The South American nation, the Republic of Paraguay (Spanish: República del Paraguay; Guaraní: Tetã Paraguái), with Asunción as its capital, had been settled by the indigenous Guaraní for at least a millennium before the territory was conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century. Paraguay gained its independence from Spain in 1811 (see Latin America).
In the early 19th century, especially after 1811 when the country became independent, Paraguay attracted many performers (magicians, actors, singers, puppeteers and jugglers). For circus artists and some traditional puppet companies, Asunción became a stopover on the way to Buenos Aires, Santa Fe and Corrientes in Argentina.
Breaking with traditional Spanish classical theatre, theatre in Guaraní (an indigenous language of the area), conveyer of evangelization entrusted to the Franciscan order in Indigenous communities (reducciones) and in the colonial villages as well, gradually asserted and enriched itself in the century leading up to the presentation in the theatre, Teatro Granados, October 18, 1922, of the play by Francisco Martín Barrios, Mboraijhu jha tesay (Love and Tears), one of the foremost texts in Guaraní. In this regard, the poet and actor Julio Correa (1890-1953) played an important role in the beginnings of Paraguayan puppet theatre in Guaraní along with Javier Villafañe, who presented El pícaro burlado (The Mocked Rogue) and La calle de los fantasmas (The Ghost Street) in the Spanish language. In the early 1940s, along with painter Liber Fridman, the Argentine puppeteer, Villafañe, travelled throughout the country and initiated many Paraguayan students into the art of puppetry.
The development of a puppet theatre specific to Paraguay has been slow, mainly because of the influence of Brazil and Argentina, whose respective traditions were particularly strong. In the 1960s, foreign companies performed in the country and organized workshops for teachers and professionals. Thus, the Argentine puppeteers Sara Bianchi and Mané Bernardo gave a lecture on the history of puppets in Latin America and then moderated a puppet workshop for teachers, cultural leaders and exhibitors. At the same time, we find Juan and Renée Carter, founders in 1966 of the theatre Misión de Amistad (Mission of Friendship), an important company which was joined by María Inés Rodríguez, Manuel Cuenca, Felicia Barrios and Carlos Penaya. This movement continued into the next decade with the creation, in 1977, of the company Títeres de Don Policarpo by Humberto Gulino. Elisa Godoy also presented shows of both drama and puppetry. The puppet theatre Piriri Teatro was formed in 1979 by Erenia López, actress, puppeteer and playwright, who teamed up with actors like Mauri de Bruzzone and Jorge Arévalos. Among the more recent companies presenting puppet theatre for children, the Tuka’é company of Carlos Cañete and Regina Bracero, and the company of Héctor García Castromán stand out.
In 1992, the first Latin American Festival of Puppet Theatre (Festival Latinoamericano de Teatro de Títeres), called “De Trapo y Papel” (Of Cloth and Paper), was held in Asunción on the initiative of Arnaldo Mareco (actor, puppeteer) and Fabio Candia, both members of the group Saraki Apyra’y. During the past few years, the theatre scene in the capital has been enhanced with the creation of new companies and the regular presence of foreign companies from Latin America and elsewhere.
(See also María Luisa Artecona de Thompson.)
- Villafañe, Javier. Los Niños y los títeres [Children and Puppets]. Buenos Aires: El Ateneo, 1944.