Chinese shadow puppetry workshop offers insights into UNESCO-recognized art form

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      If you're looking to get into the spirit of the Lunar New Year, Gateway Theatre is offering something that's a departure from feasting on Asian food.

      Artist Annie Katsura Rollins is leading Chinese shadow puppetry workshops over Zoom on February 15 (it's full) and February 21.

      This popular art form originated during the Han dynasty, which ruled China from 202 BC to 220 AD.

      UNESCO's intergovernmental committee includes Chinese shadow puppetry on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

      "Chinese shadow puppetry is a form of theatre acted by colourful silhouette figures made from leather or paper, accompanied by music and singing," the UNESCO committee stated in its 2011 ruling. "Manipulated by puppeteers using rods, the figures create the illusion of moving images on a translucent cloth screen illuminated from behind.

      "Many elder shadow puppetry artists can perform dozens of traditional plays, which are orally transmitted or found in written form."

      Not only that, but they have mastered techniques "such as improvisational singing, falsetto, simultaneous manipulation of several puppets, and the ability to play various musical instruments".

      This is another Chinese shadow puppet from the Yutian Wenhua Collection.
      Annie Katsura Rollins

      In the upcoming Gateway Theatre workshops, participants will learn about the history of Chinese shadow puppetry, as well as how the characters are created.

      In addition, the February 21 workshop will include Mandarin translation for anyone hoping to hear about this art form in the dominant language in China.

      "Shadow plays are performed by large troupes with seven to nine performers and smaller troupes of only two to five, primarily for entertainment or religious rituals, weddings and funerals and other special occasions," UNESCO's committee stated. "Some puppeteers are professional, while others are amateurs performing during slack farming seasons.

      "The relevant skills are handed down in families, in troupes, and from master to pupil," it continues. "Chinese shadow puppetry also passes on information such as cultural history, social beliefs, oral traditions and local customs. It spreads knowledge, promotes cultural values, and entertains the community, especially the youth."

      Video: Watch the video that UNESCO posted on YouTube after Chinese shadow property was added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.