Spejbl and Hurvínek
Traditional puppet shows with an eternally relevant parent-child dynamic
Puppets play an important role in the history of the Czech Republic since The Middle Ages. Starting as entertaining performances done by comedians at fairs or markets, puppetry gradually found its way into large theatres.
The first puppets, like Kašpárek, are sometimes referred to as “the makers of Czech nationality”* date back to the 18th century. These first characters were comical and had similar views and attitude to the average audience member which made them relatable. The role of the puppeteers went far beyond entertainment as they led national revival: the shows helped viewers familiarized themselves with Enlightenment ideas and national resurgence in an easily-understood fashion.
Josef Skupa took the puppet world by storm in 1930 when he founded the Pilsen Puppet Theater. Skupa’s most famous puppets were created in 1920 and 1926 and they are, of course, Spejbl and Hurvínek. Spejbl, the comical father and his mischievous son Hurvínek became a comedy duo that has gained international success.
While they’ve also appeared on TV, nothing can beat the original puppet show where the foolish father and his son share an apartment with another family (mother and daughter) and a word-barking dog. Spejbl and Hurvínek are so popular that they even have their own theater in Prague 6.
Today the theater shows star the duo in tales of day-day life as well as fantasy episodes. They represent varying views on the world between generations. The Czech-language performances are offered for children as well as adults; you can read about the shows in Czech, English or German in the program section of the official Spejbl and Hurvínek Theater website.
The S+H Theater has visited more than 30 countries including the USA and China. The puppets have acted in 21 languages and the original two puppets were created by Karel Nosek, a woodcarver from Plzen, and his nephew Gustav Nosek.
More than just a puppet show, Josef Skupa used his plays to perform satirical and allegorical performances during the Nazi occupation. He moved the Pilsen Theater to Prague in 1945 where it remains today and continues the beautiful tradition.
Skupa became the president of UNIMA in 1933: the International Puppetry Association (UNIMA) was founded in Prague in 1929 and remained in Czechoslovakia until the headquarters moved to France in 1981. Today it is affiliated with UNESCO and is also a member of the International Theater Institute.
Acknowledging the influence that the Czechs had on puppetry, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic maintains the Chrudim Puppetry Museum, founded in 1972. With over 50,000 items, the museum sees almost 17,000 visitors annually. The museum is located in Pardubice and welcomes visitors from all around the world.
While the S+H Theater is still popular today, the younger generation may know of Spejbl and Hurvínek primarily from TV. There is a Hurvínek movie and also a TV show meant to teach Czech children English. The duo is also part of one season of Večerníček, a popular bedtime story TV show for children.
The best thing about Spejbl and Hurvínek is that no matter how old the show gets, it will always be relevant because of its great portrayal of the gap between generations of parents and their children. The history of puppetry also continues to be an important part of Czech culture.
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