A year of ordeal and misfortune
It is difficult to write this introduction without the use of dirty words. But they cannot be avoided, such is our reality. The c-word – coronavirus – has not left our lips. The virus has changed our lives, our thoughts and our vocabulary. We greet one another from a distance, we avoid hugging, we do not sit next to each other. We are cutting programmes and minimising festivals. In addition to the pandemic, Zagreb was struck by an earthquake and then a flood while fires rage along the coast. In anticipation of other biblical plagues, we go on with our lives.
The people of Zagreb are showing their cheerful spirit by boasting that they now live at the seafront, measuring the water level at the British Square and in Miramarska Street, expecting ZET to introduce submarines in their fleet and publish a ferry schedule from Ban Jelačić Square to other parts of the city. Coronavirus jokes fill my life. My favourite one is about a panda, which eats 12 hours a day on average – since people in quarantine eat like pandas, the term pandemic was coined.
That kind of spirit helped puppeteers through many struggles over the centuries. And they have experienced plenty of those. They wandered throughout time, more often hungry than full, they survived the plague, wars and famine, they survived numerous censorships, both secular and ecclesiastical, knowing how to doge them to develop from wanderers and nuisances (although, always entertaining) into superb artists. PIF also overcame many adversities starting as a small festival that persevered through the war and the post-war period and survived many difficult years only thanks to the kindness of people who opened their homes to festival performers. It took place every year and, hopefully, the streak continues in 2020. This year's festival will be a smaller one as some theatres are unable to attend due to the epidemiological situation in their countries and some are, well, too expensive to host during these hard times. But let's not talk about money, money is another dirty word. As are problems. There are no problems, there are only challenges!
PIF, this small festival, amazes with the ingenuity of puppeteers and the variety of puppetry techniques. Puppets take various forms. For example, they manifest as toys: in one play, they are gentle and warm, they play with the youngest children, singing songs and nursery rhymes; in another, they show perfect manipulation in an ironic twist; in the third, they remind us of our childhoods as they tell a story of brave boys and their problems. The Silent Boy is silent because he is deaf, so the entire performance joins content with form and tell his story through the movement of hands and fingers, reminiscent of sign language. We will witness people and their shadows telling a story of remembrance together while another story comes to life as it is drawn in sand. We haven't seen hands as puppets since the famous Yves Joly performed at the 7th PIF and Claudio Cinelli performed at the 18th PIF. We will witness it again, performed by a student of the Academy of Arts and Culture. In addition to puppets, the performers consist of even the most ordinary objects such as egg cartons. But the puppets are also assisted by sophisticated modern technology: a camera allows an outside perspective and a different point of view. (This is something we might also benefit from in real life.) Of course, we will see classic puppets, but also performances without any puppets, as is the case in another Academy of Arts and Culture student's response to the coronavirus reality. Performances without puppets that are still fully puppetry! Animation of bodies, shadows, sand, hands and objects speak to the applicability of the term animation theatre, which may one day replace the name puppet theatre.
We expect to see all of the above at this year's PIF. We can only hope that there will be no more changes or further cancellations from the moment this editorial is written until PIF takes place.
Dirty words were unavoidable, such is our reality, but we can end this introduction on a happy note and with one very fine word: after the pandemic, the earthquake and the flood, Zagreb will be hit by – PIF!
Livija Kroflin. phD, Associate Professor, Editor of the official PIF program