Applying for the public competition were over 20 theatres and ensembles from all corners of Europe, including six from Slovakia: Bratislava Puppet Theatre (BBD), Puppet Theatre Žilina, Odivo Banská Bystrica, Academy of Performing Arts (VŠMU), Puppet Theatre on the Crossroads (PTAC) and the Feder Theatre. Very helpful in this respect were recommendations of Finnish ensembles from Lotta Nevalainen; by the way, presentation of Finnish puppet theatre was one of the focuses at the festival in Charleville-Mézièrs, France, in 2017. We received a very specific offer from the Spanish embassy, which provided us with a whole list of productions of all genres for all age categories to choose from. The list by itself is a very useful and helpful cultural initiative as well as an untraditional display of support for theatres; unfortunately, it arrived just too late.

Very strong was the sample of five German theatres/ensembles specialising in shows for adults. Some of them applied on their own while information on others was provided to us by Monika Gerbóc, directress and manager of the puppet theatre in Zwickau, Germany. A particularly catchy performance for us was Army of Fuckers staged by the Lovefuckers ensemble from Berlin, an anti-war, pacifist production that combined movements of a young actress with computer-generated and film entries. Generally speaking, all productions by German theatres were interesting, be it in terms of conception, stage design, or acting interpretation. And each of them would no doubt do well in the festival confrontation. It seems that compared to other countries, the repertoire of German theatres is livelier and richer with respect to both the teenage and the adult audience. It is much more engaged and politically involved than we are used to in our country.

Among this year’s competition applicants there were a large number of cabaret comedy performances as well as diverse creative and associative attempts without a storyline but with emphasis on playing with different materials. A revisited discovery for us was House, a black comedy/horror with hidden puppet manipulation and brilliant animation, rendered by a Danish ensemble Sofia Krog Theater at the festival in Silkeborg, Denmark. This horror puppet show met with a resounding success and has been sold out for several years in advance.

The Czech sample of late night shows included primarily student productions from the Academy of Performing Arts (DAMU) in Prague. Barunka Is Leaving, the 2017 graduation performance of students from its Department of Alternative and Puppet Theatre surprised us by mature acting and thoughtful directing. A true novelty to us was the Waxwing theatre from Prague. A vivid discussion was triggered by two performances from two Banská Bystrica-based ensembles, namely Stopy minulosti [Traces of the Past] by Odivo and Babie leto [Indian Summer] by PTAC, which tackled unusual topics as well as unorthodox adaptation. But eventually, we decided to give priority to two other productions from Slovakia that featured more puppetry elements than the mentioned productions.

Having seen all the selected productions, we gladly observe that the quality as well as the diversity of late night shows by puppetry ensembles has increased moderately. It is our pleasure to conclude that there are more and more attempts to make theatre for this age category, even though these shows still make up a minority in the portfolio of puppetry theatres and private ensembles, perhaps except Slovak troupes Teatro Tatro and Med a Prach [Honey and Dust], which didn’t enrol in the festival competition. Generally speaking, this year’s competition was dominated by engaged topics, followed by plays with classic drama repertoire (e.g. William Shakespeare, etc.).

On the other hand, it is fair to point out that none of the competing productions was “pure” puppetry with hidden puppet animation as this type of theatre is in our region preferred primarily by the Alfa ensemble from Plzeň, Czech Republic. Most selected shows try to combine different theatrical elements into a single composition (e.g. wedding puppets with elements of drama, motion, visuality and other means of expression). The selection process once again confirmed that many theatres and troupes stage shows for adult audiences particularly at festivals but very sporadically offer them to the general public or schools in their own hometowns.

Using a combination of all three selection methods described (please see For Children / First Impulse) we created the programme of Second Impulse, which will present performances by six theatres/ensembles from five countries (Poland/Germany, Slovakia, France and Czech Republic).

The final selection includes six performances, which in our opinion meet the highest standards of contemporary puppet theatre for adults. From the generous supply of engaged anti-war themes, we decided to prefer a sensitive adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank by a recently established New Theatre from Nitra, which won a lot of praise last year. The Slovak contingent is completed by an inventive staging of William Saroyan’s Tracy’s Tiger by the Puppet Theatre in Žilina, which fully respects but also further explores the boundaries of semiotic and semantic harmony between animation, media, acting, music and dancing in an emotional story about searching for oneself from this renowned author.
A typical representative of engaged contemporary theatre that appeals to the audience primarily through its topic and testimony is Poledne [Noon] by the Czech theatre Continuo. This ensemble was a frequent guest to our festival in the past and always managed to convey elements of restless and irregular dramaturgy. On the contrary, the Prague-based Waxwing theatre appears at our festival for the very first time with its Beštiár [Bestiary]. This show falls within the category of graphic-material experiments that find expression through contemporary puppetry.
The remaining two productions from Poland/Germany and France are equally important. After years of intense endeavour and communication, we finally managed to bring to Slovakia Michael Vogel, one of the most respected directors of puppet theatre for adults in Germany who is yet to be discovered in Slovakia. From a strong German contingent of applicants, we deliberately preferred this director’s production, Phase Rem Phase, staged by a Polish ensemble Coincidentia featuring German guest artists.
To wrap things up in a nonchalant way, the French-Argentinean coproduction (L’un dans l’autre) [One inside Another] brings a remarkably mature non-verbal motion and visual show featuring exquisite actors. Toying humorously with the subject-matter of HE, SHE, WE, YOU and MYSELF, it addresses romantic notions of love in relationships. The play combines masks, figurines, lighting and puppetry technologies in a way that can seldom be seen in the Visegrad Four region.

A few words instead of a conclusion

Ever since 2010 when we decided to divide the festival into thematic parts for children and for adults, Second Impulse has pursued the sole objective: to break down and eliminate prejudices against puppet theatre among this age category, to emancipate and promote this type of artistic repertoire for adults. True, late night shows in puppet theatres are not completely unheard of anymore. The puppetry for grownups does exist and there are still spectators (though a minority of them) who like to go to a puppet theatre late at night. But alas! – Puppet theatres with constant repertoire, staging regular shows for adults continue to be a sporadic phenomenon, and not only in Slovakia… The question that still seems to await an answer, to not much avail, is: why? Who is to blame for the fact that puppet theatres have been ousted from playing for grownups? And perhaps more importantly: can this status quo be changed solely by playing on the domestic market?

Iveta Škripková, director of the festival