by Dr. Helmut von Kugelgen - International Waldorf Kindergarten Association
The struggle for the legal security of a freely chosen, humane education in the pre-school age demands spiritual decisions from which parents and teachers can no longer hold back. Independently from the success of these efforts, however, we must not neglect the concrete questions of the creation of a counterbalance against a civilization inimical to children.
Whatever can be done to offer children enlivening soul nourishment must be begun. In the late fall, children are more and thore withdrawn from nature - in so far as they can reach it all - and are brought into the house and indoor occupations. It is also the time for the first thoughts about Christmas and Christmas presents, so the educational experience should lead to understanding with the heart and to action.
How incongruous it must have seemed in the year 1917 in the tragic last phases of the first World War and in the beginning of his open political and social activity, that Rudolf Steiner should have been concerned with the establishment of a marionette theater. But he devoted his full attention to this theater.
The task of this Marionette theater was to give a concrete example of the spiritual impulse of Middle Europe against the flood of western ways. In the house at Motzstrasse 17 where Rudolf Steiner lived in Berlin, there was an apartment used as a daycare center. which was established by the Berlin branch of the Anthroposophical Society with financial support from the state. The children who were cared for here were from four to twelve years old; their mothers were employed and their fathers were in the military. The story of this theater has been told by Helmut Vemehren in No. 74 of News of Anthroposophical Work in Germany, Christmas 1965. The following paragraphs are taken from that article:
"For this center, several anthroposophical friends now built a puppet theater. The moving force was the painter and sculptor Leonhard Gern. It was he and Hedwig Hauck who asked Rudolf Steiner for advice about the realization of their ideas. Rudolf Steiner seized immediately upon this invitation. He explained that the marionettes must hang on threads and be directed from above; only such marionettes were appropriate for the presentation of fairy tales.”
In the course of time, he gave many indications, and he was often present at the rehearsals. The stage, which was a sliding one had three curtains in different colors which were raised one at a time to lift the action on the stage complete out of worldly prosaic connections. The marionettes were not controlled with the usual crossbar but rather with strings tied directly to the fingers. Rudolf Steiner showed how the marionettes were to be used. His advice was clear: "Marionettes cannot speak!" The fairy tales must be read to the children, and the narrator - who should look festive - should sit on a nearby chair, similar in style to the chair of God in the Oberufer Paradise Play. The tale should be read quite simply and naturally, and the different creatures and people characterized with the voice. He himself gave many examples of this.
Rudolf Steiner laid special emphasis on the right style and color of the costume fabric. Once a gold embroidered fabric was needed for the garment of a prince. Rudolf Steiner was shown five samples and selected a fabric with the remark that this one was well suited for showing the image of the Ego. Another time, he wanted a dark grey garment for the wicked fairy, while for the other wise women he selected garments in the colors of the rainbow. In the dwarves one should avoid any caricatures: they should, however, have a special liveliness.
During the rehearsals for "Sleeping Beauty," after many experiments, there arose the possibility that the thorn hedge should be transformed into a rose hedge from above down. Steiner remarked, "In fairy tales, after all, even the roses grow down from heaven." The scenes in which the prince goes around the castle were painted on veils; these pictures were then lit up by a spotlight as they passed, one after another, across the background. Sometimes Rudolf Steiner took up a paint brush and corrected the stage scenes.
He was especially interested in the stage lighting. There should be for example, a strong red illuminating the stage scene each time the wicked queen appears. He was concerned about the smallest details with this purpose in mind: "We must do everything in our power to help the children develop fantasy." This was the basic attitude which he instilled in the hearts of those working with the marionettes. One has the distinct impression that in this work Rudolf Steiner had before him something of the future. The hint which he gave in this connection, that "the marionette theater was a remedy for civilization's damages" attained through the events described a special importance.
On this stage, performances were given until the end of the first World War. Stories presented were: Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Rumpelstiltskin. Steiner was always at the rehearsals, giving advice and being actively involved. The direction of the plays lay in the hands of Leonhard Gern, who also made the marionettes. Hedwig Hauck made the costumes and selected the fabrics which were laid before Rudolf Steiner. The music for the plays was composed by Leopold van der Pals. It was played before the curtain was raised and also during transformations and other important movements, such as "Mirror, mirror on the wall...." Helene Gunther, later Mrs. Hansen played the piano. The performers were William Selling, Hedwig Hauck, Anna Samweber, Miss Knipsel, and Lore Schumann. The latter - a cousin of Käthe Kollwitz - painted the stage scenes and helped with the development of the stage in special ways. The narrator was Eva Groddeck, later Mrs. Putz. Rudolf Steiner said of her to the players: "Doesn't she herself look like a fairy tale?"
With the end of the war in 1918 this theater also came to an end. When Hedwig Hauck went on to the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart, Marie Steiner telegraphed to her that she should bring the marionette theater with her to the school. But this stage did not again develop a new life.
It does not help much to rage against television, whose mighty influence on the education of children can be observed with the greatest concern. One correctly understands Rudolf Steiner's efforts for a marionette theater as a "remedy against civilization’s ills” when one sees it in the beginning of a genuine cultural movement such as has arisen around the Waldorf kindergartens. Independent stages in establishments such as Rudolf Steiner houses, Waldorf schools and kindergartens should reach a growing number of children besides those actually in the kindergartens.
This picturesque, educational medium, the living play imbued with the inner imagination and fantasy, should be offered in many styles as a way of activating the creative powers of children. The joy and animation of young viewers, who gladly turn their attention and love to the marionettes performing the fairy tales, develop, in course of a child's education into building stones for life.
The Waldorf school movement is not without experience in this area. In the Free Waldorf School in Hannover, the marionette plays were nursed along for many years in the handwork and artistic classes of Clausen and Riedel. The Stuttgart-Kraherwald Waldorf School, and later Marburg, developed a puppet stage as part of the handwork classes (in conjunction with Schoneborn-Stocker). A large number of kindergartens have arranged performances which attract more children than just those enrolled in their own groups. It depends on the initiative of individuals and the readiness of their colleagues and the school association to support these initiatives.
There is here a concrete task for all who want not merely to discuss pre-school education, but to do something about it with full consciousness.