Officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Spanish: República Bolivariana de Venezuela), a country located on the northern coast of South America, Venezuela was colonized by [Spain] in 1522, gaining its full independence as a separate country in 1830. The region’s Pre-Columbian indigenous populations included the Kalina (Caribs), Auaké, Caquetio, Mariche, and Timoto-cuicas. Among the indigenous peoples of Venezuela today are the Warao (also known as Waroa, Guarauno, Guarao, and Warrau) and the Pemon (or Pemón, Pemong), with their own rich mythic traditions (see [Latin America]).
Only traces remain of the first Venezuelan puppet performances. Nevertheless, they demonstrate that puppetry found a public in the 18th century with the Nacimientos and Jerusalenes – Venezuelan versions of the [Nativity scenes] and the Passion of Christ presented between Christmas and [Carnival].
Initially, these were performed privately, then in convents (in Santo Domingo and Merced in Caracas) and finally in public theatres. These popular religious presentations, first noticed in 1788, reached their apogee in the 19th century. They included intermezzos with puppets, which apparently upset certain authorities as reported in an inquiry on January 18, 1788. Another account of popular 19th century puppet street theatre was provided by David Belloso Rosell in Los títeres de Francisco López (The Puppets of Francisco López, 1968). This describes the work of a carpenter, puppeteer and ventriloquist called Don Francisco López, who “in addition to fine furniture, fabricated marvellous little wooden figures that he painted and articulated with string, presenting them to a public who paid a half real to see these shows on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays”.
In 1885, the old Caracas theatre presented operas, comedies, zarzuelas, magic and variety shows with fantoche (see [Fantoccini]). Under the presidency of Antonio Guzmán Blanco (1829-1899), the creation of puppets and small theatres was encouraged in schools. Between 1882 and 1900, in Caracas an artist with international renown, a clown and puppeteer of British origins, Frank Brown, played for President Blanco.
The Puppet Theatre in the 20th Century
However, it is from the 1940s that the puppet theatre developed in Venezuela. The discovery of Vittorio Podrecca’s [Teatro dei Piccoli] in 1939 proved crucial for some Venezuelan artists. Meanwhile, the arrival in Venezuela of the puppet theatre company, El Nahual, led by the Mexicans Lola [Cueto] and [Roberto Lago], was a decisive development for the propagation of the art form and the technical training of artists, students, and teachers. It was at this time that the principal national troupes were formed.
There were already signs of interest in puppetry, particularly within an educational framework, as witnessed by the group El Tamborón founded by Federico Reyna and Pérez de Vega at the Liceo Andrés Bello (Andrés Bello High School) in Caracas. As of 1946, “Fredy” Reyna (1917-2001) and his wife, Lolita, taught a puppetry class for theatre directors and actors in this establishment, an event that prompted the appearance of several new companies. Reyna, an accomplished artist interested in all art forms, was well acquainted with European developments (particularly in France where he presented his puppet shows at the theatre of [Gaston Baty] and attended classes by Louis Jouvet). He took over as head of the Escuela de Marionetas (School of Puppetry) organized by the Ministry of Education in 1949. There, he created shows and characters such as Cantalicio, Juan Barrigón, Juan Brierba, Juanito, Tamborón, la Vieja Inés, Puchito, before leaving for a long tour in foreign countries between 1957 and 1967.
During these years, other artists contributed to the development of the Venezuelan puppet theatre. Fabián de León began working as a puppeteer in 1946, travelling throughout the country for more than thirty years, creating puppets for the Consejo Venezolano del Niño (Venezuelan Council for Children). At the same time, Eduardo Francis and his theatre, Tío Conejo (Uncle Rabbit), worked intensively in primary schools and with literacy campaigns. In this context, other artists such as Elizabeth Hernández made significant contributions.
In 1967, the Argentine puppeteer [Javier Villafañe] was invited to Caracas by the Universidad de Los Andes (ULA, University of the Andes) to teach and train performers. He founded a workshop that became a permanent theatre. During his thirteen-year stay in Venezuela, Villafañe taught at the ULA school of puppetry, Escuela de Títeres y Marionetas, in Mérida.
From the end of the 1960s to the 1990s, there was an increase in the number of puppet companies. These included: Tilingo, founded in 1968; the Universidad del Zulia’s El Teatro de Títeres Parque Infantil Chímpete Chámpata (Chímpete Chámpata Puppet Theatre Playground), created initially as a puppetry workshop (taller) by Alexis Andarcia in 1969; Garabato (1971); Los Monigotes (1973); [Teatro Estable de Títeres Kinimari], founded by Carlos Tovar in 1976; TEMPO ([Teatro Estable de Muñecos del Estado Portuguesa]), founded by Eduardo Di Mauro in 1980; [La Maleta Mágica], directed by Israel Morillo (1985); [Jueghoy-Teatro de Títeres] (1986); [Teatro Naku], under the direction of Sonia González (1990); [La Lechuza Andariega], founded in 1993; and Panelín, a Venezuelan cultural institution founded in 1991 as part of the puppetry project in Carabolo, which carried out an important work of production and dissemination.
- Cerda G., Hugo. “Antecedentes históricos del títere venezolano” [Historical Background of The Venezuelan Puppet]. Revista nacional de cultura. Caracas: Ediciones del Ministerio de Educación, May-August, 1963.
- Cerda G., Hugo. Teatro guiñol. Annexe: El Teatro de Guiñol en Venezuela. Caracas: Departamento de publicaciónes del Ministerio de Educación, 1965.
- Cerda G., Hugo, and Enrique Cerda G. El Teatro de Guiñol: historia, técnica y aplicaciones del teatro guiñol en la educación moderna [Puppet (Guiñol) Theatre: History, Technique and Applications of Puppet Theatre in Modern Education]. Caracas: Ministerio de Educación, Departamento de Publicaciones, 1972.