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A tour of the backstage of the puppet theater: who creates miracles?

08.01.2024 | 16:08 |
 A tour of the backstage of the puppet theater: who creates miracles?

The other day, primary school and kindergarten students from the French MLF school in Ashgabat went on an excursion to the Turkmen State Puppet Theater.

The landing party of kids and teachers left in the morning and at the entrance to the theater everyone clung to the windows of the bus. The domes and towers of the building, reminiscent of a magical palace with fairy-tale characters looking out of the windows, evoked enthusiastic exclamations from adults and children. In fact, our puppet theater is unusually good indeed! It’s just that we, Ashgabat residents, passing by this building every day, treat it as something ordinary, familiar, and have lost the freshness of the “wow!” perception.

They say that the design of the puppet theater was drawn by a French artist, at the request of the first director of the theater. Then this sketch was brought to Ashgabat and supplemented by Turkmen architects. Whether this is true or not, our theater is indeed very beautiful!

At the main entrance, the little guests were greeted by theater actors dressed as a hare and a puppy. The kids joyfully surrounded their favorite characters in a tight ring, looked at them and shared their impressions with each other. The bunny and the puppy accompanied their new little friends throughout the tour of the theater.

Entering the spacious foyer of the theater, flooded with light, everyone stopped as if on command and raised their heads, looking at the extraordinary chandelier in the form of a huge fairy-tale bird, spreading long wings, and its crystal tail shimmering with thousands of lights.


And then a smiling young man approached the little guests and introduced himself as Atajan. As it turned out, he also works as an actor in this theater. Atajan invited the children to show all the most interesting and unusual things in the building of the puppet theater, and also promised to share the secrets of such a complex, but very interesting type of stage art. And the guys, accompanied by their guide, moved around the theater.

In the display cases along the walls, there were numerous diplomas and awards received by the theater team in prestigious international competitions. Also hanging under the glass, there were puppets donated by puppet theaters from different countries. The guys surrounded these shop windows from all sides.

Atajan told the children about what types of puppets there are, how actors control them, how they are voiced in different voices, and how they are made. And then he took one of the puppets out of the display case, and it “came to life” in his hands. Here she walks, raises her hands in greeting, nods her head in a friendly manner... The children looked as if spellbound. Then Atajan invited the kids to try themselves as puppeteers and learn how to control a puppet. And, of course, the guys didn’t have to ask for long. They boldly set to work.


The tour continued with viewing the decoration of the auditoriums. There are two of them in the theater - large and small. Large - accommodates 300 spectators at a time. It is equipped with modern stage equipment. When the guys entered it, a rehearsal was in full swing. Fragments of scenery stood on the stage, technical assistants and artists walked around, and actors spoke dialogue. In the very center of the hall the director of the play and his assistant sat. Seeing the little guests, they said that right now a new performance was being prepared on stage and they were discussing fabulous “special effects” for the production.

The small theater hall is intended for performances in a more intimate, homely atmosphere. After visiting the halls, a detachment of kids led by Atajan rushed to storm the second floor of the theater, where theater workshops, costume rooms, and prop rooms are located... Seeing what is on the other side of the curtain, learning all the secrets of the theater backstage is a great success! Everyone eagerly walked through the maze of stairs and corridors, anticipating seeing something new.

Finding themselves in the room where the puppets were stored, the guys rushed in all directions to explore all its corners. Puppets of different sizes and types were placed on special hangers along the entire hall, on the walls and on the floor. There were so many dolls that at some point even adults, forgetting that they were adults, began to play with the puppets. When everyone came to their senses and began to look for children among the many dolls, it turned out that this task was not an easy one. After all, the children and some of the puppets are the same height! But Atajan knew what to do in such cases. He loudly announced: “And now we’re all going to see the workshop where puppets are created!” The kids, as if on command, immediately gathered around him.


There is a special atmosphere in the doll making workshop. There is no fuss here, everyone works at their own rhythm, measuredly and slowly. When the children entered the room, modern “Carlo’s dads and moms,” quietly tapping their instruments, raised their heads from time to time to verify the sketches hanging on the wall. The sketches attached with buttons contained images of characters from future productions. Just like in the song “from fragrant curls, shavings and rings,” under the skillful hands of masters, pieces of wood, fabric, paper, paint, strings, acquiring the desired shapes, somehow incredibly turned into puppets.

The young guests of the theater were shown all the stages of making puppets; the children also met the puppet makers themselves, costume designers, make-up artists and artists.

Workers from theater workshops told the children about the secrets of creating puppets, masks, costumes, and showed how sketches of future puppets are drawn. The guys also learned that dolls and live actors can “work” as understudies for each other. This is a technique when the doll must come out from behind the screen during the action. And at such moments, either a double doll (on strings) or a living actor, made up and dressed in exactly the same costume as the puppet, “comes out” from behind the screen.


The children also learned the correct names of theatrical puppets. For example, the fact that only dolls controlled by threads can be called a puppet. There are many types of theatrical puppets. So, for example, dolls moved by pulling strings. Rods or strings are attached to their heads, arms and legs and such puppets are usually controlled by two puppeteer actors. There are also glove or finger puppets. They are also called upper ones, since they “protrude” over a screen or curtain, the height of a person. There are also shadow puppets. Probably each of us had fun as a child by using our fingers and palms to depict a “dog” on a lighted wall. Shadow theater is considered the earliest type of puppet show. Another popular type of theatrical performances are performances with life-size puppets.

During an exciting excursion to the theater, the children from the MLF school told the theater workers that they were also interested in making puppets and even made a short film with their participation.


The excursion to the theater ended with watching a performance. The exciting fairy-tale action evoked strong emotions in the children. The children empathized with the heroes, encouraged the positive heroes and were indignant at the unfair actions of the negative characters, applauded, laughed...

Time has passed quickly and we need to go back. However, both adults and children were in no hurry. Everyone wanted to take more pictures to capture this unforgettable meeting. The theater actors invited new little friends to the premiere of the play and promised to prepare new interesting surprises for them.


Photo: by the author

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