Shadow Puppet Festival Finds Beauty in the Dark
In “Desire to Fly”, a short shadow puppet show, the main character has wheels for legs. The story unfolds as he is surrounded by butterflies, yearning for a chance to fly for himself.
Tania Yager remembers when she first saw this show – created and performed by local puppeteers Animal Cracker Conspiracy.
“It’s almost a bit steampunk,” Yager said of the show. “So he’s embarking on this journey to try to gain some wings.”
It’s a story that changed his life.
Years before founding Twisted Heart Puppetworks, Yager was once a dancer. Her career was abruptly cut short when she was hit by a car as a pedestrian and could no longer dance reliably. She felt lost without being able to perform.
Like the protagonist of “Desire to Fly”, it was his creativity and will to perform that had to find a way to fly.
From then on, she devoted her life to learning and sharing the art of shadow theater. She begged for an apprenticeship at Animal Cracker Conspiracy, then after a year of training, started Twisted Heart.
Shadow theater is a form of puppetry that uses light and cutouts or other shapes and props, so the action is seen by the audience primarily in the form of cast shadows.
It’s a striking art form – often with bold contrasts, enchanting movements and figures that keep a bit of mystery in the shadows, something that can feel both anonymous and universal.
“It’s relatively inexpensive to do,” Yager said. “Really anything can be a puppet, but certainly if you have paper, and you have light and you have a screen, then you can tell a story.”
How to attend
The Shadows Across the Globe shadow puppet festival will take place Friday-Sunday July 9-11, 2021.
Register for workshops and artist talks here.
Watch puppet showcases (no registration required) on Facebook or YouTube.
This weekend marks the first annual Shadows Across the Globe virtual shadow puppet festival, hosted by Twisted Heart Puppetworks.
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Before the pandemic, Yager would travel to puppet slams and festivals or workshops around the world. Now is a chance to bring connectivity to the puppeteering community and try to reach new audiences who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to experience the works.
“I feel like he just needs to grow,” Yager said. “That’s maybe what’s special about it, because it’s so niche, but especially here in the West, first of all, there’s not the serious relationship with puppetry in America that is present in the rest of the world.
The festival will feature multiple blocks of screenings of submitted performances from around the world, and these will be streamed live for everyone to watch on YouTube and the festival’s Facebook page – no registration required.
Along with registering for the event, there will also be two workshops: Yager will teach a course on storytelling for all levels, and Iain Gunn from Animal Cracker Conspiracy will teach an intermediate workshop to hone his performance skills.
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Throughout the weekend, other experts in the field will lead artist talks between workshops and performances. Richard Bradshaw, Linda Wingerter, Larry Reed, Geoffrey Cormier and ClaudiaSix will discuss their craft.
The heart of the festival, however, are the performances. Thirty-two artists will present their shadow puppet works, released in four blocks throughout the weekend.
Kicking off Friday is an 18-and-over opening event, “Puppets and Wine,” which will be streamed live on the Shadows Across the Globe Facebook page.
On Saturday morning, the first general audience segment will feature a series of short films. In the evening, an 18+ showcase will present stories intended for adults.
“I really like the idea of pushing puppetry into the masses for adults — as a way to discuss sometimes difficult topics,” Yager said. “It can be super, super theatrical and deal with tough subject matter, and then on the fun side, it’s so much fun when it’s raunchy and kinda basic.”
The Sunday morning segment is for all ages and features some of the longer works. Yager’s own production, a Norse-inspired story titled “The Horn and the Heart” is the longest, at 16 minutes. It’s an original myth about twins who must retrieve the stolen beating heart from the sea.
Other productions include a bilingual piece from Ireland called “Marcach Dearg (Red Rider)”, performed in English and Irish. It’s a futuristic take on the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
The festival will also present a work by Linda Wingerter entitled “A Quilt of Stars”. The work almost entirely uses colored shadows. While the art form is often done in black and white, traditional shadow puppets, Yager said, originated by casting light through animal skins, and these were often dyed and cut. to project colors.
There’s also comedy (“toilet humor,” Yager said), twists on Shakespeare, a few tiny plays that are only a minute and a half long, and much more.
And like a good story, Yager comes full circle.
Animal Cracker Conspiracy reenacted and filmed “Desire to Fly” for the festival. It was the show that brought Yager into shadow theater in the first place as she mourned the loss of dance and showed her that creativity is something she can always find – in the shadows.