Remembering Svetlana Smelyanskaya: The Art Of The Puppet Theater

Svetlana Smolenskaya was a noted puppeteer, who came under the influence of Sergei Obraztsov, Russia’s greatest puppet master.  Svetlana worked in the Monterey and San Francisco areas.  About puppeteers, columnist, Elena Bilyak, writes:  “They play with puppets their whole life.  And from their play, the world becomes bright.  They have their own guild and their own traditions, theaters and studios, leading lights and novices.  American puppeteers produce their own festivals.”  Svetlana participated in the famous Monterey Festival.  Who else participated in the festival?  Svetlana states:  “Theater groups and individuals, professionals and amateurs, guests from Canada and Spain.   Theaters representing the most different approaches.  Age was not a factor, so young and old participated…  I liked the native circus puppets from Canada.”  That is not surprising, because Svetlana goes on to say:  “I made my debut in a circus performance.  Yes.  Don’t be surprised!  The Canadians needed a bear trainer, who didn’t speak any English.  That is why they selected me.  We had a wonderful performance.”  Elena asks Svetlana about what she did in Monterey.  “”We spoke about the Russian puppet theater.  It was not an easy task to speak about the history, traditions and perspectives of the Russian puppet theater.  But all the puppets came to our aid.  They spoke about themselves and Petrushka even declared ‘I am Petrushka’ in English.”  Svetlana was helped by her interpreter, Jennifer Kagly, who also performed as a clown.  “Then this sympathetic clown(Jennifer Kagly) was transformed into a charming skomorokh(a kind of jester-minstrel) with a barrel-organ, and we discussed the rise of Russian puppet traditions and the actors that went to fair booths, displaying pictures of the holy family….  We spoke a great deal about the the theater of Sergei Vladimirovich Obraztsov, which was of great interest…  Later the act changed to the opposite side of the stage where there was a stand with puppets from the production,  ‘The Tale of Dr. Korczak’.  Jennifer removed her clown costume and became deadly serious.  Our puppets are not only capable of laughter and amusement, but also sorrow, and even tears.  ‘Look here at the puppet show of the Nativity.  Here are the figures of Christ, Joseph, and Mary.  But sewn to their clothes are yellow stars.  The puppets took the audience to a ghetto in occupied Poland, speaking of the lofty and tragic fate of Janusz Korczak.  And the hall became immersed in the mood.  The remaining silence had more meaning for us than the greatest applause.  At the end, Jennifer put on her clown cap, and I my top hat and we shouted:  “And all the same, fairy tales continue to happen.  Long live miracles!”