In her childhood years in the 1980’s, Joanna Hruby only knew Ibiza as the destination for her summer holidays… But years later curiosity led her back to the island, and now it is the creative base for her puppetry company, Theatre of the Ancients, established in 2015.
Having worked on many different puppetry projects, theatre performances and festivals in the UK, Joanna has now established her professional work on Ibiza, where her giant ‘cabezudos’, the Eivissa Ancients Tribe, bring to life figures from Eivissa’s ancient history, mythology and folklore. Joanna and her company create diverse theatrical works incorporating puppetry and mask work, and they have appeared in events including the Ibiza Cine Fest, Moda Adlib, the Barruguets Festival and the party Woomoon.
How and when did this project come about?
Theatre of the Ancients is the culmination of many years of study and creative development in puppetry, storytelling and myth. I have a Diploma in Puppetry from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, and in 2015, after several years developing my professional work in the UK, I decided to follow my destiny and relocate to Ibiza.
Without much of a plan, I found myself making my first giant puppet, the Goddess Tanit… then came the two podencos… and gradually I realized that I was forming an Eivissan puppet ‘tribe’ – the Eivissa Ancients Tribe! In a very fluid way, I am experimenting with new ways of using them, trying new things out, and also creating new characters. It’s a very enjoyable and addictive adventure into the unknown…
Theatre of the Ancients gathers diverse arts, crafts and traditions. What is the most complicated to materialize this artistic framework?
For me the greatest challenge finding the ultímate expression of each of my puppets and characters. Making the puppets comes effortlessly, almost on auto-pilot (I was a visual artist before I entered the world of the theatre) but bringing them to life is something I find more daunting and complicated. In the beginning, for example, I thought that the puppets could be performed by themselves without the need for any other additional elements and that they would be able to communicate what I wanted them to communicate.
Now I am realizing that the giants need other, more human characters by their sides which act as intermediaries between the puppets and the public – which can talk, sing, interact, etcetera. To figure out the best use of the puppets takes constant experimentation, and I´m not quite there yet…
Why do you use giant puppets as a form of expression?
The art of puppetry fascinates me. It is a mysterious, ancient art form which for me, deals with the essence of humanity. In traditional cultures of Asia and Africa, puppets play with the relationship between the ego and the soul, the outer world and the inner world of a person. Unlike an actor, a puppet can never have an ‘ego’… it has a certain innocence and purity, like a child, and can communicate certain essential, universal truths.
It is very interesting to work with puppets on the island of Ibiza, where there is a fair amount of exhibitionism and ego! Puppets can say so much without words, they communicate in a different way, and I love seeing the effect this can have on people.
How is the process of making puppets?
Making a new giant character is for me a blissful experience. To make one of the puppets can take three weeks to a month, and I love immersing myself in the experience. Although I always start with drawings, images and designs, you never completely know how the puppet will end up, so it’s a thrilling step into the unknown.
What is always true is that it involves a lot of cardboard of various thicknesses, a lot of Maizena glue, and a lot of podcasts! I have a lot of fun with the final decorations of the costume – for my Goat Kings of Es Vedra I found a pair of antique cowbells in a market in Brighton, England, which are so perfect for them! And I like to use different found, natural materials like grasses, palm leaves and seeds.
There is a world behind this world is the motto of Theater of the Ancients. What do you mean by this exactly?
Through my work, I try to bring to life the world of myths and stories which lies within the imagination – the collective unconscious perhaps – of all of us. In most traditional and ancient cultures around the world, this realm is taken very seriously – through stories communities celebrate the ideas and values which are most important to them, and this imagined world can provide inspiration, guidance and solutions to problems and crises.
On Ibiza, for example, by reviving the island’s ancient mythology and folklore maybe we can remember the true identity of the island before it became a mass-tourism destination. Through the old stories, we can regain respect for ecology, traditions and local culture.
In what way Theater of the Ancients is inspired or ‘baby’ of the island of Ibiza?
A passion for the island’s history, mythology and folklore is behind all that we do. Although we could tell stories from so many different world cultures, which is important to me is to create profound links with the land where you are, to know it as fully as possible. This is a political as well as a creative decision, in the era of globalisation… and on a little island in the Mediterranean which is also a global marketing brand for international DJs and fashion labels! Focusing my work on the culture of Eivissa isn´t a problem because there are so many myths and stories of this land that they would keep me busy for a lifetime.
Where and when will we be able to see Theater of the Ancients this year?
I would like to say that I have my professional year planned out already, but it isn’t true! Last year a lot of my most interesting proposals arrived weeks before the event, so I am quite used to going with the flow! But we are beginning our year by opening and closing the Ibiza Cine Fest at Can Ventosa with two new performances.
In the spring I am planning some new masked characters, including the god Bes! So they should appear alongside my puppets at various events around the island. And I am also planning to create a paper theatre performance based on the old ibicenco story, The Giant of Es Vedra. The best way to stay informed of our activities is via good old fashioned social media!