The Brazilian Puppetry technique of ‘teatro lambe lambe’.
There is very little published information about Teatro Lambe Lambe so here I present the limited information I have been able to find from worldwide literature available in the UK, information from the internet, company interviews and of course , my own personal experience of both being a spectator a maker of these little puppetry boxes.
Teatro Lambe Lambe was described by artist Álvaro Apocalypse as
“A última grande invenção do teatro de animação no mundo”
“The last great invention of animation theatre in the world”.
Teatro Lambe Lambe is essentially a form of puppetry or shape animation that takes place inside a confined but easily transportable space, usually a box placed on a tripod that, normally one spectator would watch at a time.
Each play or show is traditionally short, usually two to three minutes in length and a whole variety of techniques and tricks are used within these miniature theatres to offer spectators the full variety of puppet art, just on a smaller scale.
Teatro lambe lambe can range from shadow puppetry, object manipulation or micro marionettes right through to miniature bunraku-style shows and to rod style puppetry all on a miniature scale.
There are shows where only the puppeteers hands are involved and shows that use digital media. The possibilities of teatro lambe lambe are as endless as puppetry itself, but all on a conveniently portable scale.
Teatro Lambe Lambe literally translates from Portuguese into ‘Theatre Lick Lick’, however the name ‘lambe lambe’ originates from the old fashioned cameras which were called ‘cameras lambe lambe’.
The term ‘lick lick’ in relation to these cameras was given as many of the photographers offering their services on the streets of Brazil in the early twentieth centuary were seen to ‘lambe’ or ‘lick’ their photographic paper whilst it was in the developing fluids, to see if the photograph was developed properly. If the flavour was metallic, sweet or bitter further washing of the photograph was required. Members of the public seeing this scene began to call the photographers ‘lambe lambe’, and so the phrase ‘camera lambe lambe’ was created.
This style of box camera balanced on a tripod with a head covering for the photographer were common place on Brazilian Streets and garden squares in the early twentieth century, with photographers offering their services to passers by.
In 1989 Brazilian puppeteers Ismini Lima and Denise Santos partly inspired by the thought of these boxes created ‘Teatro Lambe Lambe’.
It was not however just through an artistic revelation that these women created what is now one of the most popular forms of puppetry in Brazil, but through the necessity for their work to be genuinely saleable and to generate a revenue from entertaining and intriguing people to look inside their ‘secret box’.
In September 2007 Lima and Santos were interviewed at the Mini Shows festival in the city of Joinville.
In this interview Ismine Lima attributes the creation of Teatro Lambe-Lambe to a series of circumstances and needs she and Denise dos Santos had at that particular time.
In 1989, Ismine did a workshop with puppeteer Ariel Bufano which apparently ‘opened new perspectives within her artistic career’.
Denise already worked in educational activities and began using puppets and dolls which she built from foam. She created a large foam puppet carrying a baby puppet its lower belly to utilise in sex education workshops for teenagers.
These were puppets that she wore on her body but when showing the birth scene for Ismine , Isminie argued that this type of scene could not be done that way because birth ‘was a very intimate act’ and as she says ‘a delicate secret that should be preserved’.
Denise, who had not yet considered the matter in that manner, agreed with her colleague and together they began to question in which other ways to address the theme of childbirth.
At the same time, Santos and Lima received an invitation to work at the Inside Fair, in the city of Salvador. They won the space and opportunity to work from a Monday, but as is common in Brazil they had no guarantee of any fees or funding.
It was necessary to find some way to ensure their remuneration while working at the Fair, their show would need to bring in a profit in order for it to survive.
Whilst walking through the streets of Salvador, Isminie saw some of the Lambe Lambe photographers, which despite the near extinction of their profession were still present on some streets of the city at that time in 1989. They were carrying their black boxes and touting for trade and were the inspiration for the first Teatro Lambe Lambe show ‘A Dança do Parto’ ‘The Dance of Childbirth’.
The show proved to be very popular at the Indoor Fair and they worked for ten days and made good money from showing the show to one spectator at a time. On the second day they made a banner that read: “The Dance of Birth, a LambeLambe Spectacle.” So there was Baptised a new genre of puppet theatre that has grown enormously over the last twenty three years, and I am sure will continue to grow and develop over the coming years.
In the same year as they created Teatro Lambe Lambe , Santos and Lima participated in the International Festival of the Brazilian Association of Puppet Theatre in Rio de Janeiro. They showed their box to puppeteers and artists including Álvaro Apocalypse and Magda Modesto and so disclosed to the puppet world a new method of showing theatre to the masses, one person at a time.
Twenty three years later there are now national and international festivals of Lambe Lambe in Brazil, meetings of Lambe Lambe professionals, Lambe Lambe boxes on street corners all over South America and now Lambe Lambe is starting to gain popularity in Europe.
Personally, having already experienced Lambe Lambe in Brazil in 2008 it was heartening to see boxes not only from Brazil but from France, Spain and Italy in the 2009 Charles Le Villes Mezieres World Puppet Festival.
Antonio Bonequeiro who was friends with Santos and Lima ,was the man that took Teatro Lambe Lambe to Santa Caterina in the south of Brazil. It was there that Fagner Gastaldon first saw Teatro Lambe Lambe, and it was through him as well as his Brazilian company Cia Mutua that I first encountered the art form.
There are other forms of puppetry that hold some similarities to Teatro Lambe Lambe such as the paper theatres of Victorian England or the over shoulder puppet theatres of the Jaspanese Ebisu-Kaki. Whilst there may have been some influence from these forms in Lima and Santo’s work, I cannot be sure until I actually interview them face to face next time we are in Brazil. I have written to them to request interviews to further my research when we are in Brazil next. We are lucky to know puppeteers in Brazil who know Lima and Santos well so I hope to have the privilege of meeting this two puppeteers in the near future an will update this research accordingly when that happens.
Let me here explain the design of a Lambe Lambe box a little:
The lambe lambe box in general has a front opening where a single viewer at a time can watch the show.
Some of the larger boxes I have seen more recently do have more than one opening in and I have actually seen one box with nine spectator spaces.
There is usually an opening behind the box which allows the puppeteer to see inside the box whilst they are manipulating their puppets.
Some Lambe Lambe practictioners choose to use cloth to cover the head of the spectator and themselves to stop light from entering the box.
Headphones are usually provided to give an accompanying soundtrack and to block out much of the world beyond the box and lights are normally fitted within the box for dramatic effect. Power for these can be provided in numerous ways from solar to battery power.
Lambe Lambe boxes usually stand on a tripod, but I am pleased to announce that a certain puppeteer in the UK, namely Mr Fagner Gastaldon has made the recent addition to the traditional Lambe Lambe box of wheels! He has ‘reinvented’ the wheel and within Lambe Lambe communities pictures of this box have been circulated to encourage an already portable form of puppetry to become even more transportable. I suspect wheels have been used many times before within Teatro Lambe Lambe really, but PuppetSoup are very happy to announce that puppetry is becoming ever more portable and is coming to a park near you… !
Puppets in the ‘Teatro Lambe Lambe’ are of course small and in the Punch and Judy Box that we have the video of on our website we utilise small singular rods for manipulation and some puppets have a mechanism. Our other boxes offer other types of manipulation such as direct manipulation of the puppet with the hand and shadow puppetry.
The Punch and Judy box was designed for and used in the 350th Birthday Celebration of Mr Punch in the UK in 2012. It was described by Glyn Edwards who organised and ran the Big Grin 350 in Covent Garden as ‘The Essence of Punch and Judy’.
I think that is a really important point about Teatro Lambe Lambe. Part of its success is due to the fact that shows are short and have to be succinct and interesting to watch, but do not take up too much of the audience’s time or money.
My personal experience of Teatro Lambe Lambe has been both as a spectator and as creator and it is a form of puppetry that I want to learn as much about as possible and provide to as many people as possible as it is a beautiful, simple and compact way of encouraging people back to watching and enjoying puppetry.
I believe its success in Brazil has come about because it is affordable for spectators to see and is every time to every spectator a deeply personal and unique experience.
I believe the literal closeness of the puppeteer to the audience creates a special bond between the audience, puppet and puppeteer that few other types of puppetry can provide.
The puppetry inside a lambe lambe box also has to have simplicity in its form and a clarity to its message due to the short time frame, to ensure that spectators will enjoy what they see and feel that they got value for their money. There are some Festivals of Lambe Lambe in Brazil that pay for the best boxes to travel from all over South America so there is real competition within the Lambe Lambe world to create very high quality work.
Brazil has a growing market for puppetry and traditionally their puppetry has had to be saleable to communities and benefit society especially if it is to become eligible for some funding. Teatro Lambe Lambe has also become successful as it has been a form of puppetry that is of benefit the wider community as it is accessible, portable and can be educational.
Successful Lambe Lambe boxes that really captivate and enchant their audiences often have long queues of excited and expectant spectators and can be found everywhere from beaches to the parks to the street comers to the inside of restaurants and bars in Brazil.
Lambe Lambe boxes are thankfully driving the quality of puppetry up in Brazil and are also encouraging more people to get involved with puppetry as, in the way that photographers with Cameras Lambe Lambe made their living from passers by, so too can puppeteers with a good Teatro Lambe Lambe.
For many Teatro Lambe Lambe practitioners, their boxes provide the bread and butter of the Brazilian flag which waves the words ‘Order and Progression’.
Certainly the progression of the ordered little Lambe Lambe box is evident as it is reaching streets and parks worldwide and I believe will be part of the puppetry of the future.
Mrs C Gastaldon 04/12/12
A transcript from a presentation I gave to the puppetry department at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama