The Summary of the 13th International Puppetry Revue Lutkokaz: A Little Giant Who Has Outgrown Its Limits

23 04 2023

Festival "Lutkokaz". Photo: Iris Tomić

Author: Igor Tretinjak

Lutkokaz has outgrown itself and the question arises – what next? The only salvation is both urgent and obvious – the theatre hall which would finally be made available to the Academy of Arts and Culture in Osijek and Lutkokaz.

For the 13th time, the International Puppetry Revue Lutkokaz has gathered the best current puppetry productions, films and puppets created by the students of the Academy of Arts and Culture in Osijek. Also, with the help of two guest performances and lectures, it presented the Art Organization LOFT (UO LOFT) and reinforced the program with a new production produced by the Art Organization Gllugl (UO Gllugl), a play produced by the Drama Studio Dada, whose drama pedagogue Davor Dokleja won the Zvjezdana Ladik Award at the artistic gathering “Mali Assitej” the day after, and a noted performance by the Slovenian puppet theatre playwright Benjamin Zajc. This year’s Lutkokaz also organized excellent workshops for the students of puppetry and theatre design, a lecture and a round table on contemporary puppetry, presented the regional platform “Od malih nog(u)” and wrapped up the large two-and-a-half-year project of Creative Europe “EU Contemporary Puppetry Critical Platform”. As part of the project, Osijek hosted puppeteers and puppet theatre critics from Slovenia, Scotland and Lithuania. This would be the briefest of descriptions of the 13th Lutkokaz. However, this year's Lutkokaz, like every Lutkokaz before it, was much more than an impressive body of facts on paper. It was a real small venture.

Almost fifteen years ago, the Academy of Arts and Culture (then still called Art Academy) quietly and courageously launched a puppetry revue with the idea of presenting its own productions and students to domestic puppet theatre directors and producers. Very soon it became clear that the initial concept could not succeed because it was (allegedly) almost impossible to bring directors to Osijek in March. When the initial concept did not prove to be successful, Lutkokaz turned inwards and toward its city, by offering the audience a free, attractive and high-quality domestic and international program. Almost all Croatian (independent) theatres were present at the revue, including Lutkokaz’s favorite guests and partners – the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre (one of the most prominent puppet theatres in Europe) and an influential independent Slovenian theatre Moment – accompanied by theatres, companies, artists and experts from Hungary, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Scotland.

However, in the context of Croatia and Osijek, Lutkokaz remained on (financial) margins despite the impressive names and programs. To survive, The Academy of Arts and Culture in Osijek decided to participate in European projects, which would provide it with the necessary guests. However, the organizer was not content to merely survive but decided to continually expand in a number of aspects. In addition to performances and permanent workshops held by domestic and international experts, the revue has for some years also had a film program and exhibitions of Theater Design students which turned into a permanent Puppet Salon, serving as a foundation for a potential puppetry museum. As of last year, one puppet theater is presented to the students and citizens of Osijek through performances and conversation (before this year's LOFT, the City Puppet Theatre in Rijeka was presented), there is a rich lecture program and round tables attended by prominent and appreciated puppet theatre artists (this year the lecture was given by Lithuanian director and visual theatre theorist Žilvinas Vingelis, while the round table on contemporary puppetry and criticism was attended by a dozen experts and young critics from Croatia, Slovenia, Scotland and Lithuania), and the always-full auditorium accommodated numerous important domestic and international festival guests. All this led to the completion of the initial task set by a small revue (until yesterday) – the promotion of puppetry at the Academy – no longer in Croatian but in the European context.

And while this "crazy brave" puppetry journey has lifted the revue to almost unimaginable levels, nothing else has changed. Lutkokaz is still in all respects a small gathering that accommodates stars and authorities of European puppetry in two small halls, shoving them (or not) into makeshift black boxes without air and space. The Academy of Arts and Culture in Osijek has been doing important things for Osijek and Croatian puppetry for a long time; its productions push the boundaries of the expression, and former students are the staple of repertoires in most puppet theaters, but there is still no adequate performance space, which is rapidly taking its toll.

Lutkokaz has outgrown itself and the question arises – what next? It would be logical to expand, but where? On the street? If, on the other hand, it plans to contract and close itself within its own (non)possibilities, why was so much invested in this revue? The only salvation is both urgent and obvious – the theatre hall which would finally be made available to the Academy of Arts and Culture in Osijek and Lutkokaz. That way, they would not only survive, but also have the opportunity to bring even stronger and more numerous names and programs to Osijek, and thus turn it into a true center of Croatian puppetry (we have to add here that Osijek is the host of the festival SLUK, which really pushes it into the foreground of Croatian puppetry), as well as a significant site in the European context. And puppetry has long ceased to be an easy theatrical expression intended “only” for children. In the contemporary context, it offers endless possibilities on the scene, as well as in matters surrounding it – through European collaborations and projects that provide the puppetry in Osijek and Croatia, the art and the city of Osijek, with a generous space for representation, association, artistic growth and development. The opportunity is right in front of us. The foundations under us are solid. We only need only a material “nudge” and the world of puppetry will be here to stay.

This publication is written in the context of the project "European Contemporary Puppetry Critical Platform"