Slovak dynasty of puppeteers. This family dynasty was founded by the first known Slovak puppeteer, Ján Stražan (Varin, 1856 – Trnava, 1939). He performed using the Slovak language, which at the time represented resistance to the enforced Magyarization of the local culture. From 1862 to 1880, he worked as an itinerant showman in Bohemia and Moravia. It was in Homolka in Moravia where he developed his familiarity with puppetry. The first written record of his performances is a license (No. 2437) issued in Dolný Kubín (Slovakia) in 1882. Stražan performed with rod marionettes using a four-metre by one-metre stage. He carved the rod marionettes himself in the style known as “Folk Baroque”, and they appeared very similar to those of Moravian and Czech itinerant showmen of the period. Some of these rod marionettes were dressed in traditional Slovak costume. His shows included classics of the universal Baroque-period repertoire such as Don Juan, Faust, The Prodigal Son, Prince Maximilian, The Victorious Girl, and The Jolly Coalman. He also performed comedies and dramas by more contemporary authors including Lumpazivagabundus by the Austrian Johann Nestroy, The Miller and his Child by the German Ernst Raupach, The Ironmaster: or, Love and Pride by the Frenchman Georges Ohnet, The Foundling by the Czech J.K. Tyl, as well as works by Czech itinerant puppeteer, Matej Kopecký. Ján Stražan adapted the Slovak dramatists: Matka (Mother) by Jozef Gregor Tajovský, Dobrodružstvo pri obžinkoch (What Happened at the Harvest Festival) by Ján Palárik, Statený syn (The Lost Son) by Jozef Hollý, as well as works by M. Dohnány and F. Urbánek.

Married twice, Ján Stražan had fourteen children. Two of them, Viliam (1888-1934) and Jozef (1902-1960), became well-known puppeteers. Viliam began by accompanying his father, but in 1908 he founded his own company, which performed until 1910 in Poland. Upon his return, he continued touring with his father, often using a tent, whose sign said simply, “Lútkové divadlo” (puppet theatre) and which was best known in Bratislava. In the 1920s, Viliam also founded an amateur drama theatre, Divadelná spoločnosť Stražan (Stražan Theatre Company). He performed with his father’s puppet theatre until his own death in 1934.

Jozef Stražan was active as a puppeteer until the 1950s. Other children of Ján Stražan (including Anton and Rudolf) also worked with the family theatre. Among the descendants of this dynasty still active today, Ladislav Stražan Sr. and Ladislav Stražan Jr. are both independent puppeteers, each directing family-based theatre companies. Ladislav Stražan Sr. employs modern puppets as well as string puppets and presents classic tales, such as Puss in Boots or John and Mary. He created a new character, Strýco Muranica (Uncle Muranica). In 1992, Ladislav Stražan Jr. (b.1952) founded his own theatre with traditional string puppets. He performs versions of fairy tales which were adapted during the first half of the 20th century specifically for Czech puppets, which feature the hero Gašparko.

The Slovak National Museum – Ethnographical Museum, located in the town of Martin, houses a collection of eighteen large puppets from 79 to 86 centimetres in height, as well three heads used by Viliam Stražan. It also maintains photographic documentation on the family.

(See Slovakia, Itinerant Troupes, Travelling Puppeteers.)


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