Ian Weightman

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Les Petit Comediens gather for World Puppet Festival

France will host one of Northern Europe's most colourful festivals of the year when Charleville-Mézières, capital of the Ardennes region, stages the 2011 World Puppet Festival (http://www.festival-marionnette.com/index.php?Itemid=113) from the 16th to 25th September.

An ideal choice for the biggest gathering of puppets on the planet, Charleville-Mézières is a world-renowned centre for marionettes and puppeteers – boasting a historic association with the art, which stretches back to 1941. That was the year a 17-years old called Jacques Felix first introduced a puppet theatre to the town.

In the intervening years, Charleville-Mézières has taken "Les Petits Comédiens" very seriously, and has not only established an International Puppet Institute, but also an Ecole Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette, which now offers a three-year puppetry course to 15 international students each year.

In 1991, the town also unveiled what has become one of its most endearing tourist attractions, The Grand Marionnettiste - The Great Puppeteer's Clock. Built into the façade of the Institut de la Marionette, every hour from 10am to 9pm, it presents an episode from the legend of the Four Sons of Aymon...a heroic medieval saga linked to the geography and history of the Ardennes.

A World Festival of Puppet Theatres was founded in 1961 – making this the 50th anniversary year – and it has continued to increase in scale throughout its history.

It is thanks to Jacques FELIX that the Charleville-Mézières Festival has become such an unmissable event for puppeteers, programme planners and visitors from all over the world.

For ten days, life in the whole town revolves around the festival. Many events rooms, sports halls, streets and courtyards are used as venues. All types of techniques, styles and exploring of new ideas are on show - from string to glove puppets, from shadow to Bunraku, from real objects to onscreen, from small intimate forms to giant puppets... traditional shows alongside the most modern of styles - and viewed by a wide-ranging audience.

During the previous festival, in September 2009, the various shows were attended by 150,000 people in the town of Charleville-Mézières, now known as the World Capital of Puppetry Arts.

The chosen theme for this year's event is 'Mediterranean Marionnettes', and the 10-day festival will feature more than 250 troupes from around 40 different countries. In addition to the obvious stars of the show – "the little comedians" – spectators will be entertained by storytellers, musicians, jugglers, clowns, and mime artists.

The French Ardennes region is also famous for its stunning scenery and seasonal specialities; the largest fortress in Europe; fortifications from the Middle Ages to the Maginot Line; and literary links with the poets Rimbaud and Verlaine. For further details, visit www.ardennes.com.

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