This past week I hopped on my Yongjiu bicycle and peddled through the narrow hutongs west of Houhai, where I’d arranged to meet up with Larry Reed, an amazing theater artist and one of the few people in the world specializing in shadow theatre. After many years of studying and performing Balinese shadow puppetry, he’s recently made some trips to China in search of Chinese shadow puppetry artists to learn and collaborate with. This was how our connection began years ago, as I was working on A Life in Shadows.
Shadow puppetry has a long and complex history in China. In some villages in you might manage to see traditional shadow puppet performances performed by farmer-artists, like they’ve done for hundreds of years. But modern history has really taken its toll on these lived folk arts, and the village performance tradition has been rapidly fading away.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world (in San Francisco), Larry has been working to modernize this art-form, integrating shadow play with modern theater and breathing life into the traditional stories performed by shadow puppetry troupes in villages around China. In one of the first few collaborations of it’s kind, Larry was invited to Beijing to direct a performance with Mao Mao, a young shadow master from North-east China. Mao Mao himself is a rare character, he’s only in his mid-thirties and is passionate about his art. Together, they created a show that holds onto the qualities of these traditional folk stories, but infuses modern language and visual techniques into the performance. It was a really special show! I will post some video in the coming weeks showing the final result and with a little interview with Larry explaining his take on puppetry, folk arts preservation and what the shadows can teach us about life, love and war.
See the article I wrote, On the Art of Shaanxi Shadow Play in the Kyoto Journal to learn more about this amazing art-form.