Romanian puppet theatre established in Bucharest in 1945 by dramatic artist Lucia Calomeri. Company members at that time included theatre designers Elena Pătrășcanu-Veakis, Lena Constante, Alexandru Brătășanu, Ileana Popescu, the stage director Nicolae Massim, and the composer Marius Constant. Initially, Ţăndărică  (literally, “piece of wood”, “matchwood”) focused on string puppetry. Among the team of highly skilled puppeteers were Dorina Tănăsescu and Antigona Papazicopol. In 1949, Ţăndărică became a State theatre sponsored by national and municipal cultural institutions, which assured its financial stability. Stage director Margareta Niculescu was named artistic director and she led the theatre until 1985. In its second phase, a glove puppet and a rod puppet team was integrated into the company to enrich and diversify the performing styles and techniques. The group was led by Renée Silviu (stage director) with Stefi Nefianu, Rita Stoian, and Carmen Stamatiade (puppeteers).

Ţăndărică became a professional theatre with a permanent company, which met the requirements of the puppetry arts of the time. The young theatre attracted a number of artists: Ella Conovici, Ioana Constantinescu, Mioara Buescu, Ştefan Hablinski (theatre designers) and Ştefan Lenkisch (stage director). Later, other artists with national and internationl reputations would join the theatre, among them Justin Grad, R. Zola, Brânduşa Zaiţa Silvestru, Valeriu Simion, Costel Popovici, and Liviu Berehoi.

In the beginning, the theatre created a repertory for children, mostly adaptations of folk tales, fairy tales and plays written by contemporary writers. In time, a new repertoire inspired by philosophical and social ideas, by musical and literary masterpieces, as well as acts without words based on the poetics of movement, sound, and light, attracted the attention of adult audiences. The theatre produced four shows every year, had two fully equipped theatre houses, and included a professionnally trained team of stage directors, designers, actor-puppeteers, sculptors, costumers, stage technicians, literary directors, and an administrative staff. It was among the few theatres in Romania at that time possessing a recording studio.

The 1950s through the 1980s

Ţăndărică was at the forefront of Romanian puppet theatre from the 1950s to the 1970s. Margareta Niculescu’s vision for the theatre was to create a closely-knit team which would share the same artistic beliefs and desire for research, experimentation, and revitaization of puppetry as any other performing art. Artistically, the theatre would focus on stylized design and movement; its approach would be nonconformist. It would become a theatre of metaphoric expression. The production that established the reputation of Ţăndărică was Umor pe sfori (Humour on Strings, 1954), directed by Margareta Niculescu, designed by Ella Conovici, Mioara Buescu, Ioana Constantinescu and Ștefan Hablinski, which was performed 1,000 times in Romania and abroad.

The production that confirmed the new artistic vision of Ţăndărică was Mâna cu cinci degete (The Hand with Five Fingers, 1958), a wordless parody of action movies, which was directed by Margareta Niculescu, with designers Ștefan Hablinski and Ioana Constantinescu. This production revolutionized the arts of puppetry in the country; theatre critics wrote that with this show the puppet theatre had won the battle for the metaphor. In fact, it provoked debate and contoversy. Mâna cu cinci degete was considered “formalist” and risked being banned by the Romanian authorities. At the same time, some masters of puppetry saw it as “a betrayal of the puppet”. The same year, the jury of the International Festival of Puppet Theatres in Bucharest awarded the production the Gold Medal.

Subsequent creations extended, diversified, and multiplied the aesthetic expression of Romanian puppet theatre. The theatre’s new direction was evident in all productions of Ţăndărică. The production, Cartea cu Apolodor (The Book of Apollodorus, 1962), written by the surrealist poet Gellu Naum and directed by Margareta Niculescu with designers Ella Conovici and Ștefan Hablinski, left behind the conventional puppet space.

Among the notable shows created by Margareta Niculescu are: Eu și materia moartă (Me and the Inanimate Matter) by and with well-known comic Mircea Crișan, which utilized composite figures expressing both the living body and inanimate matter; Cele trei neveste ale lui Don Cristobal (The Three Wives of Don Cristobal, 1965) by Valentin Silvestru after Federico Garcia Lorca; and Făt-Frumos din lacrimă (Prince Charming Born of Tears, 1982), based on a story by Mihai Eminescu.

Ștefan Lenkisch, resident stage director of Ţăndărică, created many shows among which were: Elefănțelul curio (The Curious Little Elephant, 1963) by Nina Cassian after Rudyard Kipling; Amnarul (The Tinderbox, 1965), after Hans Christian Andersen; Petrică și lupul (Peter and the Wolf) by Sergei Prokofiev; and Don Quixote (1979), a symbiosis of masks, puppets, and actors.

Margareta Niculescu invited to Ţăndărică preeminent writers, designers, directors from the actors’ theatre, choreographers, and composers to create new productions, thereby placing puppet theatre in the centre of the arts. These artists included the directors Radu Penciulescu, Cătălina Buzoianu, and Silviu Purcărete, designers Dan Nemțeanu, Mihai Mădescu, composers Anatol Vieru and Ștefan Niculescu, choreographers Miriam Răducanu, Adina Cezar, and Malou Iosif.

A third generation of young artists graduating from theatre schools with rich cultural and artistic knowledge joined the company. From this younger generation, the most significant productions were created by Irina Niculescu, who brought a new approach to puppet theatre. Between 1976 and 1984, she produced shows for children and adults. New texts were written for her productions. Among these were: Anotimputile mânzului (The Seasons of the Foal, 1977) by Vladimir Simon, designed by Ana Pușchilă; Frumoasele pasiuni electrice (Electric Passions, 1980) by Vladimir Simon and designed by Mioara Buescu, a political satire with puppets and actors; and Nocturn Stravinsky (1982) with Petrushka and the opera Vulpea (Renard), designed by Mioara Buescu, in which opera singers interacted with the puppets. She returned to Ţăndărică in 1996 to stage a new version of Pasăarea de foc (The Firebird) to Igor Stravinsky’s music and designed by Mihai Mădescu, which combines actors, marionettes, masks, and shadow puppetry.

In 1978, the Erasmus Award bestowed by The Royal Foundation of the Netherlands was dedicated to four puppet artists and companies for their exceptional contribution to the renewal and development of contemporary puppetry arts: Yves Joly (France), Peter Schumann with Bread and Puppet Theater (United States), Fratelli di Napoli (Italy; see Natale Napoli), and Ţăndărică (Romania). This significant award confirmed Ţăndărică’s place in the history of European art and culture.

The 1990s through 2013

In 1986, the future of the theatre was entrusted to Professor Dr Michaela Tonitza-Iordache, who lead the theatre until 1999. A passionate pedagogue, theatre scientist, and critic, she contributed to the founding of the Department of Puppetry at Universitatea Natională de Arta Teatrală și Cinematografică (UNATC, National University of Theatre Arts and Cinematography). From 1986 to 1999, under the direction of Michaela Tonitza-Iordache, two productions of director Cristian Pepino, Scufița Roșie (Red Riding Hood, 1986) and Visul unei nopți de vară (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1988), received the ATM Award (Asociația Oamenilor de Teatru și Muzică, Association of Theatre and Music Artists). Cristian Pepino regularly collaborated with designers Mircea Nicolau and Cristina Pepino. Other important productions of this period include: Steaua lui Arlequino (Harlequin’s Star, 1986), directed by Mona Chirilă; Cenușăreasa (Cinderella, 1990), directed by Silviu Purcărete; Hurmuz, dialoguri (The Urmuz Dialogues, 1992), directed by Cătălina Buzoianu; Adunarea păsărilor (The Conference of the Birds, 1993) after Farid Udin Attar, directed by Cristian Pepino; Bărbierul din Sevilia (The Barber of Seville, 1996), adapted from Beaumarchais/Rossini, directed by Felix Alexa; Înșelătoriile lui Scapin (Scapin’s Deceits, 1997 and 1999), directed by Felix Alexa; and Frumoasa și Bestia (Beauty and the Beast, 2000), directed by Cristian Pepino.

Since 2000, the managing director of Ţăndărică has been Călin Mocanu, puppeteer and television producer who implemented new management strategies while continuing to perform a large repertoire of titles from Romanian classics and world literature.

Recently, the theatre changed its name from Teatrul de păpuşi Ţăndărică (Ţăndărică Puppet Theatre) to Teatrul de animaţie Ţăndărică (Ţăndărică Theatre of Animation) to reflect the aesthetics of the new productions, which often combine puppetry and digital animation. In order to attract adult audiences, the theatre created “Animart”, an experimental studio where free adaptations of well-known masterpieces are performed such as Faust, Candide, Play Shakespeare, and Galaxia Svejk (Svejk’s Galaxy).

Ţăndărică has received many prestigious national and international awards, including the National Award, and prizes for puppetry, originality, and cultural infusions in scenic art (scenography), as well as important awards at festivals in Tolosa, Prague, Botoşani, and Galaţi. Since 2005, Ţăndărică has annually produced the international theatre festival, “Bucurii pentru copii. Spectacole de colecție” (Joy for Children. Top Notch Shows).

Teaching and Training

Ţăndărică has hosted young puppeteers from Argentina, Egypt, the United States, France, Switzerland, Norway, and India and has organized individual training programmes for them. Following the founding of the Puppetry Department within the National University of Theatre Arts and Cinematography in Bucharest in 1990, Ţăndărică has sponsored and hosted the work of young graduates. Many among this most recent generation of artists deserve mention, including Ioan Brancu, Gabriel Apostol, Daniel Stanciu, Liliana Gavrilescu, Marcela Sava, Daria Gănescu, Mariana Palade, and Decebal Marin. The theatre supports the artistic debuts of young creators, stage directors and set designers.

(See Romania.)