A Summer of Shadow Art

Last summer, we went on our first out-of-state tour, taking the shadow show Saudade to six different venues in Minneapolis. This summer, we haven’t performed any shadow work, but I did have the opportunity to see three very different shadow and silhouette based pieces of art in DC and New York City.

Back in the spring, we performed Saudade at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, for the opening of a new exhibit of contemporary and historical silhouettes called Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now. While I knew a little about the history of silhouettes, mainly that they were an inexpensive form of portraiture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was interesting to see more complicated compositions, such as this depiction of a magic lantern show by Auguste Edouart.

img_8110-e1536513412361.jpg

A silhouette of a magic lantern show in the 1800’s cut by Auguste Edouart.

One of the contemporary artists featured in the exhibit is Kristi Malakoff. Much of her work involves the transformation of two-dimensional objects into three-dimensional artwork and her piece in the exhibit is this beautiful three-dimensional silhouette sculpture of children around a maypole.

IMG_8113

Kristi Malakoff’s silhouette sculpture at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In 2016, we had the opportunity to perform at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, an annual event that presents artists from all over the world. We performed as part of a section of the festival about migration, titled On the Move, but most of the festival focuses on particular regions or countries around the world. This year, the Smithsonian presented artists from Armenia and Catalonia, including several kinds of puppet artists. The Ayrogi Shadow Theater is a group of performers who travel around Armenia performing shadow puppetry. They trace their traditional storytelling back to the 1830’s and in contrast to more complex and colorful shadow puppets found in the region, use a simple style of puppet made from cardboard or leather.

IMG_7921

Shadow puppets by Ayrogi Shadow Theater from Armenia at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. 

Finally, I was able to visit the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City while I was there for work in early August. I’m very familiar with the DC museum but had never had an excuse to visit the Heye center in New York, housed in the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House downtown. I went primarily to see a new exhibit about Taino Heritage and Identity, but I also happened upon a set of rooms titled Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound. Of course transformation is at the heart of all puppetry, and I was especially moved by the piece The Harbinger of Catastrophe by Marianne Nicolson (Kwakwaka‘wakw). The box sits in the middle of the room and the shadows it casts stretch to fill the entire floor and walls so that the viewer walks through and disrupts them as they move around the space. It was an immersive experience that I’m still thinking about. If you have a chance to see the exhibit before it closes in January, I highly recommend it.

IMG_8081

The Harbinger of Catastrophe by Marianne Nicolson (Kwakwaka‘wakw) at the American Indian Museum, NYC. 

Advertisements

Touring Minneapolis

We completed one of our long-time goals for the company this year, taking the show Saudade on an out-of-state tour to Minneapolis, Minnesota. We chose the city because of its strong local puppet scene, anchored by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, which was kind enough to put us in touch with one of our venues. After six shows in five days, we were tired, but very satisfied with our work. Here are some photos of the shows and our adventures.

IMG_5735

We had to take apart the crankie box and reassemble it when we arrived, always a slightly nerve-wracking task!

img_5766.jpg

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which put up this lovely bilingual sign, had us speak to their arts and leadership youth group before the performance.

IMG_5765

The backstage view at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

img_5767.jpg

One of the kids from the youth arts group at St. Paul’s tries out a puppet after the show. “It’s not too hard–you just have to get the hang of it!” he told a younger kid.

IMG_5778

The beautiful arch at The Southern Theater, a building that has seen many changes.

IMG_5806

Genna Beth, Cecilia and Amy at the sculpture ‘Spoonbridge and Cherry,’ part of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden near the Walker Art Center.

Building a Shadow Puppet Joint

Saudade7We occasionally get questions about how we create our shadow puppets for shows like Saudade, so here is a short video with the steps for making a joint out of fishing line. Genna Davidson explains the process, using a lighter, awl and scissors. Hopefully this will be useful to those of you making puppets at home!

 

A Huge Thank You

IMG_2326

A first glimpse of our crankie!

Saudade would not have been created without the help and support of many, many people who agreed to be interviewed about their experiences as immigrants to the DC area. Some of these people also helped us record sound clips for the show; others contributed their memories, stories of challenges they have faced and of course, moments of saudade. For reasons of privacy, we are only identifying people by their first names, but we want to acknowledge everyone and say a huge thank you for your help!

Sonia – Stephanie – Eiko – Sebastian – Ruth – Santiago – Ana – Juliana – Ottoniel – Eddy – Victor – Juan – Seare – Yolanda – Yanira – Oscar – Anamaria – Fernando – Nurya – Alexei – Genevieve – Grimaneza – Cintia – Rosario – Miguel – Svetlana – Nurbiya – Benta – Souad – Natalia – Hoummad – Noelya – Marisabel – Julio – Zohar – Emi – Diego – Johanna – Andrea – Doyoung – Fabiola – Artemis – Savana – Erick – Emma – Victoria – Omar – Arie – Susana – Medina – Amanda – Mehdi – Rashad – Sandra – Birol

January Grab Bag

A round-up of videos, links and articles that we highlighted on Twitter this month. 

# 2 Why don't I live in Chicago?

# 2 Why don’t I live in Chicago?

1. These gorgeous shadow puppet photos, based on various mythologies that explain the Northern Lights, were created for Kinfolk magazine.

2. We have fantastic museums here in DC, but I’ve been wishing I could get to Chicago to see this exhibit of puppets at the Art Institute of Chicago.

3. Puppets can illustrate real world issues as well as ancient mythologies. One of our Twitter followers called our attention to this article about Ebola, illustrated with two-dimensional puppets.

4. The creator of the puppets for that article is Jons Mellgren, a director, illustrator and writer from Sweden. Here are photos of one of his stop-motion puppet films, called ‘Paperworld.’

5. Sometimes I think that I must have read every single article and interview with illustrator Shaun Tan. I don’t think I’ve shared this one though, which is a conversation with Neil Gaiman, one of my other favorite writers. It is quite delightful and I hope you enjoy it!

Favorite Tool: X-acto Knife

IMG_2171

As we continue to work on building Saudade, my favorite tool has to be this simple X-acto knife and box of blades. When you’re cutting detailed puppets or crankie scenes, a sharp blade is absolutely essential. It’s easy to switch blades quickly with this knife and having a full box of blades means I can pull out a fresh one every few minutes. With shadow puppets, you want every line to be smooth and clean, so it appears as clearly as possible to the audience. This is my favorite tool for making that happen!

You can see Saudade as part of the 2015 Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival on February 28 at 2:00pm and March 7 at 7:00pm. Performances will be at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H St. NE. See you there!

5 Reasons to Make Shadow Puppets

IMG_2183

One of the main characters in our new show SAUDADE. See our homepage for more details.

There are oh so many reasons why I love making shadow puppets. Let’s list a few of them:

1. Simple materials and tools. Often when I say that I make shadow puppets, I get the response “Oh, you mean with your hands?” The oldest form of shadow play was probably created with human hands, but today you can use cardboard, thin plastic folders, and tape to cut out and put together whatever kind of puppets you imagine. No need to invest in expensive equipment or materials–shadow puppets can be made with the contents of your desk drawer.

2. If you can use scissors, you’re good to go. It takes a lot of practice to successfully create a puppet using some methods, such as woodcarving. Other methods are easier, but can quickly get messy (like paper mache). Shadow puppets, however, only require the use of a normal pair of scissors, or maybe an x-acto knife. You might still want to supervise very young children trying their hand at it, but this is a puppet form that all ages can attempt with confidence.

3. Transformation is magical. One advantage of shadow puppetry is that you can achieve lots of different effects with just one puppet. At a workshop I took in Argentina, we played with using two light sources, varying the distance between screen and puppet and the angle of the puppet. You needn’t feel restricted to flat cutouts in shadow puppetry either–try playing with images of your hand, objects and furniture as well. With all the pieces hidden behind the screen, the audience will be amazed as your puppet grows, shrinks and turns into someone new in a  matter of seconds.

4. Join a very, very old tradition. There’s no real way to be sure, but I’d say it’s likely that the earliest form of puppetry was when people sitting by fires thousands of years ago in caves started to manipulate the shadows thrown by the flames. This is an art form that has changed and mutated many, many times over the years and is still in the process of growing. Why not join in?

5. A lesson in simplicityGetting to the essence of a story, character, or action is often the hardest part of creating a puppet show. Because shadow puppets are usually a silhouette, they require even more care in the choosing of an image. Shadow puppetry is a wonderful way to find the core of the story you are trying to tell and how best to communicate it to your audience.