Augusto Grilli’s passion for puppets began with a Christmas present in 1946
TURIN (ITALY) – Augusto Grilli’s eyes still shine when he remembers receiving the small theater and 12 puppets almost 75 years ago, a childhood gift that sparked a career and a passion always.
“It was in 1946, the first post-war Christmas, a moment of celebration, of joy, a very special atmosphere,” says the elegantly dressed Italian, now 80 years old.
“I woke up and among the gifts from ‘Baby Jesus’ was a large box containing a theater and puppets. It was love at first sight.”
He turned out to have a knack for puppets – string puppets – and quickly became something of a star at his school in Turin, northern Italy.
“I used to put on a show, they made me go to all classes in primary school because the children were having so much fun,” he told AFP.
But while he was happy to show his toys, “no child was allowed to touch them,” Grilli said: “The theater has always been a sacred place.”
– A family matter –
The little gold and white theater is now carefully preserved in one of the countless plastic boxes waiting to be taken to the new International Puppet Museum.
A long-held dream of Grilli and his wife Mariarosa, 78, the museum is due to open in 2023 in Turin, funded both privately and publicly with the help of different institutions.
The Grilli family has a collection of over 20,000 objects from around the world, ranging from theaters, puppets and glove puppets to shadows and silhouettes.
There are around 2,000 from Asia, and some of the artefacts date from the 18th century.
In addition to hosting exhibitions, the museum will offer performances in a 120-seat theater, organize restoration workshops and keep archives.
The couple came up with the idea 20 years ago but finally brought it to life with the help of their son Marco, himself a puppeteer.
“We want to put in place a foundation for this heritage to be protected,” said Grilli, to ensure that “the tradition is not lost”.
– Mozart and Rossini –
Puppetry has a rich history in both Asia and Europe, taking many different forms on stages small and large – but Grilli warns that it is becoming a lost art form.
Before World War II, he says, Italy had around 40,000 companies of puppeteers, but afterwards there were only 7,000.
âToday there are only two or three puppeteers who work with string puppets and 400 or 500 who work with hand puppets, but only 10 to 20 are worth a visit,â he said. .
At first, for Grilli, it was just a hobby.
Due to what he calls “fatherly demands”, he studied mechanical engineering and kept the puppets to show them to his friends.
But in 1978, he took the plunge and professionalized by offering shows for young and old, including lyrical works such as “The Magic Flute” by Mozart or “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini.
“It’s impossible to describe what I feel when I’m on stage, it’s so deep. The puppeteer is part of the puppet, who is himself part of the puppeteer,” he enthuses.
In his small workshop near Alfa Teatro, the theater he opened when he was only 30 years old with his wife, Grilli works on his precious puppets.
A drawer is filled with heads, while hundreds of eyes watch from an old wooden box.
“Puppets get damaged when used,” he explained, pointing to a torn shoe.
His son Marco has lived and breathed this magical world since childhood, and at the age of 14 put on his first public show.
Now 47 years old, he has sought to forge his own path using hand puppets and in 2010 was crowned the best in his field in Italy.
He says puppetry is about “the entertainment and expression of the childish part of all of us, and our desire to keep playing.”
“It is also the pure expression of an actor who sacrifices his ego to convey emotions to the puppets,” he said.
âWhen you step into this world, you can’t let go,â he added, saying he wanted to âcarry the concept of the puppet into the futureâ.