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All theatre and nothing but paper

History of the paper theatre

Paper theatre has a long tradition, and in some European museums you can see stages that were produced as early as the end of the 18th century. Within a short time, it developed into an independent form of expression and spread almost everywhere in Europe. The first complete paper theatre play with decorations, figures and text appeared in England in 1811. Ten years later, the first theatre sheets were published by German publishers, followed by publishers in Austria, Spain, France and Denmark.

After the First World War, paper theatre fell into oblivion in Germany; only in Great Britain and Denmark did the tradition remain alive.
In the 1970s and increasingly in the 1980s, a renaissance of paper theatre began with reprints of old sheets, exhibitions and later meetings. Talented amateurs and artists discovered the medium for themselves. New forms were developed. Today, many productions are one-offs created by artists.
The Preetz Paper Theatre Meeting is now the largest international forum for these small theatres.

"Paper theatre" is actually the most recent of many names for this medium. Juvenile drama was its early form in England, now called toy theatre or, more aptly, model theatre. Dukketeatret in Denmark, Théâtre de papier in France, Teatrini di Carta in Italy, Teatro de los Niños in Spanish - children's theatre.
This was also the common name in Germany at the time of its greatest popularity at the end of the 19th century.

In an effort to systematise the extensive field of puppet theatre, the great collector, player and probably the first theorist of paper theatre, Walter Röhler (1911-1974), established the name paper theatre by reducing the diverse manifestations of the small stages to the common denominator of the predominant material - paper.
Because the prosceniums, backdrops and figure sheets are printed on paper. By the same printers and publishers who also produced pamphlets, broadsheets, pictures of saints - in other words, picture sheets, popular prints.

They, who fed the growing hunger for images with the "mass media" of the late 18th and 19th centuries, also sensed the need for theatre souvenirs with a sure business sense. With the simultaneous enthusiasm for the theatre on the one hand and the retreat into their own living rooms on the other, the middle classes brought an image of the theatre experience into their own four walls. The demand for theatre cut-out sheets grew. What people had seen in the big theatre was re-enacted on their own small stage, accompanied by the "higher daughter" on the pianola.

Today, the early theatre cut-out sheets - if not drawn by the set and costume designers themselves, then copied from their designs - are valuable documents of theatre studies.
"Paper theatre is a child of Romanticism", Günter Böhmer, the former director of the Munich Puppet Theatre Collection, is often and accurately quoted as saying. But it is just as true that paper theatre is a child of Alois Senefelder. Without his invention of lithography, which for the first time made large and therefore inexpensive print runs possible, the paper theatre would never have achieved the mass distribution it once enjoyed.