When it comes to marionettes, Belgians are no dummies

  • With his animated vegetables, Stéphane Georis will be the guest of honor at the World Festival of Marionettes in Charleville-Mézières.
  • Other important Belgian groups: Tof Theater, Night Shop, Gare Centrale.
  • Belgium pulls the strings of a growing art form.

A visit to the workshop of a guy who tells the story of Richard III on stage with a pork roast that signifies his butchery and decodes the brain’s mysteries with the help of a cauliflower, is a rare treat. And then, when the same person appears as a serial killer, of marionettes of course, you might have second thoughts about coming alone to this hangar near Verviers, this slightly nutty artist’s hideout. Finally, the worst is awaiting us in the form of wilted carrots disguised as piranhas.

Since creating The Puppet of the Drawers, Stéphane Georis has become a specialist in ephemeral puppets: “I was doing street theater when, in 2000, I started in a small theater in Charleville-Mézières, telling stories with marzipan and chocolate sauce. I thought of myself as a clown playing with objects. They labeled me as a ‘contemporary marionette artist’, and I started on a world tour.” He followed with the Desk Puppet, then the Laboratory Puppet, and here he is today – guest of honor at the World Marionette Festival in Charleville-Mézières (September 20 – 29), where he will orchestrate a series of joyously macabre events.

He will create The Man Who Was Never Happy, inviting the audience to a funeral. In the role of an undertaker Stéphane Georis will use the elements of a sideboard to tell how, all of his life, the deceased tried to let go of material things. Handling a bread bag, a percolator, little onions or biscuits, the artist demonstrates the opposite of over-consumption. This weirdo is also putting together a marionette show in the city’s Leader Price store, between the vegetable and cheese aisles. There, his audience will follow Indiana Tchantchès and Wonder Woltje voyaging up the Meuse searching for the mythic marionette cemetery. They will trek through the jungle with strange creations, such as a gas mask with a Camembert muzzle. They will encounter Mittal cannibals in Flémalle (feathered coffeepots or crested bottle openers) and step over the deep waters of Profondeville with their schools of canned fish where the body of Capitan Igloo lies (fish sticks, of course).

The last evening of the festival, he plans St. Pinocchio’s bonfire to burn dead marionettes on the Place Ducale. “We asked a dozen artists, from Italy, Israel, and Canada to provide a short sketch giving life and death to their marionette. There will be marionettes made of bread, turkey, wood and papier maché. We will put them into the flames of a barbecue grill and form a joyous procession, accompanied by Brussels’ brass band, Les Fanfoireux, to throw the ashes into the Meuse, before a final and hope-filled resurrection.” To complete this funereal series, Stéphane Georis has written The solitude of a sailor in the forest or a hundred ways to kill a marionette, to be produced during the festival. “I’ve had this macabre obsession for a long time because of working with ephemeral marionettes. I make them, give them life, and it’s only logical to have them die. When I play with a steak as Tchantchès, it’s not an object any more. When I place it on a table, it becomes an object again. The marionette artist is a bit schizophrenic. He is on the road to healing when he kills his marionette.”

He may be schizophrenic, but he is also a hopeless provocateur. “Just playing with food shocks some people. For example, vegetarians are outraged that I play with meat, even though I’m on their side. If I disgust people, they’ll eat less. And then, you can’t say that one kilo of meat for 200 people is wasteful.” You could also say that it’s organic since Stéphane Georis buys his marionettes fresh each morning for that evening’s performance, adapting them to the local culture. While he uses cucumbers as dinosaurs in Belgium, he uses pineapples in warmer climates.

“One day, as I was creating Adam the Laboratory Puppet, I wanted to use a fish. I wanted to explore the flying fish, to making it fly over the audience, but because of the smell after a day of rehearsal, I quickly abandoned the idea. There is an interesting flabbiness in fish or meat. It brings us back to ourselves, to our fleshly being. The material is important: a piece of raw meat makes a ‘splat’ noise when it falls, while cooked meat makes a ‘pong’ noise. Otherwise, carpaccio is excellent for making masks.”


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