Shadow Theater

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  • Topic: Shadow play, Puppetry, Puppet
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  • Published : October 8, 2010
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Shadow Theatre

Shadow play or shadow puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment using opaque, often articulated figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images. It is popular in various cultures. ...

(noun)a show in which shadows of puppets, flat figures, or live actors are projected onto a lighted screen.

Also called as shadowgraphy, shadow show, shadow play.

History of Shadow Theatre

Most experts believe that the art of shadow playing originated from China during the Han Dynasty (206BC to 220AD). As the story goes, the Emperor Wu Han had many concubines, but one whom he loved most. When she died, he was so devastated that he lost interest in life, and neglected all his responsibilities. His councillors tried all they could to revive their ruler, but nothing could abate his sorrow. Finally, one of the greatest artists of the court created a puppet in the likeness of the emperor’s beloved using donkey leather and painted cloths. He lit a silk screen from behind, and with the movable joints of the puppet he imitated her graceful movements, even speaking with the intonations of her voice. Having his beloved seemingly brought back to life, the emperor was thus comforted and returned to his duties, much to everyone’s relief. An alternative, though somewhat less romantic, explanation of how shadow theatre originated in China was because ladies were not allowed to watch live theatre performances, hence the most successful shows were staged as shadow plays in female quarters instead. TAIWAN

The origins of Taiwan's shadow puppetry can be traced to the Chaochow school of shadow puppet theatre. Commonly known as leather monkey shows or leather shows, the shadow plays were popular in Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Pingtung as early as the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.). Older puppeteers estimate that there were at least a hundred shadow puppet troupes in southern Taiwan in the closing years of the Qing. Traditionally, the eight to 12-inch puppet figures, and the stage scenery and props such as furniture, natural scenery, pagodas, halls, and plants are all cut from leather. As shadow puppetry is based on light penetrating through a translucent sheet of cloth, the "shadows" are actually silhouettes seen by the audience in profile or face on. Taiwan's shadow plays are accompanied by Chaochow melodies which are often called "priest's melodies" owing to their similarity with the music used by Taoist priests at funerals. A large repertoire of some 300 scripts of the southern school of drama used in shadow puppetry and dating back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries has been preserved in Taiwan and is considered to be a priceless cultural asset.. FRANCE

The show began to spread to Europe in the mid-18th century, when French missionaries in China took it back to France in 1767 and put on performances in Paris and Marseilles, causing quite a stir. In time, the Ombres chinoises (French for "Chinese Shadows") with local modification and embellishment, became the Ombres françaises and struck root in the country. The art was a popular entertainment in Paris during the 19th century, especially in the famous nightclub district of Montmartre. The tradition in France dates back to at least the mid-18th century when it was brought back by travellers to the Orient. The puppeteer Dominique Séraphin first presented the spectacle in Paris in 1776, and in Versailles in 1781. The cabaret Le Chat noir ("The Black Cat") produced a number of popular Ombres chinoises shows in the 1880s, organized by the artist Henri Rivière, using up to 20 assistants and a large, oxy-hydrogen back-lit performance area. The Ombres evolved into numerous theatrical productions and had a major influence on phantasmagoria. INDIA

It was claimed by Sunul Chakraborty that the ancient Indian art of storytelling with the help of pictures began with the Harappans civilization. several Harappan seals show...
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