8 January 2006

Tribute to Jacques Felix, Puppet Master and Friend

Word has just been received that a dear friend of world puppetry, long serving UNIMA general-secretary, Jacques Felix, passed away on 6 January in Charleville-Mezieres, France. Born in 1924, Jacques Felix started the French puppetry group ' Les Petite Comediens de Chifons' in 1945, in which he was involved for most of his life.

"Charleville is Mecque of the marionettists, a place of saint pilgrimage" wrote the artist Alvaro Apolcalypse in the book published in 1991 to celebrate the thirty years of the World Festival of the Puppet Theatre in Charleville-Mezieres. This is all due to Jacques Felix. It was he, who started what was to become the world's greatest and most popular Puppet Theatre Festival, in Charleville-Mezieres in 1961.

My first contact with Jacques was in 1981, when I studied at the 'Institute International de la Marionnettes'. I arrived in France, not being able to speak a word of French, (at that time), and was immediately taken under the wing of Jacques Felix for the next six years, of what became my professional puppetry studies in France.

My most vivid memory of Jacques was an incident in 1984, long before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when we flew together from France to Germany. We had to pass through the infamous Checkpoint Charlie (that divide between east and west Berlin) on our way to the World UNIMA Puppetry Congress in Dresden. Having just arrived from South Africa, I had no visa or permission as a South African to enter East Germany. This was during Apartheid when there was no relationship between Apartheid South Africa and the 'so-called Eastern Block'. It was a rather disturning experience for me, but Jacques helped to facilitate an official invitation and all the difficulties surrounding my visit were soon forgotton.

Jacques Felix lived puppetry all his life and was encompassed by this art. "It is my passion to create something out of nothing. From a piece of rag or wood, one creates a history. It is an art of the street, a complete art which brings together the théatre, the dance and the visual arts." It is difficult to live by it, "but it is like all the trades, there are the rich and the poor". Courier International

The modern puppetry world owes much to Jacques Felix, which through his dedicated work as General Secretary of UNIMA, his international festivals and writings, has made huge progress towards the internationalisation of our popular art.

A memorial ceremony will be held for Jacques Felix on Tuesday 10 January at the Institute International de la Marionnettes in Charleville-Mezieres, France. For further information, contact Compangnie Arketal in France!