Six concert halls, which have been awarded the label «Centre national de la marionnette», will become reference places for this art. Focus on three of them.

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It is a real recognition that the Ministry of Culture dedicates to the art of puppetry. Received with enthusiasm by those concerned, the label «Centre national de la marionnette» (CNMa) recognizes the extraordinary growth of this art and its place, legitimate and indisputable, among the performing arts supported by the State. Equipped with appropriate equipment, including a production workshop near the stage, the CNMa extend to the four corners of the national territory the network web already finely woven from the generation of great artistic personalities like Philippe Genty, Emilie Valentin, Jean-Pierre Lescot, followed by many others, and around Charleville-Mézières, its National School of Puppetry and of its world festival.

In September 2022, six theatres throughout the country were awarded the National Puppetry Centre designation. In the medium term, a dozen structures will benefit from this label. We look at three of them, through their history and their specificities: the Hectare in Vendôme, the Espace Jéliote in Oloron Sainte-Marie, and the Mouffetard in Paris.

Centre-Val-de-Loire: A key to cultural development in rural areas

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At the end of the last century, during a career as an actor, Frédéric Maurin met the puppeteer Roland Shönwho entrusts him with the interpretation of his show, The Treasures of Dibouji, that it will play more than 1200 times worldwide. It was like a love at first sight, he tells us, which led him later, in 2004, to the direction of L'Hectare, in Vendôme (Loir-et-Cher): The puppet holds a poetic power that goes beyond anything we can imagine. An inert form (an effigy, an object, an undetermined form), at the moment when it comes to life, gives rise to an incredible mystery that fascinates me: the mystery that is renewed every time of this unspeakable moment when life rises above death. Then the question of meaning also arises. »

This aesthetic dynamic would not have so much effect if the art of puppetry were not also, from its origin, a popular art. « Art of impertinence and insolence towards the powerful and the rich, puppetry became, in the 20th century, a complete art, CLOSE to opera: popular public, contemporary creation, interdisciplinarity (writing and dramaturgy, scenography and visual arts, musical creations). »

A third characteristic, not the least of which is the fact that puppetry is a formidable tool for cultural development. « In our territory of the Val de Loire Centre, a vast rural area of 65 communes (in all 55,000 inhabitants) centred on the city of Vendôme (16,000 hbts), we assumed, twenty years ago, to start with very open family forms (“Tonight, a puppet show at 7 p.m., in the holiday hall!”). Our goal – a success – has been to accompany people, year after year, by making them frequent contemporary art, without them really suspecting it. Today, the public is not intimidated by a theatre of puppets, shadows or objects endowed with great artistic demands and with cutting-edge and contemporary dramaturgical ideas, such as, for example, the issue of gender, refugees and the environment. » And thanks to an agreement with The Echalier, l'Hectare develops artistic team residencies in rural areas, and thus always gets closer to the inhabitants.

The label is also the mark of a recognition whose effects are soon to be felt: Eight years ago, I called the Houses of Culture, the National Drama Centres and the National Stages to propose to them without success to participate in a puppet festival. Today, they all come to our biennial, which will take place in January and February 2023 in Vendôme and throughout the Centre-Val de Loire region. »

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Nouvelle Aquitaine: A «multi-partner» work, a local, regional and international influence

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« I realized how creative this art is, explains Jackie Challa, formerly professor of Letters passionate about theatre, now director of theEspace Jéliote, in Upper Béarn . Surprisingly innovative in its forms, in its themes, in the use of space, in scale variations… Animation puts the question of life and death at the center of this art. Manipulation brings the question of power. And there is the aesthetic dimension, which gives a place of choice to the visual arts. In short, obviously, this art is not a minor art. We had to support him so that he would take his rightful place on the national stage. »

The project of an inflection of Jeliote’s programming was launched. « It was necessary to sensitize our public to the specific codes of this art, and also to those of the theatre of objects. We have set up a month of November dedicated to puppets. We come to discover the very varied forms of new creations. » In 2010, Espace received the label Scène conventionnée, « That has given us some means of production. We decided to accompany two artists for three or four seasons. Renewed monitoring for some (Angelic Friant, Pier Porcheron, Fanny Bérard…), such as Elise Vigneron that we have been following since he left the Charleville-Mézières school. »

A great success that would not have been possible without a collective spirit: We have been working in partnership for more than 20 years with the community of communes of Haut-Béarn, the departmental council, the region and the statesays Jackie Challa. With the label, everyone is more committed.  We were thus able to upgrade our staff, in the need we had to have human resources consistent with our project. »

The Espace Jéliote is at the centre of a large rural area where its shows are held. But this local spider web extends beyond the region: it is also national and cross-border: Bayonne, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Saragossa. « As part of our international support missions, we are conducting, for example, a creation and BEC project with Juan Perez Escala, an artist of Argentine origin, and the Tolosa International Puppetry Centre, 200 km from us, in Spanish Basque country. »

« On the training side, the label allows us to be identified by the regional conservatories. We will soon be signing a framework agreement with Pau and Bayonne. There remains the accompaniment to the production, which in my opinion we will have to develop, because too many artists have beautiful projects for which they do not manage to make a budget... »

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Ile-de-France: An atypical National Centre in the heart of Paris

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The Skunk, it is originally a group of passionate puppeteers who created in the 80s the Puppet Week in Paris. In 1992, the week, under the direction of Lucile Bodsonis transformed into a season, that is, a permanent theatre… but without a place. One of the challenges for puppeteers is to play in Paris to be close to the press, programmers and the region’s population base. To meet this ongoing challenge, Lucile Bodson and then Isabelle Bertola, the current director, organize a program, for each season, in partnership with the Parisian public theatres.

It was not until 2013 that the City of Paris offered the Mouffetard theatre to puppeteers. « Nomadism has allowed us to build a strong and warm network of partnershipsexplains Isabelle Bertola, that, moreover, we always activate, to receive shows on large plateaus. This long nomadism also explains that we are not a multidisciplinary room, unlike all other CNMa, and for good reason: it is we who bring it to our partners.

 ' In spite of everything, this nomadism had these limits: we remained little visible, except from the narrow circle of amateurs. And our programming could hardly include young emerging artists. At Mouffetard, we watch closely for this emergence, by following the promotions of the schools, and by inserting in our programming, even years, the festival Scenes open to the unusual , which is dedicated to him. With some artists we met thanks to the festival, we go further by engaging, by pre-cchat, on their new creation, which allows them to find other support.

 ' Moreover, in odd years, our International Biennial of Puppetry showcases artists of international reference. For the workshop and the training aspect, which are other important elements of our development, included in the specifications of the label, we are, again, in partnership. The Bare-handed theatre gives us access to his workshop and we give him access to our tray. Our training offer is common. The Théâtre aux mains nus is also a collaborator of the festival dedicated to emerging artists. »

Here, institutional recognition also pays tribute to the treasures of ingenuity, patience and courage that the Mouffetard team has deployed over the past thirty years. In the near future, he will have to find a better site, which will allow him to register his trays, his workshop and his resource centre in the same place. There will be a stage with dimensions suitable for all artistic forms. He will find space for his own offices (this is not yet the case!), for an artists' home, to host more creative residencies and to get more involved in production as well as in arts and cultural education. A beautiful development worthy of him, Paris and his region!

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