Swiss puppet theatre established in Zurich during the Schweizerischer Werkbund Exhibition (SWB, the Swiss Association of Artisans, Artists and Architects), held August 1-3, 1918. Alfred Altherr, director of the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Zurich and president of SWB, took charge of the Marionettentheater. After the Exhibition, where nine groups had presented their plays on a stage specially built for the occasion, Altherr became an integral part of the teaching staff, training students who participated actively in the productions of all his shows.
The Schweizerisches Marionettentheater rapidly became a truly artistic institution due firstly to the director’s keen interest in experimentation and abstraction in his productions, inspired by the principles of change laid down by Edward Gordon Craig and Adolphe Appia, and secondly to the collaboration of internationally known trainers and performers.
Among the nine plays produced in 1918, König Hirsch (The King Stag), a tragi-comedy written by Carlo Gozzi, adapted by René Morax and directed by Werner Wolff, was notable for the abstract string puppets made by Sophie Taeuber-Arp, using a technique that brought a variety of stereometric forms together. The total absence of costumes underlined the artist’s desire to dissociate herself from the anthropomorphic realism that was the norm.
Otto Morach, too, also created in 1918 string puppets for Claude Debussy’s ballet, La Boîte à joujoux (The Toy Box), but his were inspired by cubist painting and sculpture. The puppets created in the following years as, for example, those made by Paul Bodmer for Mozart’s Singspiel (a form of German light opera), Bastien und Bastienne, produced in 1923, maintained their human likeness, distancing themselves from the new abstraction.
Among the most popular of the Marionettentheater’s productions were Donizetti’s Betly, produced in 1925 by Ernst Gubler; Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Livietta e tracollo, also produced in 1925, with puppets and direction by Ernst Georg Rüegg; Meister Pedros Puppenspiel, an opera by Manuel de Falla and based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote, directed by Otto Morach and staged in 1930. The Marionettentheater also produced several plays by Count Franz von Pocci, best known for one of the most loved characters of puppet theatre, Hansjoggel, a comic figure who spoke in the dialect of Zurich. The Schweizerisches Marionettentheater produced in all some thirty shows of which many were staged more than a hundred times.
The recession of 1930 proved a difficult time for the company, with financial problems so severe that it was forced to close its doors in 1935.
The Schweizerisches Marionettentheater puppets, all made by Carl Fischer and modelled on the work of well-known artists, have been often exhibited at the Museum Bellerive in Zurich and in other Swiss museums where they are stored.