A year or so ago, there was a lot of buzz about “Intangible Cultural Heritage,” or “ICH,” though I confess I had only a hazy idea of what was meant by the term. Why not, I thought, devote an issue of Puppetry International to the subject? Why not harness the power of the hive mind? Why not, as Amanda Palmer once told me, “Invite all your friends over for a big party and see what happens?”
Welcome to our party! The guest list includes respected scholars in the world of puppetry research, but also an anthropologist, a puppet collector, a student, a journalist and a little help from a man who helped define “intangible cultural heritage” for UNESCO, the organization that awards this designation to cultural institutions that have come to exemplify cultural phenomena that we might characterize as fleeting, ephemeral or transitory.
Many ancient forms of theater, dance, puppetry, recitation and improvised music are known to us from written descriptions, paintings, decorative friezes on Grecian urns and so on, but we can only imagine what the experience must have been like for those who were in the audience at such performances. Today, we have video recordings of such events, but they can still only approximate the feeling of actual spectators at the moment when anything might happen – a clarinetist plays an inspired solo, a dancer twists an ankle but carries on, a puppet expertly puts a heckler in her place.
These are the sorts of things that fall under the aegis of Intangible Cultural Heritage – not individual performances, but traditions or institutions that produce such performances and that, furthermore, are in need of support, protection and the recognition that such a designation carries. Want to know more? Read on!
Kathy Foley and Nancy L. Staub honor the puppet traditions that have so far received this designation from UNESCO, as well as discussing the work of the Heritage Commission of UNIMA (our parent organization, page 4). Both of our peer-reviewed articles in this issue take on the idea of ICH: Annie Katsura Rol- lins shares her experience with a shadow puppet theatre in Shaanxi Province, China, as she learns the complexity of protecting an intangible form of theater that cannot be separated from its very tangible artifacts (page 10); Kyounghye Kwon discusses an ancient type of Ko- rean puppet theater that illustrates the competing needs for preservation and change-over-time (page 14).
There are also examples of puppet traditions we would like to see designated as ICH: Neda Izadi tells us about the Persian tradition of Kheimeh Shab Bazi, or “night tent shows” (page 40), while Esther Fernández interviews Jesús Caballero about recovering a 17th century form of Spanish theater called Máquina Réal (page 29). There is a lot more, both here and on our website, where we honor Michael Meschke for his long career in puppetry, as well as for his great service to the field. Between 2005 and 2010 he made trips to South- and Southeast Asia, teaching, documenting and helping to preserve endangered puppetry traditions. He made a record of these trips, and now, for the first time in English, we make them available on our website (link on page 26).You will also find a complete list of the puppet traditions recognized by UNESCO as ICH and by ACCU (the Asian-Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO), the full article by Greg Pellone on the Punch and Judy maker Joe Parsonage, and the entire article by Neda Azadi on the Ancient Persian tradition, Kheimeh Shab Bazi.
-Andrew C. Periale