Report on the Chinese Shadow Theater Symposium, University of Connecticut, October 26–27, 2012
- CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature
- University of Hawai'i Press
- Volume 32, Number 1, July 2013
- pp. 72-85
- Additional Information
REPORT ON THE CHINESE SHADOW THEATER SYMPOSIUM, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT, OCTOBER 26±27, 2012 MARY E. HIRSCH Independent Scholar The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry (BIMP) and the Puppet Arts Program (PAP) of the University of Connecticut (UConn) hosted a two-day``popular and scholarly''1 symposium in conjunction with their exhibition, Red Gate: Pauline Benton and Chinese Shadow Theater in the United States, which was on view February 6±December 16, 2012. UConn is one of only two remaining institutions in the United States teaching puppetry arts as part of higher education. The advance description of the symposium found on the BIMP website and circulated by email and through list-serves promised the intended audience (scholars of theater, puppetry, Asian Studies, Performance Studies, and related areas) that the symposium would be an ``unusual and exciting event'' and that turned out to be true. Though there was no fee to attend, advanced registration was encouraged. A fully engaged audience of about thirty attended both days. The symposium was designed to explore ``Chinese shadow theater as a global cultural art form'' and included guided tours of the exhibition, formal lectures, reports on ®eld study in China, a non-traditional shadow theater performance, and concluded with a round-table discussion. All presentations were in English, often supplemented with Chinese. The ®rst day of the symposium began in the afternoon. The curators of the exhibition, Stephen Kaplin and Kuang-Yu Fong, founders of Chinese Theatre Works (CTW) of New York City, along with John Bell, Director of the BIMP, led a tour of the Benton exhibit, which ®lled four small galleries. Pauline Benton (1898± 1974) ®rst had an opportunity to watch a Chinese shadow theater performance (a private one, arranged by her aunt, Dr. Emma Konantz [1867±1936]), in the early 1920s while she was living with her family in Beijing. She returned to America in 1923, inspired to create and present her ``own particular hybrid version of Chinese shadows to audiences unfamiliar with Chinese culture.'' Her ``Red Gate Shadow Players performed across the country for popular as well as exclusive audiences'' as recently as 1971. The exhibition featured traditional shadow ®gures and scenery from Benton's singular collection, as well as shadow ®gures commissioned 1 Text in the introductory section of this report in quotations but not otherwise attributed is from the postings about the symposium or the exhibit on the BIMP website: bimp.uconn.edu (still available as of March 5, 2013). CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature 32.1 (July 2013): 72±85 # The Permanent Conference on Chinese Oral and Performing Literature, Inc. 2013 DOI: 10.1179/0193777413Z.0000000001 by Benton using traditional Chinese shadow making techniques to produce western-inspired designs,2 original printed materials including programs and ¯yers for her performances, an exotic looking shadow theater stage with embroidered velvet curtains, wall-mounted enlarged black and white photographs, and a monitor playing a short version of Benton's The White Snake.3 The BIMP website hailed Benton's work as ``one of the earliest cross-cultural presentations of Chinese performing arts for American audiences'' and proclaimed the show as ``the ®rst extensive exhibition and overview of her work.'' The shadow ®gures and scenery from Benton's collection on display in the exhibition included traditional pieces from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as items that Benton commissioned from a Beijing shadow ®gure craftsman or craftsmen in the 1930s. The pieces that Benton commissioned included not only traditional characters and scenery, but also images and ®gures from contemporary Chinese life and popular American children's books. According to the BIMP description, ``The many photographs of Benton and her work [in the exhibition] document how this unusually gifted woman created modern links to Chinese shadow theater culture, in¯uencing the course of puppetry in the United States to this day.'' Especially welcome to the participants in the symposium was the fact that the exhibit included ``hands-on areas where museum visitors can try out traditional and contemporary shadow theater techniques.'' 2 Known as the Molly McGuire Collection, this collection of about one hundred pieces was originally purchased in China by Pauline Benton for her...