A RUSSIAN TRADITIONAL PUPPET THEATRE “PETRUSHKA”
was founded in Moscow in 1989 by a ballet soloist Andrei Shavel and his wife, a
theater artist Valentina Smirnova.
The Russian folk puppet comedy “Petrushka” has always enjoyed great
success. The high rattling voice of Petrushka in former times was heard at all the
fairs and folk festivals. People knew and loved him not only in Moscow and in St.
Petersburg, but all around Russia. This comedy of the 19th century, in spite of its
outward unpretentiousness and simplicity, did not know its equal in popularity in
The actions and words of Petrushka contradicted all accepted norms of
morality and behavior, but ridiculing and overcoming abominations of the world,
Petrushka was the personification of festive freedom and the joy of life.
The more sham this comedy seemed to be, the sharper and more truthful was
After the Revolution of 1917, the street comedy “Petrushka” was removed
from theatrical life of the Russians for more than 70 years, which caused
irreparable harm to the cultural life of the country and the harmony of theatrical
genres was disturbed.
In April 1988 Andrei Shavel, who had been performing with the Carlson
puppet for a number of years (made by Valentina Smirnova in the manner of a
friendly caricature on her husband and almost having a portrait resemblance),
together with his wife in search of opportunities to perform came to the USSR
Children's Fund, where the fate brought them together with Alexander Eremeev
and Alexei Belsky, two young people who came up with a proposal to create an
All-Union Center for Traditional Culture.
Opening the bag and holding the wag Andrei presented them the famous
puppet. Carlson took off, made a turn then stood up, hugging his knee …
After that the following dialogue took place:
Sasha Yeremeyev: “ What is there in your briefcase? ” * The phrase was
pronounced figuratively. He meant the repertoire, «briefcase» so to speak, a
Andrei Shavel turned to Sasha and said, pointing to Valentina Smirnova, “The
briefcase is Here!”. Sasha asked Valentina the same question.
Valentina Smirnova, stepping from one foot to the other, twitching her shoulders,
said: “Here, I want to make Petrushka to see how it was in reality!”.
Sasha Yeremeyev: “Can you do it?”, Valya answered “Of course!”
Thanks to those people, Valentina Smirnova and Andrei Shavel joined the Russian
folk song ensemble of Dmitry Pokrovsky, where they actively began to search and
reflect on the play "Petrushka".
It was Pokrovsky who negotiated about the possibility of a scientific
research in the Theater Museum of A. Bakhrushin and received permission for
admission of Shavel and Smirnova to the storerooms of the museum.
And now – what a luck! At the end of January 1989 on the entresols of the
house-museum of M. Yermolova (in the Tverskoy Boulevard in Moscow) — a
branch of the Theater Museum of A. Bakhrushin, in dower chests covered with
newspapers of the 1940s, Smirnova and Shavel found beautiful dolls of the 19th
century from the fairy “Petrushka” Comedy.
Nothing is known about the creator of these dolls, his name remains a Secret
for the Museum and for researchers. But in one of the receipt books of the museum
there is a record: “a very old arrival”.
From this note it can be assumed that the founder of the museum, Alexey
Bakhrushin, purchased these dolls at the beginning of the twentieth century on the
“Suhharevka” (the Sukhorevsky market in Moscow) or from “Zatsepa” (the
Zatsepsky market, known since 1732, located between the Paveletsky railway
station and the house of Bakhrushin ).
Immediately after this discovery, the painstaking work on making the exact
copies began. At first Valentina modeled Petrushkas, and then sewed them. Thus
the Corporal, the Gypsy, Katya, Sultan and other puppets joined Petrushka.
Impressed by this discovery, Valentina Smirnova came up with other characters for
this show — the Doctor, the Death, the Horse and Petrushka's friend — Polichinel.
And so after some active research, findings and making dolls, 14 months
later on June 11, 1989, the first performance of the Petrushka Theater was revived
after decades of prohibitions and persecutions. It took place in the park of the
Grebnevo estate near the town of Fryazino.
I must say, the debut was a success! At the wedding of Petrushka, the public
threw 5 rubles and 50 kopeks the “cap”! It was enough for a bottle and a snack!
Since then, the interest for Petrushka has increased. The theater was warmly
and enthusiastically received in Dubna and Apatity, Ryazan and Nizhny Novgorod,
Tver and Barnaul, Kuznetsk-Penzensky and Velikiy Novgorod!
“The Russian traditional puppet theater “Petrushka” took part in more than
30 international festivals. In Russia and abroad he represented his beloved city
Moscow and Russia in its traditional, fair genre! They stared at Petrushka in
Sweden, Italy, Spain, France, Slovenia, Lithuania, Belgium and other
In 2004 the theater initiated and held the International Festival "A Russian
Balagan" (together with the district council of Pokrovskoe-Streshnevo, Moscow).
On August 31 and September 1, 2019 at the First International Street
Theater Festival “Petrushkas of the World” held in Sergiev Posad, the theater will
perform with a new artist — a young organ-grinder — and will provide a unique
opportunity to see their fellowmen from Russia, Italy, France, Spain, Holland and
the Czech Republic .