VILNIUS THEATRE “LĖLĖ”: 1958 - 2021
The Vilnius Puppet Theatre, founded in 1958 on the initiative of Balys Lukošius, received its current name in 1971 - Vilnius Theatre “Lėlė”. On 27 October 1958, the first performance, by Salomėja Nėris “Eglė The Queen of Serpents”, was staged. It was directed by B. Lukošius and the puppets were created by B. Lukošius, the scenery by Jonas Surkevičius. B. Lukošius managed the theatre until 1969. The core of the company consisted of his pupils from the Vilnius Culture and Education Technical College. Long-standing theatre actors were Nijolė Gailiūtė, Laima Lankauskaitė, Marija Leikauskaitė, Povilas Mockevičius, Evelina Platakytė, Algirdas Skripka and others. B. Lukošius usually chose to direct works by well-known Lithuanian writers. The theatre's repertoire included productions of works by Kostas Kubilinskas, Balys Sruoga, B. Lukošius himself, Petras Cvirka and other authors. The music was composed by Konradas Kaveckas, Teisutis Makačinas, Vytautas Paltanavičius. The scenography and puppets of the artist J. Surkevičius and others working in the early theatre period were characterised by imitative realism, while the artist Gintautas Žalalis, who made his debut in 1963, turned in the direction of decorativeness and stylisation.
In 1969-1971 and 1979-1982, Aurelija Ragauskaitė was the theatre's chief director. In her performances, the puppetry was complemented by the conditional acting of the actors.
A new, distinct stage of higher artistic maturity began in “Lėlė” when Vitalijus Mazūras, the artist and director who has today become a living legend of puppet theatre, directed his most famous performances here. As a puppet theatre artist, he created his first works for this theatre in the mid-1970s. Eventually he took up directing, and in 1971-1979 and 1988-1993 he became the artistic director of “Lėlė” - the chief director. The forms, themes and expressions of V. Mazūras’ poetic, distinctively transformed forms of folk art, especially primitive sculpture, and performances defied the dictates of the Soviet ideology of the time.
From the early 1970s until 1993, V. Mazūras directed almost thirty plays, designed their sets and puppets, and was also the designer of almost twenty plays by other directors. Many of V. Mazūras’ works have become the golden fund of “Lėlė” and have received recognition outside Lithuania. V. Mazūras’ performances were scored by composers Feliksas Bajoras, Bronius Kutavičius, Faustas Latėnas, Algirdas Martinaitis, Mindaugas Urbaitis.
In the 1980s, the “Lėlė” troupe was joined by actors Nijolė Bižanaitė, Bronė Braškytė, Aleksas Burnickas, Stanislovas Gudavičius, Janina Gudzinevičiūtė, Nijolė Indriūnaitė, Vytautas Petruškevičius and others. In 1979, Aurelija Čeredejėvaitė, Almira Grybauskaitė, Vilius Kirkilionis, Julijus Lozoraitis, Juozas Marcinkevičius, Petras Mendeika, Algirdas Mikutis, Elvyra Piškinaitė, Ona Pučkoriūtė, and others, who had graduated from special puppetry studies at the Lithuanian State Conservatoire of Puppetry (currently, Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre), began to perform at the Theatre. The students of directors Dalia Tamulevičiūtė, Irena Bučienė and V. Mazūras became the core of the renewed company.
Laima Lankauskaitė, chief director of “Lėlė” from 1982-1988, created unconventional forms of performances. Under the direction of L. Lankauskaite, the company was expanded by actors Gintautas Martinkėnas, Evaldas Mikaliūnas, Olga Pocevičiūtė, the director and designer Rimas Driežis, the designer Aušra Bagočiūnaitė-Paukštienė, and the actor and designer Algirdas Mikutis.
The origins of the performances of the artist and director R. Driežis are rooted in his interest in the forms of traditional puppet theatre, and the expressive possibilities of various types of puppets. Many of them have won awards at Lithuanian and international festivals. The music for R. Driežis’ performances was composed by F. Latėnas, A. Martinaitis, Šarūnas Nakas, Onutė Narbutaitė, Genovaitė Vanagaitė.
The artist Aušra Bagočiūnaitė-Paukštienė has designed sets and puppets for many of the productions of “Lėlė” over the past few decades. After working with various directors (R. Driežis, N. Indriūnaitė, L. Lankauskaitė, A. Mikutis, A. Pociūnas) for several years, A. Bagočiūnaitė-Paukštienė took up directing herself. Her performances are visually expressive examples of artist theatre.
The actress Nijolė Indriūnaitė has written poetic plays by Charles Perrault, H. Ch. “White Fairy Tales”, “Flower Stories”, “Cinderella”, “Snow Queen”, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.
In 1993-2000, the theatre was headed by the Actors’ Council, in 2000-2019 - by actor Juozas Marcinkevičius. “Lėlė” company was joined by actors Dalius Butkus, Irmantas Jankaitis (who is also the composer of several performances), Sigita Mikalauskaitė (who choreographed many of the performances), Lijana Muštašvili, Deivis Sarapinas and others. Irma Balakauskaitė, Irena Bučienė, Donaldas Duškinas, Evaldas Jaras, Vytautas V. Landsbergis, Algimantas Pociūnas have also directed performances at Lėlė, and Olegas Ditkovskis, Alvydas Jegelevičius, Andrius Kulikauskas, and Linas Rimša have composed music for the performances.
Julija Skuratova, who made her debut at “Lėlė” in 2001, created a distinctive stylistic set design for the performances. Her own production based on Indriūnaitė’s play “The Musical Box”, directed by N. Indriūnaitė, with its jeweller’s handiwork and chamber spirit, has become a great success in the international arena.
In 2003, the artist N. Keršulytė made her debut. The repertoire of “Lėlė” has taken on a distinctive shape with the work of N. Keršulytė and the work of actor Rolandas Kazlas, who has started directing, in the form of drama performances for adults
In 2010, the company was expanded by a course of actors trained specifically for puppet theatre at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre by Algirdas Latėnas and Gediminas Storpirštis: Karolis Algimantas Butvidas, Šarūnas Datenis, Indrė Liutkevičiūtė, Imantas Precas, Asta Stankūnaitė, Dainius Tarutis, Jūratė Trimakaitė, Edita Zėčiūtė. In 2009-2011, A. Mikutis was the artistic director of “Lėlė” and the involvement of young actors in the creative processes of the theatre was taken care of by A. Mikutis, in 2012 - 2019 the artistic director of the theatre was the theatre theatre historian Vilmantas Juškėnas, and since 2019 the theatre director of the theatre is Vilmantas Juškėnas.
Over the past decade, performances at “Lėlė” have been created by the theatre’s long-standing puppeteers as well as guest artists – directors Ana Ivanova-Brašinskaja, Agnius Jankevičius, R. Kazlas, Gintaras Varnas, artists Marius Jonutis, Laura Luišaitytė, Renata Valčik and others. The following directors of the younger generation have made their debuts: Olga Lapina, Gintarė Radvilavičiūtė, Ainis Storpirštis, J. Trimakaitė, Karolis Vilkas, Žilvinas Vingelis, Mikas Žukauskas, artists Antanas Dubra, Romanas Dūda, Cerice Guyon, Ieva Šimukonytė, composers Arturas Bumšteinas, Vytautas Leistrumas, Rita Mačiliūnaitė and others.
The actor Š. Datenis is also the scriptwriter and director of several children’s performances at “Lėlė”. His “Evolution”, “Now You See It / Now You Don’t”, “Pinocchio”, “Cipollino” are notable for their diversity of stylistics and creative explorations of young artists.
At this stage, the repertoire of “Lėlė” repertoire included more performances for adults, as well as works based on original texts by the younger generation of directors. Frequently touring abroad (having visited many European countries, Africa, Asia and the United States), Puppet has successfully participated in international festivals and won various awards. In 2001 “Lėlė” became a member of ASSITEJ, the International Association of Theatres for Children and Young People, and in 2004 - a member of UNIMA, the International Puppeteers’ Organisation.
For a long time since its establishment, “Lėlė” was housed in premises in M. K. Čiurlionis Street that were not suitable for a theatre. Only in 1975 was the company able to move into a restored 18th century building - the former palace of the noblemen Oginskiai in the Old Town, Arkliai Street. In 1992, the Small Hall was installed in the basement of the palace, and in 2018 the Attic Hall was created.
After the opening of the Small Hall in 1992, a museum was planned and a collection of puppets was started. In the same year, “Lėlė” held its first puppet exhibition at the Lithuanian Technical Library in Vilnius. In 2000, on the initiative of J. Marcinkevičius, the premises for the museum were opened. The Living Puppet Museum opened its doors on May 6, 2006, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Lithuanian Professional Puppet Theatre (the authors of the exposition are R. Driežis and A. Bagočiūnaitė-Paukštienė). It preserves and exhibits fragments of the set design, puppets and masks of the performances of “Lėlė”, which are no longer performed, and which were made by B. Lukošius, G. Žalalis, V. Mazūras, R. Driežis, and G. Radvilavičiūtė; the masters of the theatre are Vytautas Jančiauskas, Kęstutis Musteikis, Alis Šalkauskas, Lijana Janavičienė, Ligita Skukauskaitė, Virginija Pajarskienė, Martynas Lukošius and others.
In addition to the permanent exhibition presented by professional puppeteers, the museum organises thematic exhibitions, seminars, educational programmes, carries out expeditionary activities, publishes publications on the history of puppetry in the cultural press, takes care of the preparation and publishing of video and audio recordings of the performances, commemorative posters, brochures, and archival folders, and participates in exhibitions of other institutions.
The Living Puppet Museum has held important exhibitions at the Juozas Art Gallery, the Lithuanian Museum of Music, Theatre and Cinema, the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library, the Parnu Gallery Villa Artis (Estonia), the Trakai History Museum and the Vilnius Book Fair. Since 2015, “Lėlė” has been presenting the museum’s activities extensively in Lithuanian regions. The Living Puppet Museum has also organised educational events and scientific conferences.