If you go through any travel guide for Paris, you will definitely find rue Mouffetard among the top suggestions. It makes perfect sense: at the heart of the fifth arrondissement and the famous Quartier Latin, this place is filled with picturesque restaurants and shops. Ever since the Roman Empire (when Paris was known as Lutetia), Parisians have daily roamed through this historical site, discovering its mysteries. And Le Mouffetard, théâtre des arts de la marionnette (“theater of puppetry arts”) is perhaps one of its most well-kept secrets. Located at 73 rue Mouffetard, in a small, concealed courtyard, this theater became in November 2013 the first Parisian venue dedicated exclusively to puppetry arts. Its director, Isabelle Bertola stated in an interview in 2016 that “it is true this artistic form [puppetry] hasn’t been very visible, but today, thanks to this dedicated venue, I believe it has become more noticeable.”
Although Le Mouffetard as we know it exists only since 2013, the building has been home to different kinds of cultural and educational centers. From “l’Univeristé Populaire” (“People’s University) between 1906 and 1919 to the 1950’s “Théâtre Mouffetard,” this place has seen the work of theater directors such as Ariane Mnouchkine or Jacques Mauclair, to name but a few. During its short history, this place as moved (from nº 76 to nº73), changed its name and suffered radical restructuring. Today, its mission seems clearer than ever: to promote and support contemporary puppetry arts, in its diversity, for all audiences. It has become one of the most important places in Paris and France for the development of this art. The road to get here hasn’t been easy, however. Prior to finding this venue, the Théâtre de la Marionnette had to wander for 20 years from theater to theater, before being able to settle at 73 rue Mouffetard.
For some people, puppetry is automatically associated with children’s theater and, of course, puppets. Well, Le Mouffetard’s repertoire is an example of puppetry arts complexity, and it also helps subvert this and other stereotypes related to this art. As a way to enrich and continuously transform their craft, the puppeteers, visual artists, and performers who show their work at this venue combine all sorts of genres and styles, including dance, video, performance, and visual arts. For instance, in April 2017 three theater companies have accepted the challenge to stage small performances in shop windows throughout Paris, using different artifacts, bodies and other elements. Also, for two weeks in January, the Alinéa Theatre Company performed a version of Lebanese-Canadian author Wajdi Mouawad’s Assoiffés, a tale of memory and youth.
What’s also interesting about this place is the variety of activities, workshops, and productions it offers. Apart from each season’s program, which includes between 9 to 10 plays, for children and adults, Le Mouffetard also hosts important puppetry art related events, such as the Biennale Internationale des Arts de la Marionnette. This year, this important event created in 2001 will take place from May 9 to June 3. This season also includes a series of talks and free workshops open to the community, as well as expositions and master classes. Also, Le Mouffetard offers an open and free archive and documentation center of puppetry arts in France and Europe. With its 2400 documents (including books, encyclopedias, videos, archives and other resources), it stands as one of the reference points in Paris for puppetry artists and researchers.
During its relatively short existence, Le Mouffetard has succeeded in securing a steady flux of public, establishing a central space for the sustained development of contemporary puppetry arts, and creating brand new (and young!) audiences for this kind of art. With an extensive offer of free cultural activities for puppeteers and youngsters, it has not only contributed to the expansion and improvement of puppetry arts, but also of the neighborhood, by improving and diversifying its cultural offer.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.