Shadow puppetry — also called shadow play — got its start thousands of years ago in China and India. This unique form of storytelling is the oldest type of puppetry in the world.
Shadow puppets are figures that are placed between a light and a screen. Moving them creates the illusion of moving images on the screen. An experienced puppeteer can make figures appear to walk, talk, fight and dance.
Shadow puppetry is a popular form of entertainment in countries all over the world. China, India, Indonesia and Turkey have been especially important in the development of this art form over time.
The types of stories told with shadow puppetry vary from country to country. For example, in China, shadow plays are usually based upon Chinese legends and folk tales. Shadow plays often reflect important themes from Chinese operas.
In Indonesia, shadow plays tend to be based upon religious stories of good vs. evil. These plays help to reinforce traditional values of native culture. Turkish shadow plays, on the other hand, are more lighthearted. They often use humor to tell stories based upon the events of everyday life.
The first shadow puppets were likely made out of animal hides. Since they were strong and flexible, they allowed the puppeteer to move the puppet easily to create the desired effects on the screen. Leather is still a popular material used to make shadow puppets today.
Shadow puppets can be made from a wide variety of materials, though. Today, you might see shadow puppets made out of paper, plastic, wood or cloth. There’s really no end to how creative puppeteers can be when making their puppets.
Shadow puppets are usually constructed in separate pieces that are then put together with strings or wires. The strings or wires are usually attached to long rods that the puppeteer will use to control the movement of the puppet.
Although shadow puppets can be very creative and elaborate, they also can be very simple. Basic shadow puppets can be made by students. With little or no experience, a classroom can put on a simple shadow play with little expense and just a little time.