What’s big or small? Solid or a shadow? Held up by string, a stick or even a crane? Puppets! Every two years the town of Charleville-Mezieres in Champagne-Ardenne hosts the world’s largest gathering of puppeteers, the Festival Mondial des Theatres de Marionettes (The World Puppet Festival) . If you think that means a whole load of Punch and Judy type shows – you couldn’t be more wrong. For ten days each September, 350 of the world’s best puppeteers from around the world put on 600 shows in 40 venues and on the streets of the town.
Puppet shows date back to around 1000 BC in India, but Charleville-Meziere’s history as the “Puppet capital” of the world dates back to 1961 when young Frenchman Jacques Félix, a keen amateur puppeteer founded the festival. This is also the home of a puppet museum and a puppet school and we spoke to a local resident who told me that every child in the town has at least one puppet at home.
Arriving on the day of the inauguration, the whole town was flushed with a festive atmosphere and puppets were hung from anywhere you could think to hang one: shop windows, roof tops, trees and more. The shows are aimed at both children and adults, with some that are very artistic and sophisticated. At the inauguration, rock music sounded the start, lights flashed and suddenly the giant puppet stood up, operated by a remote control crane.
The town of Charleville-Mezieres is also gorgeous with ancient buildings of mellow, yellow stone, cobblestone streets and little town squares. In addition to the quintessentially French architecture, boulangeries and and little shops, the town has some quirky and historic spots in addition to the puppet museum: an old London double decker bus serves as a restaurant and the statue of famous French poet Arthur Rimbaud who hails from this historic town.