French poet. Pierre Albert-Birot devoted an important part of his theatrical activity to the exploration of puppetry due to his childhood memories of having created puppet plays with his cousins in Angoulême. Matoum et Tévibar (Matoum and Tevibar, 1918, produced the following year by the Teatro dei Piccoli, designed by Enrico Prampolini) and Matoum en Matoumoisie (Matoum in Matoumoisie, 1919, created in 1937 by Roger Roussot, sets and scenery by Serge Férat), both influenced by Guillaume Apollinaire’s “Esprit Nouveau” and the Italian Futurism movement, illustrate through humour the victory of modernism over traditionalism. After his Scène birotechnique (Birotechnic Scene), played by Gaston Cony at the Guignol des Buttes-Chaumont (1921), Pierre Albert-Birot adapted Le Petit Poucet (Tom Thumb) for the Pajot-Waltons who performed it at the Théâtre de l’Étoile, directed by Henri Gad and Philippe Soupault (1924), followed by Le Mystère d’Adam (The Mystery of Adam), taken from an anonymous 12th century text, created for the lever-operated puppets (marionnettes à clavier) by Géza Blattner (1934). Other puppet plays include a sketch, Les Mains (The Hands), presented in 1938 by Roger Roussot, as well as two short Guignol farces, L’Anguille (The Eel) and Guignol veut s’enrichir (Guignol Wants to Get Rich).
Just like his interest for the circus, Pierre Albert-Birot’s interest in puppetry came from his dissatisfaction with the theatre of his times. Criticizing the realistic and psychological acting style of live actors, he encouraged them to join the school of poetic convention by taking Guignol as their example (Guignol école dramatique, Guignol Drama School, 1921), and even imagined himself carrying on stage “a cardboard actor that would have no feelings and would walk awkwardly” (Théâtre, 1924). To this end, he adapted Barbe bleue (Bluebeard) and, in 1925 in Charles Dullin’s theatre, he experimented with the manipulation of puppets two metres tall. However, his lack of experience in this domain forced him to cancel the performance.
Beyond the puppet plays he wrote, as well as his aesthetic beliefs and his directing projects, the concept of puppets and live actors engendered dramaturgical implications for Albert-Birot: in his “comic dramas” of the 1920s, pantins (jumping jacks), silhouettes, projected shadows, masked and padded figures evinced the all-encompassing power of a poetic imagination in a universe of mild fantasy at the same time burlesque and familiar. One of these dramas, L’Homme coupé en morceaux (The Man Cut in Pieces), was created in 1979 by the puppets of Jean-Loup Temporal.
- Albert-Birot, Pierre. Théâtre. 6 vols. Mortemart: Rougerie, 1977-1980.
- Plassard, Didier. L’acteur en effigie. Figures de l’homme artificiel dans le théâtre des avant-gardes historiques (Allemagne, France, Italie). Lausanne: L’Âge d’Homme/Institut International de la Marionnette, 1992.