Artist Federica Martina makes her own puppets and brings the universal stories of Pulcinella and his companions to the streets

The noble art of puppet theater is one of the cornerstones of the Italian and European theatrical tradition. The puppeteer, as a street artist, is a wanderer by vocation. For this reason, the art of “guarattelle” has spread everywhere over the centuries, taking different forms. The Puppet Theatre, like the Commedia dell’Arte and the acrobats’ performances, was born in the street and has more than 500 years of history behind it. Pulcinella itself has many European “cousins”, like Punch and Judy in England or Don Cristobal in Spain, who have a series of characteristics in common and charm both younger and older spectators.

The good Pulcinella, a protagonist of the puppet theater and universal symbol of common folks’ character and strength, finds its most characteristic and effective form of expression through the “pivetta,” a bone or metal instrument, similar to the whistle used as a call for birds.

Today, especially in Italy, we can happily witness the recovery and renewal of an ancient and prestigious tradition that is loved all over the world. Together with Federica Martina, master puppeteer and creator of the Anemarte project, we explored this fascinating artistic world, which combines the creativity of Italian craftsmanship with the cathartic push of the theatrical language.

Federica Martina, creator of Anemarte and its characters: how was this project born?

I trained in physical and bodily theater, a path that I followed for about ten years, starting in Naples. Right there, took place the life-changing encounter with Bruno Leone, a master puppeteer who was carrying out a puppet-making workshop: I was completely fascinated by him. This new reality bowled me over: seeing on display all the puppets Leone had built around the world, I decided to take that same path. Later, I met my current teacher, Salvatore Gatto, who has a carpentry workshop in Naples, where, among other things, he dedicated himself to the art of puppets and the training of young puppeteers. From a passion, this world has become my profession, involving all aspects of my life: loving to travel, I found in this profession my full realization.

How does the job of master puppeteer work?

I take care of the realization of my puppets: they are made of wood and, for complete customization, I dedicate myself to the construction, the sewing of the clothes, the painting the faces. When they are ready, I bring them to life during the shows. While traveling I happened to collaborate with other artists, puppeteers, or musicians. This is also how my last experience of collaboration began with Tina Gaio, a skilled craftswoman and a great tambourine player. Together we created a show of music and puppets, taking it around the streets of Puglia this summer.

How are your street shows structured?

Generally, the show opens with Pulcinella dancing with his girlfriend Teresina, accompanied by the accordion playing traditional music. It is an introductory moment that serves to attract the audience. Then the real stories begin, handed down orally for over 500 years, from master puppeteer to pupil, to be modified, adapted, and personalized by each one of them. Pulcinella is a hero of everyday life, an antihero, on whom dangers rain down. For example, while he is playing a serenade to Teresina, the Guappo, his antagonist, arrives and subjects him to the worst harassment, preventing him from singing. Through various quarreling dynamics, we arrive at the moment of the fight. At this point, Pulcinella, who represents common folks, rebels against the bullying of the Guappo and the two characters fight with clubs. The movements of the puppets are explanatory of the universal character they represent. In the end, Pulcinella always manages to defeat his enemy be it the Guappo, the Dog, Death, and everything ends once again with a dance that is the culmination of love, the classic happy ending. It is a way to communicate to the audience that love really is the most powerful force of all, able to defeat all evil. Indeed, originally, the character of Pulcinella was genderless and also a bit animalistic: he was born from an egg, his voice sounds like that of a chicken. Thus, Pulcinella is a symbol, the mask serves to make it truly universal.

In this phase of global emergency caused by the current pandemic, have there been any changes in the audience’s approach to street theater?

From people, I perceived a distance da was not only physical but also emotional. There is more fear and less propensity to spend, to trust. Moreover, several municipalities prevented us from performing our shows to avoid the formation of crowds. Everything has become more difficult, but hopefully, we will soon be able to overcome the emergency, especially for children, to whom the shows are mainly addressed. Even if, the puppet theater is ageless.

What do you see, and what do you hope to see, in the future of puppet theater?

We are in a time of great change. The individualism already present in society is expanding more and more, leading to forms of social flaking that mainly affect the younger generations. I, as a puppeteer, would like to preserve children’s relationship with art. I have been doing this work for two years and my goal is to bring this art into schools to stimulate the imagination of the younger generation and help them to know themselves better. Puppet theater is the child of an oral tradition that cannot be lost, for the sake of the very survival of our society.

Interview: Elisabetta Pasca

Translation: Ilona Catani Scarlett

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