BYU welcomes back world-famous Salzburg Marionette Theatre

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The Salzburg Marionette Theatre, one of the last remaining professional marionette companies in the world, will perform “The Sound of Music” at the Pardoe Theatre in the Harris Fine Arts Center on Jan. 26-30.

The marionettes in ‘The Sound of Music’. The group is returning to perform an encore production at BYU.  (Salzburg Marionette Theatre)

The full-time performing group from Salzburg, Austria traveled overseas two years ago to perform at BYU as part of its 100th anniversary tour. BYU invited them back for an encore presentation due to popular demand.

“It’s unusual to bring groups back so soon,” Jeff Martin, adjunct instructor from BYU’s Department of Theatre and Media Arts said. “But the response was so positive to their previous show – it was magical. I thought, ‘Let’s try that again.'”

Martin said audiences all over the world have marveled at the talent within the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.

“This is a very specific art form and not something you can see around here,” Martin said. “These are career marionette masters who have worked their whole lives. It’s a very difficult show to perform because of all the strings on one marionette and each person switching characters. The skill is just remarkable.”

Philippe Brunner, a full-time puppeteer for the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, said the group has a packed schedule and does over 200 performances each year, but said it is thrilled to return to Provo.

Brunner said working as a puppeteer has been a passion of his for a very long time.

“When I was young, I used to make my own marionettes,” Brunner said. “I later worked for several years in a records company, but then I found I had to do something more connected to art. So I joined the company 13 years ago.”

He said one of his favorite things about working as a puppeteer is to see the reaction in the audience.

“The most wonderful thing to experience is seeing the reaction of children and adults,” Brunner said. “When they see our performances, they realize that their fantasy and imagination is still so strong. Everyone puts his own imagination into the puppet, and it is a strong experience.”

Puppeteers behind the scenes. With 10 puppeteers, much more is possible on stage according to Brunner. (Salzburg Marionette Theatre)

Salzburg Marionette Theatre consists of 10 puppeteers, one technician and nearly 1000 hand-crafted puppets, stored in the company’s “puppet chamber.” 600 of these puppets are “active puppets,” meaning they are used frequently in current shows. The other 400 are puppets which have been used for older productions.

With 24-inch marionettes, vibrant stage backdrops and intricate props, “The Sound of Music” is unique visually as well as audibly, according to Brunner.

“‘The Sound of Music’ performance is very special – it is dear to us and to all Americans,” Brunner said. “The recording (we use) was made by singers from Broadway especially for us. It’s a beautiful recording.”

Brunner said there are many more possibilities on stage using puppets rather than humans.

“Seeing the story in puppets adds layers to the entire piece,” Brunner said.

Tickets for this performance are available at the BYU Harris Fine Arts Center Ticket Office or online.

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