Bulgarian puppet theatre based in Sofia founded in 1946. Theatre actress, Mara Penkova, with a group of colleagues including L. Boyadjieva, Al. Seykov, D. Videnova, initially established a theatre venue called Kolektiven kuklen teatur (Collective Puppet Theatre). The theatre’s first production took place on April 21, 1946. The show was Tatuncho i Zmeyat (Father and a Serpent), which was followed by Malkata Lilyanka (Little Lilyanka), featuring for the first time the popular Bulgarian characters Hopcho and Tropcho (Hop and Jump). On January 1, 1948 the theatre was renamed Naroden kuklen teatur (People’s Puppet Theatre).

Mara Penkova and her colleagues were soon joined by new members of the company: Atanas Ilkov (actor and musician), S. Visonov, P. Manchev, L. Docheva (director), Milka Nacheva (artist/designer), Eugen Fabiany, and later by, Sl. Racheva, B. Miteva, and others. The team articulated the direction and artistic goals of the theatre. Besides being the company’s main performer, Mara Penkova was also responsible for the training of her actors, and during the lean post-war years, she often financed the theatre’s operation. A student of Sergei Obraztsov, she performed primarily Bulgarian and Soviet plays. In 1948, the troupe was awarded a State subsidy and became the first officially recognized professional State theatre in Bulgaria. Since its founding, the theatre, which later was renamed Stolichen kuklen teatur (Sofia Central Puppet Theatre, also Sofia Puppet Theatre) has staged more than 300 plays.

A major event for the theatre was its participation at the 1st International Puppetry Festival held in Bucharest (1958), which launched a new artistic period for the company, without Mara Penkova, however, who was ill at the time and who later died in 1959. The new productions of this period were radically different from the naturalism of the theatre’s previous works. They included: Zaeshko Uchilishte (Rabbit School) by P. Manchev, directed by L. Docheva and designed by I. Licheva; and the European event of the 2nd International Puppetry Festival (Bucharest, 1960), Petya i Vulkat (Peter and the Wolf), with music of Sergei Prokofiev, directed by Atenas Ilkov and Nikolina Georgieva, designed by Ivan Tzonev and L. Angelova. The production was awarded the Golden Medal at the Festival Premium for “Originality and Imagination”. In 1962, came Pepeliashka (Cinderella), directed by L. Docheva.

The year 1962 also marked another event in the theatre’s history – the production for adult audiences, Sukrovishteto na Silvester (Silvester’s Treasure) by A. Vagenstein, directed by Atenas Ilkov and designed by Ivan Tzonev. Of immense importance was the presence of poet and playwright Ivan Teofilov whose name is associated with a number of important productions, including Tchasovnikariat (The Watchmaker, 1965), directed by L. Docheva and noted for its striking visuals (special UNIMA award for its humanism). Another work of Ivan Teofilov was Krali Marko (King Marko, 1967), for which he was also director and co-author of the design, together with scenographer Ivan Tzonev. The most successful productions of the theatre during the 1960s and 70s include: Pinokio (Pinocchio, 1968); Mizantrop (The Misanthrope, 1968) by Molière, directed by L. Groiss; Dekameron (The Decameron, 1972) based on Boccaccio; Za printsesata i grahovoto zurno i Za edna obiknovena Shapchits Chervena (About the Pea and a Princess and About an Ordinary Little Red Riding Hood, 1975), directed by Atenas Ilkov.  

During the years 1980-1991, stage designers I. Hadjieva, Maya Petrova and A. Poulieva, and theatre composers M. Ivanov-Mecho and P. Tzankov contributed to the new, modern image of the theatre.

In the 1980s, the new directing style introduced Yana Tzankova who staged an adaptation of the “cult classic” Ragazza by Stanislav Stratiev and Princesata i ehoto (The Princess and the Echo) by V. Pospishilova. A successful attempt at introducing new forms in the puppet theatre was made in the production of Kiriakos Argyropoulos, Chetiri prikazki za edin zmei (Four Tales of a Dragon) by M. Mashatova. The year 1988 marked yet another hit, Lamiata ot ulica Voyteshka (The Dragon from Voiteshka Street) after Karel Čapek and directed by Slavcho Malenov, who used string puppets for the first time in this theatre. Other important productions include adaptations of Shakespeare’s Buryata (The Tempest, 1987) and Makbet (Macbeth, 1996). The theatre also successfully staged in 1997 the legendary shadow-puppet plays by Nikolina Georgieva, Karnaval na Jivotnite (Carnival of the Animals) and Kartini ot edna izlozhba (Pictures at an Exhibition). The theatre is also famous for the enduring popularity of its Princesata i grahovoto zarno (The Princess and the Pea), which has had a run of more than thirty years.

Currently, three generations of actors and artists perform and collaborate in the Stolichen kuklen teatur troupe. Sofia Central Puppet Theatre (today generally called Sofia Puppet Theatre in English) became very popular abroad, especially in Mexico, India, Japan, South Korea, and other countries. It has received awards from many national and international festivals and forums.

(See Bulgaria.)