The history of the Institute and its school is intimately connected to the history of its founders, Jacques Félix (1923-2006) and et de Margareta Niculescu (1926-2018).
The discovery of the art of puppetry in the context of a Boy Scout setting led Jacques Félix to create the association “Petits Comédiens de Chiffons” with some friends in 1948. “Chiffon” is a word meaning “cloth” in French and the name is in reference to the cloth puppets the company used in its shows.
In 1961 the first festival was organised, welcoming around fifteen companies, and also hosting the second national congress of the French guignoliste and puppeteers’ union.
The city of Charleville-Mézières was selected in 1972 to host the 11th congress of UNIMA (Union International de la Marionnette). It was a real success and it was then that the idea for an International (to become “World”) Festival of Puppet Theatres was born…
This is how the puppet was endorsed in Charleville-Mézières, but a permanent venue was still lacking. Jacques Félix was president of the Petits Comédiens de Chiffons association, founding president of the Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes as well as general secretary for UNIMA (Union International de la Marionnette) - which he would be from 1980 to 2000 -, and was supported by local authorities and the Ministry of Culture and Communication, and accompanied by numerous international artistic personalities - including Henryk Jurkowski (President of UNIMA) and Margareta Niculescu (Chairperson of the Commission for Professional Training of UNIMA). As such, and with all the energy he was known for, he focused on a project to create the Institute. The Institut International de la Marionnette came into being in 1981 and opened in the heart of the city.
The puppet had a venue at last. Professionalizing the puppeteer trade through specific teaching was yet to be accomplished. To remedy the need, ESNAM (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette) was created in 1987 thanks to the combined efforts of Jacques Félix and Margereta Niculescu, founder and then president of the UNIMA Professional Training Committee. Margereta Niculescu was director of ESNAM until 1998. Innovative educational methods were invented around the notion of the puppeteer-performer, taking into consideration the entire evolution of contemporary puppet theatre. IIM Publishing came into being in 1988 and the Villa d’Aubilly, a residence for researchers and creators, was inaugurated in 1996.
The Institute maintains the PAM (Puppetry Arts Portal) initiated in 2008 as part of the call for projects by the Ministry of Culture and Communication for the digitization of cultural heritage and contemporary creation.
So as to consolidate its original objectives centring on research, in 2012 the Institut International de la Marionnette structured its documentary, academic and editorial activities around a Research Centre. In May 2016 the Circus and Puppet Innovation Chair (ICiMa) was launched. Led by the Institut Intérnational de la Marionnette and the Centre National des Arts du Cirque (National Centre for Circus Arts), it sought to create a regional centre of expertise in a variety of fields: innovative use of materials, movement and risk prevention in the performing arts, enhancement of cultural heritage and mediation, the contribution of creativity in the performing arts to applied research, the development of new sustainable economic and social synergies.
In September 2017, the students of ESNAM – national institution awarding the DNSPC (national diploma) with actor-puppeteer specialisation since 2016 - began their academic year in a new building entirely designed for puppet arts training. Since September 2021, ESNAM has been named after its founder, Margareta Niculescu.
Will power and plenty of audacity have now been rewarded. The range of activities of the Institut International de la Marionnette has made it a unique place in France and in the world, and it is indeed asserting itself more than ever as the centre of reference for puppetry arts in the spheres of research and training.