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Vertep (Christmas Puppet Theater). Vertep, the Ukrainian Christmas puppet theater had its beginnings in the XVII century. According to scholars, the theater was probably founded by students of the Kyivan Academy, who also wrote the plays performed there. This theater became very popular and with time its special plays were performed by wandering mistrals, teachers, deacons and traveling theater groups.
The puppet theater consisted of a miniature two-storied structure, which served as a stage for the action. The actors were puppets made of wood. Each puppet had a wire attached to one leg and in this way the puppeteer was able to control the doll's movement, moving it back and forth via the vertical and horizontal grooves cut out in the two floors of the structure.

The play itself had two separate acts that were thematically unconnected. The first, which took place in the upper floor of the miniature theater, had a religious theme and was didactic in character. The play presented a shepherd and the Three Kings who came to visit the newborn Jesus. The shepherds sang songs and rejoiced in His birth. there was also a scene with the weeping Rachel, whose children were killed by the order of King Herod. In this scene Rachel cursed the King and as he died, the devil came to take his body and soul down to hell.


The entire second act of the play took place on the lower floor of the theater. It consisted of short, humorous scenes, designed to amuse the viewer. Although the various short scenes of the second act did not constitute a tightly knit story, the action in them did revolve around one personage who was not given a specific name, but was just called "Kozak Zaporozhets".

In Ukrainian folklore, there are many legends about Kozak Mamai, who was a great warrior, defender of freedom and honor. He always appeared at a very critical moment in a battle to save the day. Probably the role of Kozak in the puppet theater was based on Kozak Mamai, this semi-legendary folk hero. In the puppet theater play the Kozak doll was always made larger than the others. He wore the traditional dress of the Kozaky, had a bandura (Ukrainian folk string instrument), and smoked a pipe. In a very long monologue, the Kozak puppet spoke of the glorious historical past of Ukraine.

The short scenes of the second act also dealt with a variety of negative characteristics of man, i.e., cowardice, greed, etc. The scenes changed rapidly and in them people lied, cheated, tricked one another, argued, fought - all for the purpose of bringing out the comic elements in such behavior. The Kozak, however, was beyond all that. although he may have pretended to be fooled, he did so only to get a hearty laugh from the audience. He conquered all who wished him ill, even the devil. The viewers saw the heroic past of Ukraine in the person of Kozak. For them he was the eternal defender of Ukraine's freedom.

Both acts of the play were accompanied by music - a choir, duets, solos and instrumental ensembles made up of violins, cymbals, a flute and a drum. The Kozak played the bandura and sang old epic songs. He and the other characters in the play also danced.
During the Christmas holidays, students went from, from town to town, village to village, house to house with the Vertep and gave performances.

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