PRAGUE – The art of traditional puppetry goes back eight generations in the Kopecky family, which over a period of two centuries has been behind one of the most charming and popular forms of theater in the Czech Republic.
Matej Kopecky and his wife Vladimira belong to the seventh generation. Their prestigious itinerant theater continues to attract young crowds captivated by shows full of humor and which inevitably come to a close with a happy ending.
“In our country, it would be unthinkable not to have a happy ending, which is different from the north of Europe, where the tales are crueler,” Matej told EFE. At the age of 65, he refuses to renounce his nomadic lifestyle.
His expertises are renowned in the Czech Republic and beyond and have landed him roles in films like “The Adventures of Pinocchio” (1996), directed by Steve Barron and starring Martin Landau as Mister Gepetto.
Matek and Mirka, as the husband and wife duo are familiarly known, are the faces of a saga that has its origins in the 18th century with Matej Kopecky (1775-1847), who in 1825 began to tour around Bohemia in a caravan of marionettes, performing shows on the road.
The puppet master not only found success in the countryside, where the form of theater chimed with the locals, but it took hold in urban areas with the advent of the Romanticism movement.
The art form therefore influenced key figures such as Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, who many attribute with fomenting the idea of a Czech national identity, said Jan Dvorak, an art critic, fellow puppeteer and author of “Matej, Mata, Matusek and the sixth generation of the Kopecky family.”
Nowadays, 200 years since their predecessors blaze the puppetry trail, Matej and Mirka restrict their shows to the winter period, putting on about 20 performances a month.
At the beginning of February, they brought “The Winter Tales of Mala Strana,” a love story written by one of their sons, to the stage at the Podebrady theater in eastern Prague.
The performance alternates between puppetry, comedy and musical; it regales the audience with the tale of three snowmen who, in trying to find their place in the city, make friends with a lost dog who needs to find its way home.
Performing in front of hundreds of people seems to give vital energy to Matej, who would like to spend five more years living his nomadic lifestyle, as his ancestors did.
“Every actor is an exhibitionist and of course they like success and applause,” he said. “If everything ends well and chimes with the public, it is more satisfying than money,” he added.
The Theater of Spejbl and Hurbinek in Prague, where Matej Kopecky Jr. works, is the last art space entirely dedicated to puppet shows.
“Puppet theater is the most traditional form that exists, based in ancient techniques of manipulating strings from above,” said the member of the eighth generation of the puppeteer family.
“You are born with it and also we grew up in a theater and we lived in the theater’s accommodation, so it is part of our lives,” he added.