In addition to my Wayang Listrik course last semester, I participated in outside rehearsals with Annie Reynolds and I Made Widana in order to improve my movement and dance skills. Let me be clear here, I am not a dancer and I've never been comfortable learning choreography. But, Annie and Made were so encouraging and passionate about their art that they drew me in. I just had to be a part of it! 

I was lucky to be cast in one of two special dances choreographed by the two instructors, Tari Bidadari, the dance of the angels. After six weeks of intense rehearsal, I performed with five other angels (including Annie Reynolds) in a traditional gamelan concert with a full gamelan playing along side us. The concert highlighted gamelan music from both Bali and Indonesia. It was a beautiful celebration of music and dance and I was honored to be a part of it. 

Me in full costume

Me in full costume

The angels fly in.

The angels fly in.

Myself and the other angels. From right to left: me, Qiaoer Zheng, Kirstin Pauka, Meghan Rose Donnely, and Ma Yan.

Myself and the other angels. From right to left: me, Qiaoer Zheng, Kirstin Pauka, Meghan Rose Donnely, and Ma Yan.


Additionally, many of us from Annie and Made's classes gathered at the end of the semester to perform in pau hana, the end-of-semester dance concert for all dance at UH Manoa. We performed a traditional female dance form that we had been learning all semester. It was a wonderful opportunity to display what we had been learning all semester as well as watch what other groups had been working on. We saw everything from traditional Japanese dance to hula. It was a lovely day and a beautiful way to close out a dance-full semester! 

The class gathering for the pau hana performance. Many students from both of Annie and Made's Balinese classes gathered to perform at this beautiful event.

The class gathering for the pau hana performance. Many students from both of Annie and Made's Balinese classes gathered to perform at this beautiful event.

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AuthorAubrey Watkins
Categoriesuh manoa

In my second semester at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa I took a course instructed by Annie Reynolds and I Made Widana. Annie is a PhD candidate at UHM focusing her studies on Balinese Wayang and gamelan. Made is a very successful musician and composer of traditional gamelan music as well as a professional dancer of many different Balinese dance forms. I was so excited and honored to me taking a course on their specialties with them. 

We began by learning Topeng Keras, a traditional mask dance form of a male warrior. This dance taught us basic Balinese movement technique, some important terms, and endurance in holding some difficult postures. Next we learned the basics of refined male and refined female movement. After covering the movement basics for our body, we picked up some Wayang Kulit puppets (shadow puppets) and learned the basics on screen. One of my favorite aspects of the course was that the language we had learned for movement and the spirit of the characters we had already covered crossed over between the physical movement and the movement of the puppets. 

After covering Wayang Kulit techniques on a small shadow screen, we made our own shadow masks. These masks were based on traditional Wayang Kulit designs and were not built to cover our faces but instead were made to create a two profile shadows on the large screen. After practicing a bit with our bodies creating shadows on the screen, it was easy to see how the two techniques of physical movement and traditional Wayang Kulit were working together to create the new art form of Wayang Listrik.

For our final class performance, we were broken up into groups and asked to perform the same scene in three different variations so we could all play different characters. The scene involved a refined male older brother, his younger brothers, and a refined female. The older brother received his younger brother and female friend and just as he's doing so a raksasa (giant monster) enters and attacks the older brother. They fight and the monster is defeated. The other characters enter again and congratulate their older brother and they all leave to live out their days happily ever after. For this collection of scenes I played the refined female, the older brother, and lastly a traditional Wayang Kulit puppet version of the refined female. When playing with the Wayang it was interesting to use the class puppet techniques on the large screen with goals of keeping the puppet's movement smooth and to match the size of the other characters on screen. 

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AuthorAubrey Watkins
Categoriesuh manoa

Here are some finalized photos from The BFG as well as photos of the other puppets I created for the production. More can be found on The BFG page.

Production photo by Chesley Cannon

"The vast majority of the show involves the use of puppetry (especially for the girl, Sophie), and elaborate masks (for the evil giants). Using puppet humans to emphasize the size of the giants was effective, and oftentimes charming."  - Nicolyn Charlot, Senior Staff Writer, KaLeo Newspaper

The Queen of England and her butler

The Queen of England and her butler

A closer backstage look of the puppets after they were attached to Buckingham Palace.

A closer backstage look of the puppets after they were attached to Buckingham Palace.

Head of Army and Airforce

Head of Army and Airforce

A final production photo of actress Janna Rose Shields and Sophie the puppet.

A final production photo of actress Janna Rose Shields and Sophie the puppet.


In addition to Sophie, I created small puppet versions of the Queen of England, her butler, her maid, as well as the leaders of the army and the air force. These puppets were meant to match the size and style of Sophie. Also like Sophie, they were created to match their actor counterparts. Costumes for these puppets were created by the costume designer for the production, Kimberly Shire. 

The puppets appeared on top of a miniature Buckingham Palace at the end of the performance in order to say goodbye to their giant friend. They were created with the same method I used to build Sophie, however, since they were made to stay on top of Buckingham Palace and did not need to have any mobility beyond their head and arms, I only made them from the torso up. 

Final dress rehearsal photo of the actors and their puppets with The BFG looking down on them.

Final dress rehearsal photo of the actors and their puppets with The BFG looking down on them.

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AuthorAubrey Watkins

My first project at UH Manoa has been to design and help create the rod puppets for the TYA show The BFG. The play was adapted by David Wood based on the classic children's book by Roald Dahl. This production was directed by Mark Branner and opens at UH Manoa today, Friday, Nov 14! I really enjoy the script and it's fun, playful qualities and how the whole team brings the action to life is truly inspiring.

In order to create the size difference between Sophie, the lead girl, and her friend, the Big Friendly Giant, the script calls for the use of many different styles of puppets. At one point, The BFG has to actually be giant sized - spanning 24 feet tall on the stage! However, at other times, a regular sized man embodies the character and the young girl is portrayed with a small, 15" tall puppet. This is the puppet that me and the graduate students in a puppetry class were in charge of. The Sophie puppet. I designed and built the puppet with help once a week from others in the class.

Sophie puppet assembled and painting the hands which were sewn out of soft cloth. I also added pieces of elastic from the bottom of the hip to the top of the leg to prevent the legs from twisting.

Sophie puppet assembled and painting the hands which were sewn out of soft cloth. I also added pieces of elastic from the bottom of the hip to the top of the leg to prevent the legs from twisting.

Publicity photo of Sophie puppet and actress Janna Rose Shields. Costumes for both by Kim Shire.

Publicity photo of Sophie puppet and actress Janna Rose Shields. Costumes for both by Kim Shire.



Sophie puppet's body and head before the head was painted and attached. Yilong Liu carved the head and paper mache credit goes to Rhonda Bell.

Sophie puppet's body and head before the head was painted and attached. Yilong Liu carved the head and paper mache credit goes to Rhonda Bell.

Sophie puppet's body skeleton. Attachments were made with rop and limbs were covered with soft foam. Feet were made out of sculpy.

Sophie puppet's body skeleton. Attachments were made with rop and limbs were covered with soft foam. Feet were made out of sculpy.

Almost totally assembled and ready for her costume!

Almost totally assembled and ready for her costume!

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AuthorAubrey Watkins