2006-06-23 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

Shadow Puppetry - Wonder And Fantasy
Rockaway Artists Alliance by Susan Hartenstein

Rockaway Artists Alliance
by Susan Hartenstein

Final weekend to catch two RAA exhibits: Lines in the Sand: The Chairs of Bagno Maria, an exhibit of photographs by Christina Jorge, continues at sTudio 6 Gallery through June 25. The Daily News, Newsday, The Queens Courier, The Wave and several other Queens and Long Island newspapers have found this exhibit worthy of feature articles. Taken on a Tuscan beach, the images capture the beauty of the color and design of the canvas and wooden framed chairs of Bagno Maria in northern Italy. Gallery hours: Saturdays 12-4 p.m., Sundays 1-4 p.m. and by appointment. Free admission. For information and directions call (718) 474-0861, E-mail: RockArt116 @aol.com, Website: www.rockawayartists alliance.org.

Bodyscapes: Exploring the Multi-dimensional Aspects of the Human Figure. On view through June 25 at sTudio7 Gallery, Rockaway Center for the Arts (RoCA), Fort Tilden. Intriguing artworks in a variety of mediums. Artists from all over the U.S. and from Canada explore the nature of being human. See above for gallery hours and contact information.

Shadow puppetry is an art form in which shadow images of handcrafted puppets are projected onto a screen. A part of the puppeteer's body can also be projected. At least a thousand years old, according to one source used for this column, it may be as old as the discovery of shadows. I can still remember seeing a shadow puppet production as a child. It was a magical experience, watching dark silhouettes dancing across a white screen. It is also a form of theater you can do with your children at home or in a school. India and Egypt were the countries in which this form of puppetry originated. Later spreading to Turkey, Greece, China, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, each country evolved its own style and tradition, though each was influenced by the other. Traditional puppet theater is still performed, but contemporary puppeteers in a variety of countries including ours have added their own styles and techniques. They have brought this ancient art into the modern era.

Shadow puppet characters can be human, animal, heroic or villainous. The stories can be ancient or newly created. An orchestra may play the accompanying music, or a single instrument, recorded or performed live. Peking opera has been connected to shadow puppetry for two millennia. Computers have been added to the creative mix.

The puppets may be large or small and moved by a variety of materials such as rods or strings. Traditional Asian puppets were made with animal skins, but the materials that are used today go well beyond that. Cardboard, wire and plywood are just a few examples. Although most puppets are flat, several different materials can be combined to create three-dimensional puppets that produce varied shadow effects and even blurs. The French projected black shadows, but the Turks and Chinese cast colored shadows. Of course, gray shadows can be produced by varying the distance the puppet is held behind the screen. When scenery is placed at different distances, perspective results.

A flickering candle or oil lamp was once used as the lighting source that is placed behind the puppets, which are behind the screen. Today, electric lighting allows a more controlled effect. The production and its elements may be elaborate or simple, with endless possibilities living in the minds and talents of the creators.

Use of shadow puppetry is not limited to a live theatrical setting, or simply as entertainment. Eighty years ago Lotte Rineger, a German filmmaker, layered glass under a camera to make animated films using detailed shadow puppets. In certain cultures, such as Indonesia, shadow puppetry is part of religious rites.

A master shadow puppeteer is able to endow his puppet with a whole range of emotions and characteristics, by using the proper manipulations of the figure and its parts, though the simplest figures may have no moving parts.

Visit the Internet to learn more about the wondrous world of shadow puppetry. A splendid and thorough source is http://prinetonal.com/groups/ iad/lessons/middle/puppets.htm. This site is filled with information about the various aspects of the art form and how to produce them yourself. Scroll down to "Playing with Shadows: An Introduction to Shadow Puppetry" and click on it with your children. Here you will find a beautifully conceived and realized presentation, set up like a Chinese scroll, that is easy to navigate and gives a real sense of the art form in an entertaining and engaging manner. It is perfect for young people and adults.

You can also hear from a director of traditional Chinese shadow puppetry who combines traditional and contemporary methods. Because shadow theater can be as simple or elaborate as you want, www.hvanrossum. com/ shadpup.html also provides easy instructions for creating your own shadow puppet presentation.

The idea for this column originated with a piece I did last week about a shadow puppet production at Tabla Rasa Gallery, Living in the Shadows, by Brenda Colling and Danny Scheffer.

You can learn about that very contemporary production by visiting http://www.hellobrooklyn.com/brook

lyn-arts.html24/seven Shadow Pup pets article.

RTC's Kiss Me Kate opens July 7. For more information, visit www.rock awaytheatrecompany.org.

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