Friday, July 11, 2014

Performance gives Scranton rare glimpse of traditional Taiwanese puppetry

October 10. 2013 11:01AM

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Brightly colored and embroidered costumes. A beautifully carved wooden stage. Traditional Taiwanese music. All of these will be on hand this month when the Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company visits The University of Scranton.

Puppeteers and musicians will present “A Sea of Puppets” Oct. 24 and 25 at the McIlhenny Ballroom of the DeNaples Center. The performances are free and open to the public and will include a question and answer session following the performance.

The performance Oct. 24 will begin at 6 p.m. and doors open at 5:30 p.m.

The Oct. 25 performance will begin at 5:30 p.m. and doors open at 5 p.m. It will include a workshop on learning traditional Taiwanese puppetry skills. Puppeteers will have materials for the audience to create their own puppet.

“A Sea of Puppets” is a romantic tale of a young man who saves a girl from the hands of a villain. Besides fight scenes and acrobatics, the show includes characters such as a scholar, clowns and even an old man smoking a real pipe. The show is suitable for an audience of all backgrounds and ages. No language skill is required.

In addition, both dates will include an exhibition of 20 Taiwanese puppets dating from the early 1900s to the present.

The Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company was created in 2000 by Paul Lin and managing/artistic director Robin Ruizendaal, who wanted to continue the historic Taiwanese art form of glove puppetry. Since then, members have performed shows in more than 30 countries.

Glove puppetry consists of small puppets made of carved wooden heads and elaborate cloth costumes. Performers use gloved hands to bring the puppets to life. The art form originated in China’s Fujian Province in the 17th century and later spread to Taiwan, where it flourished.

The puppeteers are Robin Ruizendaal, who holds a Ph.D. in Sinology from Leiden University in the Netherlands and is an authority on contemporary Asian puppet shows; Lai Shih-An, who is also a master puppet carver; and Lin Yen-Chih, who is also involved in the staging and graphic design of the company’s productions. The musicians are Wu Shan-Shan, Chang Shih-Neng and Huang Ching-Wei.

In conjunction with the performances, a lecture, “All the World’s a Stage: Puppets and Modern Taiwanese Identity” will be presented by Dr. Ruizendaal Oct. 24, at 11:30 a.m. at the Studio Theater of the McDade Center for Literary and Performing Arts. The lecture is also free of charge and open to the public.

The theatre company is coming to the University through a grant from Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture. The University is one of 12 schools in the world to participate in the program. Others include The University of California, Los Angeles, The University of Texas at Austin, The University of London and Heidelberg University. The purpose of the grant – $50,000 for the first year, and renewable for up to four years – is to develop an understanding of Taiwanese culture and society through a variety of programs at the University.

To make a group reservation, call (570) 941-4094. Reservations are not required for individuals. For additional information, contact The University of Scranton at (570) 941-7401.

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