Joy Theatre Puppet Museum – Fun, With Strings Attached

A Puppet State

A trio of puppets made from wood, leather and other materials.
A trio of puppets made from wood, leather and other materials.

The art of Puppetry has played a major part in Czech theatre and culture since the middle ages. Czech puppeteers and their traveling shows were becoming prominent in the late 1770s and there were over 200 puppeteers operating in the Czech lands by the mid 19th century.

While the traditional traveling puppet theatre went into decline in the late 19th century and through the First World War, amateur performers kept the art of puppets alive through the interwar years and the Second World War. Following World War Two, puppet theatre experienced a resurgence and the amateur era gave way to professional theatres.

Through the latter half of the 20th century development and innovation in Czech puppet theatre was constant and included putting live performers on stage to perform alongside the puppet characters.

Through organizations like Joy Theatre (Divadlo Radost), the art of puppetry remains popular today.

Strength and Subversion

A quite expressive traditional marionette.
A quite expressive traditional marionette.

The significance of puppets to Czech culture runs much deeper than a simple means of entertainment. Puppets have twice in the nation’s history played a major part in keeping the Czechs and their culture from possible consignment to the history books.

Travelling puppet theatres helped to spread a renewed interest among Czechs in their culture and language during the Czech National Revival movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Under Habsburg rule, many elements of Czech culture as well as the Czech language suffered greatly. The travelling puppet theatres were instrumental in delivering patriotic messages to fill people with a renewed interest in the survival of their own culture.

Amateur puppet theatres kept Czech patriotism and faith in the future alive through the German occupation of the country in the Second World War. being amateur, these theatres could operate at a very low profile and incorporate subtle subversive imagery to keep morale high among the population during that very dark period.

The Joy Theatre and Puppet Museum

The bridge and clock above the museum entrance.
The bridge and clock above the museum entrance.

Located in Brno’s Zábrdovice district, just north east of the centre, the Joy Theatre (Divadlo Radost) has been a fixture of the city’s theatre scene since 1949. The theatre’s repertoire spans a very broad audience and is designed to have appeal for children and adults alike.

The puppet museum (Muzeum Loutek) is a much newer attraction which was opened to the public in 2011. The Museum is housed in a very distinctive boat shaped building that juts dramatically above Cejl street. If you are anywhere near the end of Cejl street that’s closer to the centre, you won’t miss seeing that ship!

The museum display area is small but fascinating and gives the theatre a chance to share with the public some of its inventory of puppets accumulated over the years.

My Visit to the Museum

 selection of hand puppets on display.
selection of hand puppets on display.

I will preface this section by saying that the visit I had to the puppet museum may not be entirely indicative of a typical visit there, I’ve not had the chance to speak to others who may have visited it.

I went on a Sunday and was the only visitor to the museum at the time I went. After paying the modest entry fee, I was directed upstairs to the display area and greeted by a very pleasant guide. As the guide did not speak English, all of our communication was in Czech.

As the guide showed me the various puppets on display and told me some details of how they were made; she also allowed me to try my hand at operating some of them and offered to take my picture as I did so, this was a lot of fun and was quite eye opening as to how challenging operating some types of puppets can be.

The quality of art and workmanship in some of the puppets is a true joy to behold and the range of styles used in creating the puppets is truly diverse. From the comical to the graceful to the outright grotesque, a bit of everything is here.

While the guide was very accommodating, not to mention very patient with my less than perfect Czech, she did mention that the museum can get busy and crowded on weekdays due to school groups visiting. As such, you may want to time your visit for a Sunday or during the summer months.

The guide also pointed out that the museum completely changes its exhibits twice per year, in December and again in August, so there should always be something fresh to see there.

Additional Information

Some of these puppets are true works of art.
Some of these puppets are true works of art.

The museum website is all in Czech with no other language options that I can see.

The operating hours are as follows:
Monday to Friday: 08:00 – 18:00
Sunday and holidays: 09:00 – 18:00
Saturdays: Closed

The museum can be reached quite easily on foot from the centre as Cejl street is directly connected to it. By public transport, the Kornerova transit stop is almost directly in front of the museum.

If you wish to see a wide variety of handmade, authentic Czech marionettes and possibly purchase one for yourself; this website would be a good start:

http://www.czechmarionettes.com/en/

This web site carries contemporary news from the Czech puppeteering world:

http://www.loutkar.eu/en/index.php

One Last Detail

Most travel guides which mention Brno will tell you that Cejl street is part of a less than pleasant part of the city. While it is true that Cejl is rather run-down in appearance, it’s not that dangerous in the daytime and the museum is quite close to the end of Cejl which connects to the centre and quite close to a police station. As such, you shouldn’t have any major problems when visiting the museum.

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