Richard Teschner, master puppet-maker

Der Drachentöter at Richard Teschner’s Figuren Spiegel.

Richard Teschner (1879 – 1948) was already an accomplished puppeteer and stage designer who had founded a puppet company in Prague, when while travelling in the Netherlands, he saw rod-puppet figures brought by Dutch explorers from Java.

Richard Teschner at work on a puppet in 1941

Inspired by the Javanese tradition, he resolved to make rod-puppets of his own design, and moreover to open a ‘Symbolist’ theatre in Vienna, the Figuren Spiegel, where his puppet actors could perform on a special stage of his own devising.

Teschner’s design for the Figuren Spiegel  was unique, with the proscenium aperture circular and fitted with concave glass, so the puppets appeared as though through a lens.

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Figuren Spiegel. Die Lebens-Uhr. 1935

Realising that the human voice would be an intrusion into the worlds conjured on his ‘glass stage’, Teschner eschewed written texts, instead composing delicate music-box scores that tinkled accompaniments suitable to the scale of his exquisitely crafted puppets.

Kavalier

Teschner took the rod-puppet template of the Javanese tradition, but developed it to extraordinary levels of elegance and ingenuity. He paid particular attention to the movements of his puppets’ heads. Complex arrangements of internal mechanics, wires and levers lend a grace of movement that’s unequalled in figures of this type. Although he was a masterful wood-carver he was not averse to experimenting with novel materials, and the Österreichischen Theatermuseum holds examples of his puppets made in transparent plastics. (Click on the link at the bottom of this post.) Teschner’s Figuren Spiegel was seminal to 20th century puppet-design and performance, and particularly so in the field of rod-puppets.

Zipzip

Above and below: puppets from Der Drachentöter

Richard Teschner’s puppets and his theatre are held in the Österreichischen Theatermuseum in Vienna. The museum publish a beautiful series of slim histories, each one dedicated to a production in Teschner’s Figuren Spiegel repertoire. The front-covers in the series are cut and lined with translucent paper to mimic the proscenium of the Figuren Spiegel stage.

Below: the cover of Der Basilisk

You can see more Teschner puppets at the Österreichischen Theatermuseum, HERE.

16 thoughts on “Richard Teschner, master puppet-maker

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  6. I’m in love with Zipzip…and those rods to move the hands/arms are to be my next move in puppetdom. It’s totally awe-inspiring to see all these wonderful puppet artists and their work…..isn’t the world fabulous some times?? :+)

    • Pay attention to the wrist, and to the attachment of rod to hand.

      Never just glue a rod into a hand so that it is an immoveable attachment. That will make for really clumsy puppetry. The rod needs to be able to move at the point of attachment, to swivel and slope, which is why some puppet-makers cut a slot into the hand to house the rod-end, so that the rod can twist and shift, allowing a variety of gestures.

      Think about whether the hand will have the rod attached at the outside edge, or in the palm, because that will affect gesture. Teschner’s puppets have beautifully sculpted hands, not least because he so admired the Javanese tradition… in dance and puppetry… of the hand held palm forward and the fingers extended. His rod-attachments are cleverly constructed, so that the puppeteer can create elegant choreography of the hands. (Examine the hands in all the photographs. The positions are elegant in every one.)

      In repose, the rods must always hang straight down. Don’t make any attachment of rod-to-hand that leaves the rod sticking out at an angle when dropped, or that leaves the hand in an ugly position when not operated.

      The trick is to play with the elements before deciding. It’s all in the manipulation, and the manipulation must be paramount when thinking of the design. Puppet design is not all about surfaces. It’s about devising ways of expressing movement. Without movement, puppets are sorry things, like dancers with broken bodies.

    • Ha ha. Well I’m sure you aren’t fickle when it comes to where it counts, and that your heart is true to G!

      Looking at all these varieties of puppet may at first seem bewildering, but it’s important for participants understand how versatile the art-form can be. However I’d remind everyone to look beyond the surface and think about how they want their puppets to move and to perform. Important to remember that weight and durability is a major factor in puppet design and construction, and I’d caution against making puppets from materials that are too flimsy, because flimsy materials will impart ‘flimsiness’ to the performance. Moreover, flimsy construction will mean flimsy mechanisms, and flimsy mechanisms will work poorly and break easily. Teschner’s puppets are magnificent not least because though they look delicate, they’re well up to the mark in terms of robust construction. Performance can inflict a lot of wear and tear on puppet joints.

      The other thing to remember is that a puppet must have sufficient weight to ‘ground’ it and enable its performance to be controlled. A puppet that is too light will just float around and wobble a lot. (A very slight tremble in a puppeteers hand, will be massively exaggerated in a flimsy puppet!) When making marionettes from papier-mâché it’s essential to adequately weight them to avoid this ‘bouncy’ effect, and any weighting needs to be thought about during the process of making, as you can’t just add it on later. Weights can be built into extremities, and even into the main body of the puppet if necessary.

      Have fun!

      PS: Love the puppet theatre you’ve made, Zoe, and that’s on show at your blog. Magical!

      • you are correct, my heart is not fickle there 🙂

        i’m so happy that you like the stage, i had a lot of fun making it, but already there a several things i wish i’d done differently, but that’s the game!
        every time i think about the puppet, i’m certain of how i’m going to make it. the only problem is, every time, i’m certain of something different!
        hah. at any rate, these posts are invaluable–it’s astonishing the range of styles and materials, there’s much more to consider than i’d ever thought…

  7. Aw shucks, you beat me to it Clive! I was planning a post on Richard Teschner too 🙂

    A very clever man and a great artist too. I love Der Drachentöter and Zipzip.

    • My apologies. Loved your Moomin post though. Between us we clearly have all the bases covered.

      I’ve tweaked the Teschner post a little this morning, snapping some images from my copy of Der Drachentoter to show the wonderful detail of the puppets.

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