Animating Beliefs in Spanish Culture: A Conversation on the “Puppets of the Impossible”



By Ana Salgado, September 27, 2022

On September 14, the Department of Theater and New Dance hosted an event called “Puppets of the Impossible” that featured Esther Fernández, writer and program advisor for Spanish and Portuguese at Rice University.

Fernández is an authority on modern Spanish literature and culture, with a focus on the development of theater and its relationship to the country’s emerging civil society. Fernandez is also a Resident Associate at Wiess College, where she also serves as Divisional Counselor for the Humanities, and is a Fellow of the Center for Teaching Excellence. She recently published a book called “To Embody the Marvelous”.

The main objective of the event was to study how the movement of animated objects and puppets used in ceremonial contexts in the Iberian Peninsula in the early modern period became an essential element for transmitting didactic knowledge without commitment. direct human.

Fernández explores these man-made entities through artistic storytelling and shows how they inspireed deep theological ideas and at other times served a practical or pleasurable purpose.

During the event, Fernández shared his own explanation of animations that look like puppets and are created expressly to simulate simple physical movements in religious and ceremonial contexts that have existed since the dawn of mankind.

The discussion lasted an hour as Fernández summarized the figures of the articulated Christ, or “Cristos articulados”, that is to say articulated virgins – puppets representing holy protagonists, mechanical monsters, like the Tarasca who parade in Corpus Christi processions and religious automata.

Especially in early modern Spain, these moveable objects and puppet figures all evolved into awe-inspiring and uplifting artifacts that audiences found extremely appealing, Fernández shared.

She also touched on various topics such as how their main dramatic effect was to make everyone who watched or interacted with them feel alive. These artificially animated beings had the ability to convey profound theological concepts in some cases, while providing amusement or utility in other situations.

Ana Salgado | Post Poly

Fernández’s words and style of expression are highly valued in the community of Spanish literary and theater artists. Marta Albalá Pelegrín, professor of modern Iberian literature and Renaissance theater, liked what Fernández had to say.

“I wanted to give Cal Poly Pomona students the chance to get involved not only in their research,” Albalá Pelegrín said. “But also, with the practice of managing a puppet and the feelings a puppet can evoke, as well as the ability of theater to transport audiences, engage them in the performance, and bring theater to communities.”

According to Albalá Pelegrín, Fernández takes students to the roots of puppet theater, so having a talk by Fernández at the CPP would benefit students in ways that she could not. Fernández, who performs with the puppet group Dragoncillo, a group of academics familiar with the golden age of theater, can bring people together and educate them about creating these kinds of communities through theater.

Theater student Stephanie Alvarado shared her feelings after attending the event.

“I thought that was pretty fascinating in terms of how stupid the puppet is and stuff, probably, when you think about it,” Alvarado said. “But now that I’ve seen that presentation was talking about the importance of religion and how it affects people’s feelings in such a profound way. After the event I believed the techniques used to bring these puppets to life, I found it quite interesting to see the significant relevance of stories like the Virgin and Christ being amplified. Overall I really liked it and it helped me respect puppetry as art.

Fernández said she finds inspiration and knowledge in theater and would like to see more theater that takes place in Spain and Latin America, especially for students who are native speakers.

“All of this cultural diversity that Latin America and Spain have is something that my company, Dragoncillo, offers to students who can grasp it and to native speakers to give back to the culture,” Fernández said.

Fernández never considered theater as something religious, even if it presents political and social problems. She believes that by attending a show, she will advance politically, culturally and socially. She insists that plays should break down stereotypes.

“I think you have to go there with a very open mind and see what resonates with you and what resonates with me. What better than to be united in a theater for a play, in these times of war, we can have a space of peace and coexistence,” Fernández shared.

The campus community can learn more about Fernández by visiting him website and watch a show Dragoncilloa group of puppeteers dedicated to creative storytelling that entertains and educates audiences.

Image courtesy of Ana Salgado

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