Intercultural Shadows | Performance | Weekly style
Shadow Play Could Be One of the Most Accessible Theatrical Art Forms in the world. All you need is a light and something that casts a shadow.
“One of the best light sources for a shadow is your cellphone light, because it’s a single, very bright LED and it casts some really, really nice shadows,” says Andy McGraw, associate professor of music at the University of Richmond and a member of Rumput, Richmond’s favorite Indonesian-American fusion band. Those who saw Rumput play live were likely treated to a shadow play or two.
“Shadow theater exists in some form or another in pretty much every culture, but Indonesia has one of the deepest shadow theater traditions in the world. They’ve taken some real extremes, in especially on the islands of Bali and Java,” says McGraw. Even today, traditional Indonesian shadow play is an important and relevant part of the culture used to communicate everything from traditional religious texts to politics and criticism. social.
So when Rumput received a grant from the Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Richmond to develop a collaborative, cross-cultural and community engagement experience, the group wanted to work with other artists, local and international, to create a original shadow game. He enlisted the help of Indonesian musicians, artists and composers, all working remotely and in different time zones throughout the project, and local playwright Chandler Hubbard was hired to write the script.
Hubbard wanted to find a story that could transcend cultural norms and speak to a universal audience, which made him think of mythology, the stories that humans have told for millennia. When he finally landed on the Greek myth of the Minotaur, the monstrous half-man, half-bull, caged apart from society in a dark labyrinth and ultimately killed by the “hero” Theseus, Hubbard says that he wanted to find ways to subvert that. myth.
- Work on the shadow puppet of the Minotaur, the mythological half-bull, half-man.
“I wanted to find a new way to approach this idea of monstrosity, the idea of the other. Someone who, through no fault of their own, is turned into a monster, who is deliberately put in solitary confinement and what that does to someone,” says Hubbard, adding that he is interested in locating the universal in the myth; themes and ideas that could be conveyed through imagery, movement, light and sound.
“It doesn’t even have shadow-manipulating actors, it has shadow-manipulating musicians,” McGraw says. “It’s a really interesting challenge for us. As musicians, we have a lot of experience connecting music to action, but now we’re also doing action. This is very fun!”
Hubbard worked with restrictions trying to distill myth into universal symbols and recognizable archetypes. “It’s really about finding the iconography and what’s out there in a pervasive sense, the themes that resonate with people regardless of culture, regardless of space, and finding out what really sticks with people in that respect.”
The development of this iconography – the puppets, the sets, the sets and other design elements – was a collaboration with Yuda Putra, a young Balinese musician whose designs imbue Greek myth with imagery inspired by Balinese myth.
The original music was composed by Indonesian professor Danis Sugiyanto, collaborating remotely from Java. In a translation emailed by McGraw, Sugiyanto says this process required innovation and creativity from the performers and artists who worked together, as well as research and cross-cultural learning on his part as a composer. . He was unfamiliar with the Minotaur mythos prior to this project and he says he wanted to incorporate musical elements from Western cultures that shaped history into his original composition. “These are different traditions, but the essence of each is maintained,” he says. “I think in combination, this results in a new kind of cross-cultural aesthetic.”
The music for “The Minotaur” is actually even more expansive than Rumput normally is. Sugiyanto’s score combines kroncong with electric guitar, and the percussionists will provide sound effects, using their instruments in various non-traditional ways and in non-traditional cross-cultural combinations.
- Rumput musicians rehearse the music of “The Minotaur”.
“Ultimately, I think I have demonstrated that this traditional music from Indonesia (with obvious Western backgrounds) is capable of expressing a wide range of emotions and accompanying foreign dramatic and visual elements,” says Sugiyanto.
In addition to “The Minotaur”, audiences will experience a few shorter plays with stories told through traditional Javanese scrolls, which are backlit against the screen and unrolled to reveal sequential images.
“Although they’re in that traditional genre, they talk about things like economic refugees, climate change – very topical issues, but sort of in that traditional form, and there’s also new music that accompanies him,” McGraw said.
As part of the community portion of the event, there will also be a free workshop at 3 p.m. on the day of the performances which is open to the public (masked and vaxxed) of all ages. During the workshop, shadow puppeteer Edward Breitner will introduce attendees to the art form, examining how puppets are made, but also exploring how they can move and how to make them come alive to tell a story.
“What’s so cool about them is that there’s just a very obvious life because he’s connected to a human being. That’s even true with these puppets we’re going to use, which are just paper cut-outs,” Breitner explains. “As soon as there is a human hand holding the stick, it is very clear that he is alive. It’s great fun for anyone to hold on to that stick and watch it, you know, become a part of your life.
“The Minotaur,” a shadow puppet world premiere, runs at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 2 at the Firehouse Theater, with a free shadow puppet workshop from 3 to 4 p.m. Tickets for performances are $5. . www.firehousetheatre.org.