A marionette is a puppet controlled from above using strings; a marionette's puppeteer is called a manipulator. Marionettes are operated with the puppeteer hidden or revealed to an audience by using a vertical or horizontal control bar in different forms of theatres or entertainment venues. They have also been used in films and on television.
Puppeteer David Logan states, "Marionettes are seen by many as the most complex form of puppetry perhaps due to the time it takes to make them and to learn how to effectively manipulate them. They are capable of a greater range of movement possibilities than the other forms of puppetry."
Puppeteer David Currell states, "A puppet is not an actor and a puppet theatre is not human theatre in miniature, because when an actor 'represents', a puppet 'is'."
Oscar Wilde wrote about puppetry, "There are many advantages in puppets. They never argue. They have no crude views about art. They have no public lives."
The Greeks left few physical examples of puppets. History reveals through literature that puppetry was important. The oldest written record on puppetry can be found in the writings of Xenephon dating from around 422 BC. The Greek word usually translated as "puppets" is neurospasta, which means "string-pulling", from nervus, meaning either sinew, tendon, muscle, string, or wire, and span, to pull. Aristotle referenced pulling strings to control heads, hands and eyes, shoulders and legs. Archimedes is known to have worked with marionettes. Plato's work is full of references to puppeteering. The 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey' were presented using puppetry. Herodotus wrote that during festivals to honour Osiris, women priests carried statues which had moving arms activated by strings.
In ancient Greece and Rome clay dolls (and a few of ivory), dated from around 500 BC, were found in children's tombs. These dolls had articulated arms and legs, some of which had an iron rod extending up from the tops of their heads. This rod was used to manipulate the doll from above, exactly as is done today in Sicily puppetry. A few of these dolls had strings in place of the rods. Some authorities believe these ancient figures were mere toys and not puppets due to their small size.
The Indian word sutradhar(a) refers to the show-manager of theatrical performances (or a puppet-player), and also means literally "string-puller" or "string-holder".
In the eighteenth century, operas were specifically composed for marionettes. Mozart as a child had seen marionettes. Gluck, Haydn, de Falla and Respighi all composed adult operas for marionettes. Today in Salzburg in Austria, the Salzburg Marionette Theatre still continues the tradition of presenting full length opera using marionettes in their own purpose built theatre.
In the UK the renaissance of Marionettes during the early 20th Century was driven by W. H. Whanslaw and Waldo Lanchester, Two of the co founders of the B.P.M.T.G.(British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild). The only purpose-built UK marionette theatre founded by Eric Brammall is The Harlequin Puppet Theatre (built 1958) in Rhos on Sea, North wales. Other theatres that occasionally perform with marionettes are The Little Angel Puppet Theatre, founded by John and Lyndie Wright in Islington, London and the Norwich Puppet Theatre founded by Barry Smith.
The Salzburg Marionette Theatre was founded in 1913 by Professor Anton Aicher Professor Aicher was heavily influenced by Count Franz Pocci who founded the Munich Marionette Theatre in Germany in 1855. Today, the Salzburg Marionette Theatre is under the artistic direction of his granddaughter, Gretel Aicher and is world famous. Gretl Aicher commented on her lasting interest in marionettes, "What then is the fascination of a life with marionettes? Is it the pleasure of performing? The appeal of mastering an "instrument" to the point of virtuosity? The transformation of one's own self? For me, it is the process of emphathising with mind and soul, of feeling at one with music and movement that bring these much loved creatures to life. The marionette make possible undreamt of effects of dramatic imagination, which can never be achieved on the full-size "human" stage." The Salzburg Marionette Theatre performs mainly operas such as Die Fledermaus and The Magic Flute and a small number of ballets such as The Nutcracker. The Salzburg Marionette Theatre productions are aimed for adults although children are of course welcome. There is also a marionette theatre at Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna. Marionette theatre also had a very long history in entertainment in Prague, and elsewhere in the Czech Republic. An important organisation is the National Marionette Theatre in Prague. Its repertoire mainly features a marionette production of Mozart's famous Don Giovanni. The production has period costumes and a beautifully designed eighteenth century setting. There are numerous other companies including, Buchty a Loutky ("Cakes and Puppets") founded by Marek Becka. Rocky IX and Tibet are just two works in the repertoire.
In Australia, like is so many other countries, there is a continuing tradition of marionette puppetry. Names such as Peter Scriven, founder of the now legendary Marionette Theatre of Australia, and Richard Bradshaw OAM are celebrated.
In the 1950s, Bil Baird and Cora Eisenberg presented a great number of marionette shows for television, and were also responsible for the Lonely Goatherd sequence from the classic film The Sound of Music. Bill Baird also wrote a classic book on his work. In Australia, a program called Mr.Squiggle, using a marionette central character of the same name, ran for many years. Another program for children using puppetry was the Magic Circle Club featuring puppets Cassius Cuckoo and Leonardo de Funbird .
In 1950 in the United Kingdom, a well loved marionette program for children, Andy Pandy came bursting on to the screen and entertained young and old. Later in the 1960s, Gerry Anderson with his wife, Sylvia Anderson and colleagues made a number of hit series, Fireball XL5, Stingray and Thunderbirds, which pioneered a technique combining marionettes and electronics. This allowed for radio control moving of the mouth of a marionettes. The technique is patented and called "supermarionation". The programs have been shown all around the world and are now widely distributed on DVD. Anderson also made two films, Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6. Team America: World Police is a 2004 movie made by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker which uses the same style of supermarionation as Thunderbirds. Matt Stone and Trey Parker dubbed their version "Supercrappymation" due to the fact they intentionally left the strings visible, among other reasons.
Also appearing in 2004 was the full length marionette fantasy film Strings, directed by Dane Anders Rønnow Klarlund which received several awards.
Puppets have also been used widely in animated films. Czech animator, Jiri Trnka, was particularly famous for her work. Pixar also uses its own proprietary software called Marionette to create its animations.