1945 [Wobbly Images, Puppets, Visual and Object Theatre Since 1945]. Amsterdam: Theater Instituut Nederland, 1994.
  • Bulthuis, Rico, Hans Bollebakker, et al. Theater uit handen: Nederlands poppen- en schimmentheater na 1900. Een collectie [Theatre of Hands: Dutch Puppets and Shadow Theatre After 1900. A Collection]. Dordrecht: Stichting Poppenspelcollecties voorheen Poppenspelcentrum etc., 1992.
  • Meilink, Wim. Doopceel van Jan Claeszen: kroniek van het traditionele poppenspel in Nederland [Doopceel van Jan Claeszen: Chronicle of Traditional Puppet Theatre in the Netherlands]. Amsterdam: J.H. de Bussy, 1969.
  • Meurant, René. Contribution à l’étude des géants processionnels et de cortège dans le Nord de la France, la Belgique et les Pays-Bas [Contribution to the Study of Giant Processional Puppets and Pageants in Northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands]. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1967. Reprinted from Arts et traditions populaires. No. 2, 1967.
  • Mieden, Otto van der. “Erfgoed en poppentheater (geschiedenis in Nederland na 1945)/Puppen- und bildendes Theater in den Niederlanden” [Essays on the History of Dutch Puppetry After 1945].
  • Paërl, Hetty. Heerekrintjes: over Jan Klaassen en Katrijn en hun buitenlandse
  • soortgenoten [Heerekrintjes: On Jan Klaassen and Katrijn and Their Foreign Counterparts]. Veenendaal: Gaade, 1987.
  • Paërl, Hetty. Ontwikkelingen in het poppenspel in Nederland: een overzicht van de jaren tussen 1945 en 1981 [Developments in Puppetry in the Netherlands: An Overview of the Years Between 1945 and 1981]. Unima Centrum Nederland, 1982.
  • Paërl, Hetty, and Otto van der Mieden. Het gezicht van Jan Klaassen. Hij lacht zich een bult./Das Gesicht von Jan Klaassen. Er kriegt vor Lauter lachen einen Buckel [Jan Klaassen’s Face. His Hump is Shaking with Laughter]. Vorchten: Oostelijk Kunstbedrijf, 1986.
  • Paërl, Hetty, and Otto van der Mieden. Poppenspe(e)lkwartet: Heb jij voor mij de baby van Katrijn [Puppetry Happy Families Game: Have You Got Judy’s Baby?]. (Book and game) Vorchten: Oostelijk Kunstbedrijf, 1991.
  • Paërl, Hetty, and Otto van der Mieden. Poppentheater-abc: een alfabet over het (volks)poppenspel [A Dutch-language ABC of Puppetry (with nearly five hundred entries; this section contains an explanation of the terms, expressions, concepts, puppetry techniques, characteristic puppet theatre figures and important people)]. Vorchten: Poppenspe(e)lmuseum, 2003.
  • Paërl, Hetty, and Otto van der Mieden. ‘t Fluwelen eindje: De spiegel van het leven:monografieënreeks over het volkspoppenspel. [Various Prints and Texts on Folk Puppetry]. Monographs. Vorchten: Oostelijk Kunstbedrijf, 1990.
  • Poppenscenes, het poppenspel in Nederland na 1945 [Puppet Scenes, Puppetry in the Netherlands Since 1945]. Exhibition catalogue of the Theatermuseum. Amsterdam: Nederlands Theater Instituut, 1980.
  • Mieden, Otto van der.  “Traditionele volkspoppentheatertechnieken en –figuren” (Vimeo en YouTube).
  • Mieden, Otto van der. “Traditional folk puppet theatre” (Vimeo and YouTube). Essay.
  • Mieden, Otto van der. “Poppenspe(e)ltechnieken en -figuren” [Prints and Texts on Folk  Puppet Theatre]. Essay.
  • Mieden, Otto van der. “Rien Baartmans (1937-1993): de avonturen van een poppenspeler” [Essay about the Adventures of a Dutch Puppeteer].
  • (running time: 65 minutes).