Multiethnic Peru (Spanish: Perú; Quechua: Piruw; Aymara: Piruw), officially the Republic of Peru (Spanish: República del Perú), is situated in western South America and is bordered by Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and the Pacific Ocean. Before it was conquered and colonized by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century, the Peruvian territory was home to ancient cultures and civilizations, including that of the Inca Empire. Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 (see Latin America).
Puppet theatre in Peru can be traced back to the ancient culture of the Anarakus. This culture, which dates from long before the Inca period (15th century), lived, according to popular belief, dispersed throughout the country, only gathering occasionally to celebrate festivals. They took puppets to these festivals; the puppets were made from fibres, threads and wool, and were used in religious ceremonies, public prayer sessions, blessings and other initiation ceremonies. The Chancay culture (c.1000-c.1470 CE) also used puppets; their small clay figures, called cuchimilcos, can still be found in the ruins of their children’s tombs.
In Peru, as can be seen throughout the Americas, theatre is characterized by the mixture of indigenous and colonial cultures.
The Colonial Period
During the 16th century, the development of theatre, including puppet theatre, was most marked in Lima, the capital of the Viceroyalty in Peru. We can find notes from an article dated 1597 which talk of a public performance or exhibition called the “castle of wonders”. Scenes were performed inside little wooden “castles”, touching on both religious and secular themes, the former drawing on stories from the Gospels. Performances also took place in 1629 in Franciscan monasteries to celebrate the canonization of twenty-three martyrs. During the 17th century, comic performances using large puppets (also known as a maquina real due to their complexity and resemblance to automata) were presented in 1699 at a school, Colegio de San Agustín, by a Spanish woman, Doña Leonor de Gondamar, who was licensed by the Viceroy to Peru, Virrey Conde de la Monclova, to do so.
Puppet theatre in colonial Lima was popular with the public who enjoyed its innovation and novelty, at a time when the conventional dramas had declined in popularity. In 1761, the theatre managed by the San Andrés hospital fraternity (Hermandad del Hospital de San Andrés) was renovated with the purpose of receiving puppet shows. One of the notable figures within the flourishing Peruvian puppet theatre scene was Pascual Calderón, a colourful and entrepreneurial itinerant puppeteer and acrobat. Another puppeteer of note during this period was Ignacio Cantos. Both men were authorized to perform street theatre, which gave them a certain renown in Lima itself.
The 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries
To a certain extent, Peruvian puppet theatre reproduced, more or less faithfully, the original Spanish retablillo, or booth show, a style which was widely dispersed throughout the Iberian peninsular. The cultural mixture, however, gave birth to new characters, new stories and new troupes, which created work with a new energy, edginess and style drawn from the encounter of cultural heritages.
We should also mention the important role played by Manuel Valdivieso (born in 1828 and known as Ño Valdivieso). Valdivieso was a well-known performer of puppet shows, writer of numerous farces and the creator of more than three hundred popular characters, including Don Silverio, Mamá Gerundia and Chocolatito. Later, the puppeteer, painter and sculptor Manuel Feliciano de la Torre (1897-1953), known as “Amadeo de la Torre, el Titiritero”, also created a series of Creole characters such as María Barriendo, Negro Betún, Don Lunes, the Chinese Smoker (Chino Fumador), the Man in the Street (Hombre de la Calle), Cholo Timoteo, and Drunkard No. 1 (Borracho número 1). Amadeo de la Torre founded his own puppet theatre in 1933, which contributed to the widespread popularity of puppet theatre for the next twenty years.
Puppet theatre was also important in the region of Cuzco. During religious festivals for Corpus Christi, Easter and the Nativity, altars were erected in the streets, and both indigenous and Spanish puppeteers were contracted to “enliven the festival”. One of these was Velasco, who had been a puppeteer since his childhood; at first he made his figures from paper, and later on from any material he could get his hands on. Other Cuzcan puppeteers included Zamata, Germán Ramítez and Castañeda.
The puppets used by these puppeteers were generally constructed along ancient indigenous methods: string puppets, made simply from plaster, but manipulated with skill and grace. These puppets performed indigenous dances, such as chukchos, dances representing the convulsions of those affected by malaria; they were accompanied by dancing doctor puppets that attempted to calm them down, inject the afflicted with syringes and throw sheets over them. Other dances included the majeños – dances representing the muleteers who brought Majes wine, drunk and with a bottle in their hands; and the Adoration to the Sun, doubtless inspired by the festival of Inti Raymi and still celebrated today. There was no violence among the Cuzcan puppets; instead, they danced and fell in love. The only talking puppets were the shikilas: stuck-up characters of lawyers, lieutenants and judges with their noses in the air, wearing top hats and frock coats. Traditionally, one of these carried a book containing the absurd laws of the country. At a particular moment in the dance, the lawyers would accuse one of the spectators of having committed a crime, usually something absurd and simple; a court scene would then ensue between audience and puppets, with a defence being mounted and sentence passed.
Two further puppeteers of note were Manuel Beltroy who directed the “Títeres de Arte” (Art Puppets) theatre between 1945 and 1965, and Emilio Bobbio Alejos, who directed the Teatro de Títeres Santa Claus. Alejos’ puppets were well made and the shows represented very beautiful scenes of Peruvian tales and legends and children’s classics from literature.
During the 20th century, Peruvian puppet theatre was enriched by new groups and talented artists such as José Solari Hermosilla, who toured Canada, the United States, Central America and the Caribbean and worked with the Teatro Nacional de Guiñol (National Puppet Theatre) of Cuba for twenty years. When he died in 1987, puppeteer Felipe Rivas Mendo (b.1940) inherited his puppets and equipment.
Apart from Lima and Cuzco, the city of Arequipa had its own tradition, led by the following puppeteers: Víctor Montesinos Aliaga, who began his puppetry career in 1921 and had worked in Lima from 1936 as a puppetry director; and Adela Pardo de Belaunde, head of the group Teatro de Títeres “Petrouschka” from 1956.
We should also mention among the many Peruvian groups and artists the Teatro de Títeres Cajamarca, a puppet theatre company founded in 1895 by José Santos Taica which, with over one hundred years of existence, is the oldest Peruvian troupe. It is composed of the Taica family and is currently headed by Rafael Taica representing the third generation. In 2011, the family inaugurated in Cajamarca the Museo de la Marioneta Manuel Nicanor Taica (in honour of the son of José Santos Taica), comprised of the family puppet collection. Other important artists and groups established in the 20th century include: Marcela Marroquín Osorio and her group Marionetas Marroquín, founded in Lima in 1952; Felipe Rivas Mendo and his puppet theatre company, Teatro de Títeres Pinocho, founded in 1961; the group Kusi Kusi Teatro de Títeres (Joy, Joy Puppet Theatre), founded in 1963 in Lima by Victoria Morales and Gastón Aramayo; the group Antarita (or Centro de Teatro de Títeres y Cultura “Antarita”), founded in Huacho in 1976, directed by Mario Enrique Herrera Asin; the group Paco Yunque (or Teatro de Títeres Paco Yunque), founded in Arequipa in 1974 by José Borja Salinas who directs the company; Amigos de Chiclayo, founded in 1976 and directed by Azucena Arrasco; and the group La Tarumba, founded in Lima in 1984, a company which mixes theatre, mime and puppetry, directed by Fernando Cevallos.
Among the companies that have emerged since the 1990s, we must mention Teatro Hugo & Ines, founded in 1986 in Lima by Ines Pasic and Hugo Suárez, and El Botón Teatro y Títeres, founded in 1992 in the city of Trujillo by Carlos Benites and Cesar Gutiérrez.
In 2002, UNIMA-Peru was created, under the presidency of María Teresa Roca, founder in 1989 of the company, Madero Grupo de Teatro, which addresses social and environmental issues and the human rights of children.
- Lohmann Villena. Guillermo. El arte dramático en Lima durante el Virreinato. Sevilla: Escuela de Estudios Hispanoamericanos, 1945.
- Lohmann Villena. Guillermo. El arte dramático en Lima durante el Virreinato. Madrid: Escuela de Estudios Hispanoamericanos de la Universidad de Sevilla, 1945.