This ancestral artistry seems antiquated, but rediscover this underrated pleasure of puppetry--it might surprise and delight you.
Puppets have been entertaining adults and kids for centuries in all of their varied forms. As we agree to pretend for the duration of a show that the inanimate objects have come to life, we participate in a spectacle of magic. From Uzbekistan to South Africa, beautiful craftsmanship, intricate costumes, and live music create high-quality performances with moving storylines. See for yourself why puppet shows are an art form worth discovering.
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Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum
WHERE: Taipei, Taiwan
This museum’s collection includes over 6,000 puppets, scripts, stages, and masks from Southeast Asia, India, China, and the rest of the world. In addition to its permanent collection, the museum organizes conferences and research projects that culminate in curated exhibitions. The museum’s theater produces Taiwanese and Chinese traditional shows as well as modern creations paired with live musicians and singers—you can even meet the puppets and puppeteers afterward. If that’s not enough, their workshops will teach you wood carving and other skills to create your own puppets.
Moscow State Puppet Theatre
WHERE: Moscow, Russia
The largest puppet theatre in the world since 1931, the Moscow State Puppet Theatre offers a long list of shows categorized by age, from toddler to adults-only. Among those: a very funny puppet revue parody called The Extraordinary Concert, a lyrical rendition of Puccini’s Turandot, adaptations of Russian myths, and performances of literary classics, like Chukovsky’s Russian Tales for Young Children and Pushkin’s The Fisherman and The Fish.
INSIDER TIPWorth a visit not only for its repertoire, the Moscow State Puppet Theatre is also known for the whimsical timepiece on its facade. Every hour, a little house opens to release one fairy character for the delight of passersby. At noon and midnight, all the creatures of the facade open their doors together.
Le Théâtre de Marionnettes du Parc Georges Brassens
WHERE: Paris, France
Discreetly nestled inside the small but darling Georges Brassens Park, this quirky little theater opens its doors every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. The puppeteers perform standing behind the stage with puppets on their hands and forearms. Many of the performances revolve around stories involving the classic male character Pulcinella, a feisty but good-hearted jester born in Naples in 1630. There’s also an epic journey where the puppet of Georges Brassens—a French 20th-century troubadour whose opinionated and cheerful guitar songs are still popular today, and who lived in this Parisian neighborhood—is looking for his muse.
Bukhara Puppets Theater
WHERE: Bukhara, Uzbekistan
After strolling through the mulberry trees at Bukhara’s Lyabi Hauz plaza, one can take refuge from the sun at the nearby Bukhara Puppets Theater. Performances here include traditional Uzbek wedding ceremonies and Uzbek dances. The owner and show director is known for taking the time to explain the making of his hand puppets, making the puppet theater into an interactive experience.
INSIDER TIPIf there’s no show that night, they can perform one for you if you gather a small group of people. Agree on prices for the show, drinks, and snacks beforehand.
Museu Da Marioneta
WHERE: Lisbon, Portugal
This underrated museum’s extensive collection of Portuguese and Brazilian traditional puppets in addition to pieces from Africa and Southeast Asia. The displays at Museu Da Marioneta are dramatically lit, setting a theatrical mood. You can even test your puppetry skills by putting on your own show. Other activities include workshops for children, families, and adults, and a varied program of performances, including animation films, every weekend.
INSIDER TIPThe museum is free on Sunday mornings until 2 pm.
Papermoon Puppet Theatre
WHERE: Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Charming Papermoon Puppet Theatre was founded by visual artists to create original performances inspired by Indonesia’s socio-political issues and the everyday angst of our human condition. They offer a contemporary and whimsical alternative to the traditional Wayang shadow puppetry one can sample close by at the sultan’s palace (The Kraton of Yogyakarta). But here, the customary folkloric tales are replaced by contemporary stories of love and grief, like mourning the death of a loved one in Puno Letters to the Sky, or loving without borders in Senlima. Never overly sentimental, Papermoon’s creations manage to deliver messages through art installations, poetry, and graceful gestures.
Royal de Luxe
WHERE: Nantes, France
An iconic outdoor performance company known for bringing oversized puppets to the streets, Royal de Luxe reverses the proportions between puppeteers (that they call “lilliputians,” like in Gulliver’s Travels) and puppets. Their marionettes are giants, and several stuntmen, actors, and puppeteers need to operate them like machines with strings of metal and engines. Overall, their style is at the crossroads of circus and magic show, where they use puppetry as a medium to create jaw-dropping situations to stop passers-by in their tracks. They keep their Nantes’ workshop under a lockdown of secrecy, but check their website and plan your next holiday to catch these friendly giants, often taller than the houses they walk around.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
WHERE: Hanoi, Vietnam
While this puppet theater is well-honed for visitors with five shows a day, don’t let its tourist-oriented atmosphere deter you, as the popularity of this attraction is on par with its quality. The stage is a pool of water where animal and human puppets create storylines sometimes even with pyrotechnics, while musicians in colorful costumes play on the side. Ancient myths born from the Vietnamese rice paddies find their way to the stage, including the famous Vietnamese creation story involving a dragon and a fairy.
INSIDER TIP Not every show is in English, so check the storyline ahead of time to understand what’s going on.
National Marionette Theatre
WHERE: Prague, Czech Republic
If you think you know everything about Mozart’s Don Giovanni, try it performed by puppets in Prague, where Mozart is said to have composed this homage to the libertine ways of the legendary seducer Don Juan. A tour of the National Marionette Theater includes a visit to the backstage area and a display of the puppets and marionettes starring in the shows. Besides Don Giovanni, the theatre also plays The Magic Flute.
Museo del Títere
WHERE: Cadiz, Spain
Only a short walk from the old town and Cadiz’s Puerta de Tierra, this beautifully designed museum offers a collection of puppets from around the world, from very simple wooden pieces to elaborately carved and embroidered puppets. The display covers all styles of puppets: hand, rod, and string puppets, as well as a showcase of expressive heads. A little string theatre is available for kids to manipulate marionettes and create their own shows.
Ukwanda Puppet and Design Company
WHERE: Western Cape, South Africa
Created by members of the Handspring Puppet Company, whose puppetry has toured the world (notably with their life-size horse puppets), the Ukwanda Puppet and Design Company in Cape Town specializes in design and theater productions. The collective tours local schools as part of their educational program, but also showcases their work at the Barrydale Puppet Parade and Performance, a yearly giant puppet parade that explores relevant societal issues through puppets and storytelling. Their workshop is located on Greatmore Street opposite Greatmore Studios in Woodstock, and it is open to the public.