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Puppets and proselytizing: Politics and nation-building in post-revolutionary Mexico's didactic theater

Robert S Herr, University of Massachusetts Amherst


During the 1920s and 30s, Mexican artists, teachers and state officials collaborated to stage educational plays in working class neighborhoods and rural communities in an effort to foster revolutionary citizens. The authors of live-action drama and hand-puppetry, known as teatro guiñol, infused their comedies and morality plays with the lessons of Mexico's revolution, endeavoring to improve rural life, strengthen class-consciousness and promote artistry among spectators young and old. In support of these initiatives, the Ministry of Education constructed thousands of open-air stages throughout rural Mexico, trained teachers to operate puppet theaters and disseminated scripts in its biweekly magazine. Many of the initiators of these projects viewed the role of theater in contradictory terms; it was a means both to elevate the standards of national culture as well as to nurture the folkloric artistry that was to be fountain of a "cosmic race." However, subsequent officials would manage theater as part and parcel of the state's adoption of socialist education, resulting in an important role for didactic theater in the state's repertoire of civic festival. Moreover, communist activists and avant-garde artists penned works of popular and puppet-theater inspired by the pedagogical practices of Russia's 1917 revolution and sought to further advance Mexico's social transformation. Engaging with literary critics, historians, and scholars of cultural studies, my study adds the role of lesser-known artists and intellectuals back into the mix to understand the multi-stranded, negotiated process that took place within the realm of post-revolutionary cultural politics. I examine play scripts written by teachers and artists, policy directives from mid-level ministry officials and reports filed by rural teachers. In this way I identify explicit and implicit moralizing messages in the plays, paying close attention to overlapping and colliding projects as well as narrative strategies and stylistic elements that relate to specific political agendas. Through an exploration of the context in which plays were produced and performed, my study shows how teachers and artists facilitated state projects even as they attempted to fashion didactic theater to suit their pragmatic needs, artistic sensibilities or more radical agendas.

Subject Area

Latin American literature|Latin American Studies|Political science|Theater History

Recommended Citation

Herr, Robert S, "Puppets and proselytizing: Politics and nation-building in post-revolutionary Mexico's didactic theater" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3589038.