Shadow Play

Though the term “shadow play” might bring to mind some sort of salacious fetish practiced by overzealous goths and pre-teen wickans, it is, of course, no such thing. Shadow play refers instead to one of the more ancient forms of theater, one whose roots are so old as to be, beyond a certain point, seemingly untraceable, whose practice can be found, in varying incarnations and distinct traditions, all across the world, and whose contrivances account for some of the most gorgeous puppets to ever to cavort, skulk, vault, or swoon across a stage.

12.05. filed under: art. design. history. play.

Morrison, that first image reminded me of “Once Upon A Time In America”—the movie—and the opening scene where “Noodles” is getting gassed on opium. YouTube produced nothing (substantial) with those shadow puppets. At least that I could find. Great stuff!!!


posted on 12.05 at 07:01 PMJoe Moran

Beautiful, thanks for putting this together. I’ll have to spend some time exploring all those links.
Many examples you show are not backlit so it’s hard to tell, but it seems that Indonesian puppeteers paint a lot more detail than the audience can see (if you consider cloth and hide’s opacity).

posted on 12.06 at 12:40 PM.

This is so beautiful and interesting! Maybe instead of convincing the Mihaly clan to let me run away to India, I’ll show the padre your research on shadow puppets from THAILAND and convince him to send me there.

I do not know if Lisa told you or not, but we (meaning Gaby and I) were happy to note that you are back online! And now, as it is 3:30am during finals week, I am looking through everything from this past semester to keep me procrastinatin’!

Love you, cannot wait to see you when I visit NYC later this month!

- Iby

posted on 12.13 at 04:27 AM.

Hi there.  It was eerie to read this post, because I used to date an ethnomusicologist who was one of the first British people to train in Java as a dalang (shadow puppeteer).  I haven’t thought about wayang theatre in years, but the Javanese puppets are as familiar as old friends.  I know their names, their characters, their qualities.  This is a very strange feeling.

Anyway, I’m very much enjoying your writing.  Hope 2008 treats you well.

posted on 01.04 at 03:05 PMLiza

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