What relations, what differences and what antagonisms can be established between puppetry, mime, dance and dramatic art? The notion of “third theatre” is an attempt to answer this question. The term was coined by Eugenio Barba, founder of the Odin Teatret in Denmark, who, in 1976, was given the task of organizing a conference on theatrical research by UNESCO and the Institut International du Théâtre. The key question is, as Jean-Loup Temporal asks in the review Unima-France (No. 61, septembre 1978), at what point does a performance become specifically a puppet show? In particular, when the puppets are animated, for example, by the entirety of the human body rather than just a hand. Or what is the relationship between a comedy using masks, such as Les Peines de cœur d’une chatte anglaise (The Heartaches of an English Cat) and puppetry art or even between the commedia dell’arte, the theatre and puppetry, between the performances of Bread and Puppet Theater and the “Big Heads” of carnivals. Are the small dolls and large figures made by Marcel Violette for the Houdart company’s production of Louise Michel really puppets (see Houdart-Heuclin)? Do they incarnate the character? Or do they merely represent it in a physical sense?
“Separate from institutional theatre, a vector of cultural values both past and present, ever fertile, also aside from supposed ‘avant-garde’ theatre and from experimental theatre, in the quest of values other than those of tradition, this is where ‘third theatre’ appears.” (Ferdinando Taviani, “Le monde du tiers théâtre”, Le Courrier de l’Unesco, janvier 1978). This proposes a different type of theatre which doesn’t demand the confrontation of vernacular theatre forms. The “third theatre” is a mix of contemporary theatrical techniques and ancestral traditions. Through the will and desire necessary for these encounters to take place, the opening up of cultures is enabled. Numerous puppeteers have understood the theatrical gains to be made by regrouping expressive mediums and techniques from other performance arts, on the condition that this mixing is done in the aim of creating a specific dramatic effect, and to avoid an incomprehensible “mish-mash” of styles. When puppetry, dance, song, traditional instrumental music, masks, parades, street theatre, mime, acrobatic and circus arts touch and intertwine, a new mode of dramatic expression is created.
However, above and beyond the exchange of techniques, scenographies, and aesthetic intentions, the theatre bears itself, manifests its presence to the world, and becomes a living, breathing social fabric. The age-old schism between actors and spectators thus tends to disappear. “The theatre is conceived as a workshop of creation or a laboratory of life. It is no longer merely the expression of cultural symbols, but of different ways of life and of communication between men … ” (Ferdinando Taviani).