Return to The Company “Charlemagne”

The puppeteer

photos and text copyright © Carlo Di Franco (www.palermoweb.com/panormus )
Click on photos to enlarge

To tell the memorable feats of Paladins of France, ancient knightly deeds, move, in an artificial theater, i “puppets "of wood, metal and cloth decorated and polished, to achieve by giving body and soul is the "puparu", an ancient craft, now surely difficult, because this meticulous work, boast of a strong tradition, almost at the crossroads between the ancient and the modern tendency to disappear for new technology.

It is precisely for this reason that the tradition has been unrelenting, by artificiality and modernity, The "baby" or puppet of Italian, The word derives from the Latin "Pupus", toddler, This type of puppet was created precisely to describe theatrical form in the puppet theater, widespread in southern Italy during the long Spanish domination, originating in Castile, where they name "Titeros", between the eighteenth and early nineteenth, becomes popular in Naples, where they were imported in 1646 dal Vicere Rodrigo Ponce de Leon, Duke of Arcos, but especially in Sicily where, over the years and the dynamics of different puppeteers, assume all of its connotations to form the very basis of the popular theater in Sicily.

Subject to tourist attraction, like all crafts, also that the puppeteer was restricted to a few elements that tramandosi from father to son unceasingly continue their activities in the alleys of the popular cosmopolitan city is Palermo.


Cumbersome in the private laboratory, on the walls of the small shop, pieces of theater, parts of hanging puppets, ready to be animated, test, emblems, old photos depicting moments of glory and precious works of art, it is here that works tirelessly with his own hands Enzo Mancuso, family tradition of an ancient dynasty of puppeteers, that has gripped this artistic father Nino, continued and estimator parent who was his father Antonio Mancuso, student of the puppeteer Partridge, planted in the far 1928 its theater-workshop on the permanent in Palermo in the popular district of the old village, being the Doctor.

To give some continuity to its activities, often moved to other neighborhoods of the city where he was stationed for a time so that his fame was well known, in this regard went in different villages of Palermo with a talent to bring their own theater fixed and wandering on a truck equipped at all points to bring the puppet theater and, to communicate its innovative work in both the bill of puppets in their armor with the application of the Greek and Roman helmets.

During the summer months, its activity was accompanied, addition to the popular theater in the film, managing in contemporary, a couple of rooms in different countries of the square.

He moved to a permanent place in Palermo in Don Luigi Sturzo, where he remained active until his death, in 1988, for the theatrical enlisted children, Nino, Major, Pino and Stephen; was knighted and, appeared as an expert on the history of the paladins of France in the TV show "Double or Nothing".

His son Nino, Palermo Birth (1934), collaborated with his father until his death, soon at the age of fourteen years with three hundred and sixty nights staged in the country of Misilmeri, its first cycle of the history of the paladins of France with its own "script" of the opera written by The Righteous say.

Skilled and experienced puppeteer manufacturer, which continues throughout today, is accredited as a continuation of this tradition preparation, who sent his son Enzo.

Young, was born in 1974, is the current owner of the company and follows in his footsteps, as a child came up to his father to learn the most basic tricks of the trade, at thirteen he made his debut in the play "Death of Agricane", with lessons learned from his father and uncle is passionately dedicated to the construction of puppets, using ancient techniques of old masters, has inherited from his grandfather the old puppet who has restored and put back on the scene and building of new, expanding its consistency to two hundred pieces.

Mostly they were built with poor materials: wood and surplus, was used for the armor "of lanna buatta" (sheet), switching to higher quality materials such as nickel silver and brass.

The skeleton, fundamental for the baby, is used beech or spruce, where you prepare nine pieces: two feet, due gambe, two legs, a bust, hand and double hand fist.

The wood chosen is sawed, damped and finished with "rasps" and lime, so that we can create "cutter" in various parts.

These parts are fitted together using a wire, then hands and feet are painted and covered with fabric, in this way the torso is lined with cloth (joints) serving the uses of scene, these joints, covered with the dress, are in turn covered by armor.

The right foot (important for the stability) is crumpled half an inch to facilitate the first step.

The carved wooden heads of beech or cypress because it is more flexible, are painted in the next step by starting eyed puppeteer, until a few years ago, they were specialist craftsmen to dabble in this arduous task, today are the same puppeteers carving and paint the heads according to the needs of the script, They convey the expressive vitality in.

The work is certainly the toughest armor, which must be embossed using different specialist tools invented by the puppeteer and, handed down from ancestors or invented in recent times to create some special.

The chosen slabs on which are cut out parts of the armor is at least five millimeters thick, you draw the parties, and with a big rifilano forbicione, we derive the shield, the knee, bracelets, the helmet and shoulder caps and are shaped and "rounded" with "hammers a ball" on top of logs already shaped.

All molded parts are thrown along the border with "fin hammer" and "rotino" and then be able to do with the trappings of "punches" modeled, at the end of the arabesques of copper are applied to the solder, they are used to attach signs to identify the characters: Orlando leads the armor and shield a Latin cross and the eagle on the helmet. Involved in the manufacture, the drill to make holes to pass the wire, pliers to roll it.

The craftsmanship of the baby has not changed over time, Thanks to the support of an unbridled imagination of the builder, are applied to complete the costumes: pants to "zuova" for the infidels and the "faraoncina" (short skirt) for paladins that can be distinguished by color: Orlando will have the custom green and red colored Rinaldo, with the help of women's puppeteer who wisely use the sewing machine and iron.

Eventually, after polishing and the insertion of two rods of iron which hold the weight of the baby and the invisible threads bind the breastplate, the shield, the sword and helmet, serve the puppeteer, when he puts his hands on the wooden puppet that is, cloth, copper and has the eyes and face properties, the baby comes to life becomes light, expressive, convincing.

A baby from Palermo scene that is articulated with respect to that Catania, regularly has an average height of ninety centimeters needed to build forty to forty-five days refers Enzo Mancuso, and its price and a little indifferent.

Enzo Mancuso is now considered one of the most solid puppeteers Palermo, not only stopped in learning technical for the construction of the baby and in his maneuver, but he perfected the method of acting, researching and studying old "canvas" of representation; his is a revised version of the History of Santa Rosalia, which portrays in particular periods of the year, in a special way, during the "Feast".

These qualities, were put on display in 1998 in some of the most important festivals of puppetry as the "Festival di Morgana" and "The Night of the Puppets", important exhibition organized by the International Museum of Marionettes "A. Pasqualino ", where since September 2003 participation begins with the logistics of the museum, proposing a program of annual events that are represented in the theater room.

Participate in events "Machine Dreams" and "Scene of Palermo", a scenic area has been in 1999 Theatre in the popular "Zappala" establishing a new experimental performance entitled "Opra Crowds" puppets, cuntu and farces, where Enzo Mancuso back to basics recovering a particular aspect of popular theater in Sicily: ù cuntu.

To his initiative was the work of the Society puppets "Charlemagne", with this he has carried around for several Italian and foreign cities (Dallas in America, in Africa, Spain, France, Scotland, Latvia) endeavoring to make known the work of traditional and innovative tool puppets.

Every Paladin Enzo has a tradition, a close link with the past, it is a scrupulous adherence to manufacturing today are the latest generation of titles on the artist-craftsman who sees the true focus of the work of puppets.