Shadow Puppetry Festival finds beauty in the dark
Twisted Heart Puppetworks of San Diego presents the world’s first annual virtual shadow puppet festival “Shadows Across the Globe” from July 9-11, 2021, with free performances streaming online.
Credit: Courtesy of Shadows Across the Globe Festival
In “Desire to Fly”, a short Chinese shadow show, the main character has wheels for her legs. The story takes place while he is surrounded by butterflies, yearning for a chance to fly for himself.
Tania Yager remembers seeing this show for the first time – created and performed by local puppeteers Animal Cracker Conspiracy.
âIt’s almost a bit steampunk,â Yager said of the show. “So he’s embarking on this journey to try and gain some wings.”
It’s a story that changed his life.
Years before founding Twisted Heart Puppetworks, Yager was once a dancer. Her career suddenly came to a halt when she was hit by a car while she was pedestrian and could no longer dance reliably. She felt lost without being able to play.
Like the protagonist of “Desire to Fly”, it was her creativity and willingness to perform that had to find a way to fly.
From then on, she dedicated her life to learning and sharing the art of shadow theater. She craved an apprenticeship at Animal Cracker Conspiracy, then after a year of training, launched Twisted Heart.
Shadow puppets are a form of puppet that uses light and cutouts or other shapes and props, so that 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 movement, and characters that keep a bit of mystery in the shadows, something that can feel both anonymous and universal.
âIt’s relatively inexpensive to do,â Yager said. “Really, anything can be a puppet, but certainly if you have paper, light, and a screen then you can tell a story.”
How to attend
The Shadows Across the Globe shadow theater festival takes place from Friday to Sunday July 9-11, 2021.
Register here for artist workshops and conferences.
This weekend marks the first annual Shadows Across the Globe virtual shadow theater festival, hosted by Twisted Heart Puppetworks.
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Before the pandemic, Yager would go to slams and festivals or puppet workshops around the world. Now is a chance to bring connectivity to the puppetry community as well as try to reach new audiences who otherwise would not have the chance to experience the works.
âI feel like he just needs to grow up,â Yager said. âMaybe that’s what’s special about it, because it’s so much of a niche, but especially here in the West, first of all, there’s not the serious relationship with the puppet in America that is present in the rest of the world. “
The festival will feature multiple screening sequences of submitted performances from around the world, and these will be streamed live for anyone to watch on YouTube and the festival’s Facebook page – no registration required.
Along with the event registration, there will also be two workshops: Yager will be giving a storytelling course for all levels, and Iain Gunn of Animal Cracker Conspiracy will teach an intermediate workshop to hone performance skills.
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Throughout the weekend, other experts in the field will host artist conferences between workshops and performances. Richard Bradshaw, Linda Wingerter, Larry Reed, Geoffrey Cormier and ClaudiaSix will discuss their craft.
The heart of the festival, however, is the performances. Thirty-two artists will present their shadow theater works, broadcast in four blocks throughout the weekend.
Kick-off Friday is an opening event for 18+, âPuppets and Wine,â which will be broadcast live on the Shadows Across the Globe Facebook page.
Saturday morning, the first segment for all audiences will present a series of short films. In the evening, an 18+ showcase will feature stories for adults.
âI really like the idea of ââpushing the puppet into the masses for adults – as a way to discuss sometimes difficult topics,â Yager said. “It can be great, super theatrical and dealing with tough topics, and then on the playful side, it’s so much fun when it’s scorching and kind of basic.”
The Sunday morning segment is aimed at all ages and features some of the longer works. Yager’s own production, a Nordic-inspired story titled “The Horn and the Heart” is the longest, at 16 minutes. It’s an original myth about the twins who have to retrieve the stolen beating heart from the sea.
Other productions include a bilingual play from Ireland called “Marcach Dearg (Red Rider)”, performed in English and Irish. It’s a futuristic take on Little Red Riding Hood’s story.
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 performed in black and white, traditional shadow puppets, Yager said, were created by casting light through animal skins, and these were often dyed and cut to project colors.
There’s also some comedy (“toilet humor,” Yager said), twists and turns on Shakespeare, a few little one-and-a-half-minute bits and a lot more.
And like a good story, Yager’s circle has come full circle.
Animal Cracker Conspiracy directed and filmed “Desire to Fly” for the festival. It was the show that brought Yager to shadow theater in the first place as she mourned the loss of dancing and showed her that creativity is something she can always find – in the shadows.
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