Shadows, Strings & Other Things
The Enchanting Theatre of Puppets
Hands—twitching strings, manipulating rods, moving parts—bring puppets to life. The creative intimacy between the puppeteer and their puppet can dissolve the separation between the two. As energy flows—through veins and wires, flesh and wood, muscles and silicone—the enchantment begin and stories unfold. Five theatrical stages each focus on a specific type of puppet: shadow, string, rod, hand, and stop motion.
At the entrance, you are welcomed by the 12-foot-tall puppet, called Meh.
String puppets or marionettes are in many ways the most complex of puppet forms. Strings, wires or lines are attached to their articulated body parts: heads, arms and legs; sometimes joints, eyelids, and mouths.
The puppets are manipulated from above: the strings are usually threaded, looped and knotted through a handheld device. The more strings, the more nuanced their movements are. Their faces can express different emotions: happiness, surprise, anger, and sorrow. Likewise, their bodies can move, gesture, and dance in a dramatic manner. The realism of the string puppet enables viewers to suspend their disbelief and journey with these storytelling characters.
Shadow puppetry is an enchanting form of storytelling that originated in China and India over two-thousand years ago. It is now found in many parts of the world and entertains crowds with popular tales of misadventure and religious epics. In shadow play, the puppeteers are hidden behind a screen of white cloth and a light-source hangs overhead. As the puppeteer manipulates the puppets, the shadow characters come to life.
The renowned shadow puppets of China, India, Indonesia, and Turkey are made of animal hide; many are intricately cut and dyed or painted so they cast tinted shadows on the screen.
Rod puppets are operated from below, rather than from above like their stringed counterparts. The rod-puppet’s head is generally attached to a central wooden or metal rod, which the puppeteer holds. Smaller rods may be attached to the puppet’s arms to allow a wider range of gestures.
Vietnamese water puppets, like those on the stage, are a unique type of rod puppetry. Their central rod does not extend vertically, out of the puppet’s body. Rather it is attached to a mechanism at the base of the puppet and it extends horizontally, underneath the water to the puppeteer, who is hidden from sight.