Leipzig’s Westflügel (“West Wing”) puppet theatre is marking its 20th anniversary on 26 August with a public street party that includes a giant mammoth and an array of stalls and sideshows. And it’s definitely not just for children.
Leipzig Glocal’s Jane Whyatt met Dana Ersing at the Westflügel to find out just what they are celebrating and how we can all join in.
In English-speaking theatre, puppets are mostly used for children’s entertainment. But Europe has a long tradition of adult-orientated marionettes, often satirising public figures such as celebrities and politicians.
Westflügel’s Dana Ersing explains, “In German we call it Figurentheater, which is a broader term than puppet theatre because it also includes masks, objects an other materials.”
Many of the Westflügel shows through the years have been quite challenging and certainly not suitable for youngsters. Their take on Baudelaire’s “Fleurs du Mal” (“Flowers of Evil”) was especially dark and sexy, though with some humour too.
Ersing tells me they have a loyal set of performers and international puppet theatre companies who come back year after year to perform in Westflügel, located just off Karl-Heine-Straße in Plagwitz.
Sometimes the stories come from the puppets, she notes, and sometimes the story comes first and then the puppets are built on-site to enact the story, in an integrated process.
The Westflügel looks shabby and rundown, with peeling paint and flaking plaster. Dana Ersing says this is deliberate—it is a space for performance. The unique atmosphere created by the puppeteers does not rely on 21st-century digital effects and the distinctly analogue look of the place is a constant reminder of the venue’s history. And if they ever did want to renovate the theatre, the renovation would have to be in line with the building’s status as a protected site under Denkmalschutz, or heritage status. So it would be extremely expensive and time-consuming.
To mark the twentieth anniversary of the theatre, a special summer street party is planned for 26 August 2023.
Visitors to the free festivities can expect to meet a giant mammoth puppet wandering around and take part in creative workshops, including Susanne Mittmann’s macrame, embroidery and bookbinding, based at the nearby YEZ Atelier on Josephstr.
A highlight of the twentieth birthday party is the so-called Polder-coaster, a protoype of a new environmentally friendly rollercoaster ride. Powered by people, it was inspired by the rolling countrysied or polders of the Netherlands and offers street party revellers the chance to enjoy the ride, as it careers through stormy weather and around impossible twists and turns. Babok, the group that created the Polder-coaster, won the prize for “Most Outstanding Performer” at the 2008 international street theatre contest in Detmold.
Santa Pulcinella, the Italian version of the traditional Mr. Punch of Punch and Judy fame, tackles an age-old question with hilarious results. Other puppets aim to find out which came first: the chicken or the egg? With the French theatre group Gudule, they poke a little gentle fun at our absurdly hectic lives.
On a much smaller scale, Colombian artist Omayra Martinez Garzon creates a magical miniature theatre experience, whilst the Malomat offers instant pictures created on the spot by painters Nazanin Zandi and Anne Ibelings.
Loud musical accompaniment from the Brassbanditen and Puppenmastaz means the street party will liven up the Leipzig West on 26 August and produce unforgettable images.
Celebrate 20 years of Westflügel
Date: 26 August
Location: Hähnelstr. 27, 04177 Leipzig