Shortly after I returned to Arizona, a good friend and colleague of mine from Theater Works in Peoria, AZ asked me to create a shadow puppet sequence for the opening segment of Once Upon a Mattress.

I was very excited to tackle this project. I created the puppets by hand using large posterboard. The design was inspired by classic illustrations from fairy tales. The puppets were projected using a single-source LED on a large screen centered on stage. The screen was connected to a rig so it could be quickly flown in and out at the top of the show.

Behind-the-scenes shot

In addition to creating the puppets, I directed the sequence and trained a few young actors to use the puppets. The sequence needed to move quickly in time with the narrator’s opening song when he describes the original version of The Princess and the Pea, implying to the audience that there is more to the story they are about to see.

AuthorAubrey Watkins

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. 

AuthorAubrey Watkins
Categoriesuh manoa