The Republic of Panama (Spanish: República de Panamá) in Central America is situated between North and South America, bordered to the west by Costa Rica, to the south-east by Colombia, by the Caribbean to the north, and by the Pacific Ocean to the south. Before colonization by Spain in the 16th century, Panama’s indigenous populations included Chibchan, Chocoan, and Cueva peoples. Panama gained independence from Spain in 1821 and from Colombia in 1903 (see Latin America).
In Panama the puppet appeared in the educational environment during the 1950s and on television screens a decade later. The first professional troupes appeared only in the 1980s.
Education, especially tutoring and literacy, uses puppets inspired by campaigns undertaken in Mexico in the 1950s. Notable was the experience of Professor Blas Bloise who founded a student puppet theatre troupe, El Sirito. It was during these years, too, that Rogelio Sinán, known as “Bernardo Domínguez Alba”, writer, playwright and diplomat, appeared. He began his literary work for children in 1938 when he was Consul of Panama in Calcutta. In 1943, he was awarded the national prize of the novel for Chiquilinga, o La gloria de ser hormiga (Chiquilinga, Or the Glory of Being an Ant, 1927), which was adapted for the puppet theatre in 1961.
Education and Television
The role of puppetry in education was first confirmed in the 1960s. Contributors include: Dora Zarate who founded a “Club de Títeres” (puppet club) with her students of the vocational school where she taught from 1963 to 1965; Francisco Paz at the Escuela Episcopal San Cristóbal (San Cristobal Episcopalian School) and his group Cristobalino; and the Chilean Gabriela Rosas in the Escuela Internacional (International School). At the Universidad de Panamá (University of Panama), as part of his teaching pedagogy, Professor Benjamín Vergara annually exhibited puppets crafted by his students.
Secondly, the art of puppetry experienced a growth as it spread to television with programmes like Titerelandia, at the instigation of César Romero Lillo (a professor of Chilean origin) with the participation of Panamanian actors Tejeira and Miguel Fernández. In the 1980s, other television programmes were created that would popularize the character Dominguín, designed by Juan Manuel Ferrer, the clowns Pepina and Tortón, and the puppets Toqui and Fifi of Vileka Vázquez. Later, Elisa Pérez animated Había una vez …(Once Upon a Time … ), a television programme of tales staged with puppets. Finally, in the 1990s, another children’s programme led by Zoila Lumbrera presented the character Pirulín of the Cataplúm puppet company.
From the Late 20th Century to the Early 21st
Several companies, some with permanent site theatres, appeared between 1978 and 1998. The actress Ileana Solís created the Kantulepa which, after a tour in Ecuador, was transformed into a puppet theatre in 1979 and, with the collaboration of the Brazilian Miriam Augusto, functioned until 1981. The same year Miriam Augusto and Nira Soberón, in 1943, founded the company Mano y Pilón, which joined Carlos Solano, a Colombian, and Panamanian Milka Aris and produced, among other things, Una boda campesina (A Peasant Wedding) by Edgar Soberón Torchia, in 1943. The company gave birth to El Sombrerito (The Small Hat) under the leadership of Carlos Solano, one of the most stable forces in the country. Solano also ran workshops and puppet courses for children, teachers and professionals.
Cataplúm was founded in 1987 by Miriam Augusto and puppeteer Consuelo Tomás. With their players, they plowed through the whole country, giving more than five hundred shows for adults, including Los Mamolengos. In 1989, Bruno Paredes joined them and the following year, the troupe went on tour with support from UNICEF to represent themselves in El día en que se durmió la ciudad (The Day the City Fell Asleep) with the songs of Consuelo Tomás performed by Maritza Vargas and Osvaldo Valenzuela, with setting by Marcos Riquelme and puppets by Carlos Solano. They represented Panama at the International Festival of the Arts of Costa Rica with the show Los 500 Encuentros (The 500 Meetings) and presented La isla encantada (Magic Island). In 1996, Miriam Augusto left the country, leaving Consuelo Tomás to direct Cataplúm, until, under another direction, the company moved towards doing street theatre.
In 1998, Argentine Adriana Sautu and Salomón Vergara founded the Compañía Teatro de Títeres Amano. Their goal was to contribute to a broader reflection on the rights of children, the condition of women and the protection of the environment. In 2000, the company collaborated with the Sindicato de Periodistas de Panamá (Journalists Union of Panama), to present the show, Diosa, Mujer y Cosa (Goddess, Mother and Object) under the auspices of the pro-equality movement and the European Union.
We must also mention the role played by the puppet company Hormiguin, established in 1985 based in courses and workshops led by theatre professors at the University of Panama, offering over 2,000 performances around the country.
- Bravo Villasante, Carmen, ed. “Rogelio Sirian (1904)”. Historia y antología de la literatura infantil iberoamericana [History and Anthology of Latin American Children’s Literature]. Madrid: Editorial Doncel, 1966.
- Sautu, Adriana, and Salomón Vergara. “Los títeres en Panamá” [The Puppets in Panama]. Teatro de títeres en Hispanoamérica [Puppetry in Latin America]. Bilbao: Centro de documentación de títeres de Bilbao/Centro de documentación teatral, 2001.