For ten days, nearly 150,000 festival-goers are expected in Arthur Rimbaud’s hometown, confirming the brilliant intuition of another local child: Jacques Félix, born a hundred years ago. With his association Les Petits acteurs de rags, this enthusiast launched the World Festival of Puppet Theaters in 1961.
Since then, they have been to Charleville-Mézières what cinema is to Cannes, theater to Avignon: quite a symbol!
To be convinced of this, let’s first go to theNational Higher School of Puppetry Arts. After a very selective competition, the lucky winners – the current class includes 18 students – learn the profession of actor-puppeteer in three years. Unique in France, the establishment has been training artists since the 1980s who will pursue careers in theater, cinema, animation, etc.
Our visit continues in a setting serving as a setting for the “off” creations of the festival: the Place Ducale. Every quarter of an hour, the chime of town hall belfry intones The song of departure, a revolutionary anthem from 1794. With its facades of brick and Dom-le-Mesnil stone, an ocher limestone, this square remains the convergence point of Charleville, an ideal city of Renaissance inspiration, founded in 1606 by Charles de Gonzague whose statue we have just saluted.
Let’s now take the southeast corner of Place Ducale, to reach the Ardennes Museum Adjoining theInternational Puppet Institute, it houses a permanent collection of puppets, tracing the evolution of this art according to countries, cultures and different techniques: rods, strings, sheath with the puppet from Lyon, shadow theater, bunraku from Japan … The opportunity also to return to the origins of the festival, by exhibiting characters designed by Les petits acteurs de chiffons, when they were created in 1941, but also those from the 1946 show, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, by Geo Condé, famous Moselle puppeteer. The Ardennes Museum also allows you to admire the mechanism of the Grand Puppeteer. Since 1991, this automaton clock has offered twelve paintings inspired by a medieval song of gesture of Ardennes origin: The four Aymon sons . From Winston-Churchill Square, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., passers-by discover one of the scenes from this saga every hour. On Saturday evening, at 9:15 p.m., these come together revealing the entire show.
Other activities await visitors, near Saint-Rémi church. The space at the foot of this neo-Romanesque building, in front of the ticket office, becomes during the festival the informal meeting place for puppet fans and artists. As Jacques Félix said: “It is with friendship and will that great utopias become reality!”