The 2017 World Puppet Festival in Charleville-Mézières


Having been listed amongst the world’s ‘Top 20 Events to Travel for in 2015’, the 19th World Puppet Festival will be held in Charleville-Mézières, France this year from September 16-24.

A key event in the life of the French Ardennes region for more than 50 years – thanks to the unfailing enthusiasm of its founding father Jacques Félix, who created it to lift spirits during the war – the Festival is once again set to bring together puppet companies from all corners and every continent of the world, who will then work their magic to transforms this quiet, historic town into a densely populated and highly atmospheric world capital for ‘Les Petits Comédiens’.

Only held every two years, the carnival occasion has grown dramatically since its inception in 1961 and now attracts not only the greatest puppet companies in the world, but also almost 170,000 spectators.

“performers regard themselves as artists, and that the vast majority of the shows are aimed as much at adults as at children”

All of which means that The French Ardennes is likely to once again become one of the ‘must see’ destinations in France, come September.

The event has developed to the point where more than 50 different venues across the town are now needed to help to host up to 250 performing companies who will be arriving from other parts of Europe, as well as from Brazil, Canada, Ivory Coast, India, Israel, Iran, Syria, Taiwan, Tunisia and the United States. All in all, around 25 countries will be represented.

And while the town and its inhabitants give way to a mild sense of lunacy for the nine day Festival, it is just as important to recognise that the performers regard themselves as artists, and that the vast majority of the shows are aimed as much at adults as at children.

The ideal choice for the one of the biggest-ever gatherings of puppets in the world, Charleville-Mézières is a centre for marionettes and puppeteers – boasting an association with the art which stretches as far back as 1941. That was the year a 17-years old Jacques Felix first introduced a puppet theatre to the town.

In the intervening years, Charleville-Mézières has taken its Petits Comédiens very seriously, and has not only established an International Puppet Institute, but also an Ecole Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette, which now offers a three-year puppetry course to around 30 international students. Special events will also be organised for the 30th anniversary of the school this year.

In 1991, the town also unveiled what has become one of its most endearing tourist attractions, ‘The Grand Marionnettiste’ – The Great Puppeteer’s Clock. Built into the façade of the Institut de la Marionette, every hour – from 10am to 9pm – it presents an episode from the legend of the Four Sons of Aymon…a heroic medieval saga linked to the geography and history of the Ardennes.

The Puppet Festival might feature Les Petits Comédiens, but September promises to be BIG for The French Ardennes in 2017 – with the War & Peace Museum scheduled to reopen its doors to the public for the first time since 2008 that same month.

The much anticipated reopening means that The French Ardennes will have another major attraction for visitors to see during the build-up to the 100th anniversary of the end of The Great War.

The interpretation within the museum has been completely renewed, with new visitor circuits and plenty of new artefacts. The museum covers the three wars in the Ardennes (1870, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945), and the collection has been enhanced by a large number of gifts and items loaned by French and foreign museums. The interpretation will also be in English.

It commemorates, amongst other things, the “House of the Last Cartridge”, in Bazeilles – a village 8 km from Sedan – where commander Lambert’s group of 70 men stood up to 2,300 Prussians in September 1870.

World War I is depicted through the life of German and French troops in the trenches. The soldiers had left home with “flowers in their gun barrels”, but found themselves in a war in which men on both sides dug underground to protect themselves, giving rise to the figure of the French “Poilu” who suffered the rigours of the seasons, shortages and bloody attacks, which in the end led to mutiny.

Weaponry, uniforms, packs and supplies and even details of how the troops entertained themselves during the long war years are all on display in the Museum – along with many other depictions of war, and peace.

The new website has just been launched, and will also be available in English from June 2018.

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