Colección Lucia Contreras

A brief history of paper theatres.


Along the tradition of Theaters paper, the "schools" or the various specialized editors are more important that the dates. For that reason, I preferred grouping pieces of the collection by country, instead of a purely chronological classification. As you will browse the different sections of the collection, you will find a short description of the period, the dominant style and characteristics of the production in each country.

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In literature...

Paper theatres were much more than simple toys, and throughout history many artists and writers became interested in them. Among the texts that confirm this relationship, we find figures such as Andersen (who developed his fantasy as a child playing with a toy theatre), Lewis Carroll (who used to offer his friends home performances not suitable for all audiences) or Frida Kahlo (who made her own theatres). Oscar Wilde, Ibsen, Chesterton, Jane Austen, Richard Strauss, Goethe, Stevenson, Picasso, Dickens, Orson Wells, Laurence Olivier, Ingmar Bergman and Andrew Lloyd Weber, also expressed their fondness for table-top theatres. In Spain, the playwright Jacinto Benavente gave the following answers to the questions asked by a journalist:
— Which were your favourite toys?
—Toy theatres. I couldn’t even tell how many I had. I made up the comedies myself and I moved the figures using wires, and I made all kinds of mischief... And I either had big hits or I booed my own plays.
—And, how about the boxes of soldiers or nativity scenes, did you like them too?
—Yes, because of their theatrical element, and if they didn’t have that component, I forced it upon them. Soldiers and figurines from nativity scenes, as soon as they landed on my hands, they became part of my theatre troupes... Oh! I also liked reading very much. I read anything that fell on my hands: newspaper serials, history textbooks, fantastic tales, newspapers...

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In the movies...

Also the influence of toy theaters in the customs of Europe was so important that the productions of the best filmmakers of the twentieth century reflected their presence. Here's a short selection:
- "La Marseillaise" by Jean Renoir in 1937.
- "The Leopard" by Luchino Visconti in 1963.
- "Fanny and Alexander" by Ingmar Bergman in 1982.
- "Tea with Mussolini" Franco Zefirelli in 1999.
- "Frida" by Julie Taymor in 2002.
All images and texts© 2008 LUCIA CONTRERAS FLORES.
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