Shadow Puppetry a 10-week drama unit for year 10 (Level 5) by Delia Baskerville

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Shadow Puppetry

A 10-week drama unit for year 10 (Level 5)
by Delia Baskerville, Drama Adviser, Wellington College of Education (2003)

Learning objectives

During this unit, students will:

  • study Greek myths (representative of the beginning of world theatre) and Maori myths (representative of the beginnings of New Zealand theatre) and, using drama elements and conventions, adapt themes for their own devised stories;

  • design and make shadow puppets to play the characters in their devised stories;

  • use drama techniques to develop their shadow-puppet characters and stories;

  • present their shadow-puppet play to the class.


The resources provided in this unit are as follows:

  • Unit Planner

  • Teaching and learning sequence

  • Journal entry form – Developing a character through flashback

  • Journal entry form – Freeze-frame images to structure the story

  • Journal entry form – Shaping the story

  • Background information sheet

  • Journal entry form – Features of traditional shadow puppetry

  • Journal entry form – Creating a shadow puppet

  • Student feedback form – Peer evaluation of another group’s performance

  • Assessment criteria

  • Teaching and learning reflection chart

Drama unit planner



Teacher syndicate

Suggested duration

10 weeks


Shadow Puppetry

The big question:

Can students design, make and manipulate shadow puppet characters to tell a story that is relevant to their own lives? The characters are adapted from a myth, and strengthened by the elements, techniques and conventions of drama.


  • role,

  • time,

  • space,

  • action.


  • hot seating,

  • role on the wall,
  • freeze-frames,

  • spoken thoughts aloud,

  • flashback,

  • chorus of movement,

  • chorus of voices,

  • slow motion.

Achievement Objectives


Practical Knowledge (PK)


  • Students will select and use dramatic elements, techniques and conventions for specific purposes, and explore the use of relevant technology.

Developing Ideas (DI)

  • Students will initiate ideas, and collectively develop and refine drama for specific purposes.

Communicating and Interpreting (CI)


  • Students will present and respond to drama, and describe how dramatic elements, techniques, conventions and technologies combine to create form and meaning.

Understanding in Context (UC)


  • Students will investigate and compare the treatment of similar themes in the drama of past and present cultures.


  • voice – volume, tone, pitch;

  • gesture.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • study Greek myths (representative of the beginning of world theatre) and Māori myths (representative of beginnings of New Zealand theatre) and, using elements and conventions, adapt themes to modern day;

  • design and make shadow puppets, based on the characters in their devised stories;

  • use drama techniques to develop their shadow-puppet character;

  • present their shadow-puppet play to the class.

Summative assessment opportunities

Essential skill development

Teacher observation:

  • shadow-puppet character development;

  • shadow-puppet group performance.

Peer evaluation.

Journal entries.

Communication, Social and co-operative, Self-management, Problem solving

Work and study

Small group work.

Planning time frame.

Reconciling design idea to principles.
Co-ordinating and controlling puppet movement.

Effective use of voice.

Taking responsibility for learning in a group.

Collaboration with other learning areas

Materials and resources

Visual arts


  • Cardboard, wire, knives/scissors, ‘Blu tac’, masking tape, polystyrene, sheet or white fabric, screen frame, light source

  • Shadow puppet exemplars – video and puppet

  • Gamelan music recordings

  • Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale ‘Iron John’ from Bly, R (1990) Iron John: A book about Men. New York: Addison-Wesley (pp. 250–259)

  • ‘Daedulus and Icarus’ from McCaughrean, G (1993) Greek Myths. New York: Macmillan International (pp. 26–31)

  • ‘Daedulus and Icarus’ from The stories of the Greeks, Warner, R (1990). London: MacGibbon & Kee (pp.27–29)
  • Rae Te Ake Ake, A (1999) Myths and Legends
    of Aotearoa. Scholastic Press

  • Wisniewski, D (1997) Worlds of Shadow: Teaching Shadow Puppetry. David Wisniewski and Donna Wisniewski. ISBN 1–56308–450–3

  • Simmen, R (1975) The World of Puppets. London: Elsevier-Phaidon

  • Baird, B (1965) The Art of the Puppet. New York: Macmillan

Teaching and learning sequence

Key questions to guide formative assessment and/or develop the drama

I. Introduction to mythology

1. Read Iron John myth to the class.

2. Draw the image that touched you in the myth.

3. Working in pairs:

  • student ‘A’ lays picture in front of student ‘B’;

  • ‘B’ tells a story beginning “Once upon a time...”;

  • ‘B’ lays picture in front of ‘A’;

  • ‘A’ tells a story beginning “Once upon a time...”.

II. Finding a story

1. Read and study a variety of myths. For example:

  • Oedipus and the Sphinx,

  • Icarus,

  • Rae te akeake,

  • Hinemoa and Tutaneki.

2. Re-tell the chosen myths, using a variety of dramatic elements and conventions, such as:

  • role,

  • time,

  • space,

  • action,

  • freeze-frames,

  • spoken thoughts aloud,

  • slow motion,

  • flashback,
  • chorus of movement,

  • chorus of voice.

3. Combine the conventions within the re-telling.
Drawing parallels to our lives

1. As a class, discuss how the themes of these myths could be translated for today’s world. For example, the story of Icarus flying too close to the sun and causing his wings to melt just as his father predicted, could be updated to parents warning about unprotected sex, then a teenager ignoring them and getting pregnant.

2. In-groups, students discuss the theme they will choose.

3. Hot seat each character to get a sense of who s/he is.

Story structure

Devise a story using flashback and freeze-frames, that is, students create still pictures that describe the key moments in the story.

1. Students think about the main crisis point in their story. Present that moment in a freeze-frame.

2. Students think of a moment before the crisis point of this story. Present this flashback as a freeze-frame and show the class.

3. Discuss how the story will finish.


Journal entry: Developing a character through flashback. (Appendix A)

Journal entry: Freeze-frame images to structure the story. (Appendix B)


1. Groups show freeze-frames to the class.

2. Each group reflects on the previous group’s work, commenting o the effectiveness of:

  • point of focus,

  • body tension,

  • levels,

  • clarity of crisis point.

Feed forward

Students learn from feedback received.

III. Shaping the story

  1. Using the first freeze-frame as a starting point, improvise the story until the moment in time of their second freeze-frame.

  2. Show to class.

  3. Obtain/give feedback to answer these questions:
  • Are the character relationships clear?

  • Are the character’s intentions believable?

  1. Move through the freeze-frames (from one improvisation to the next) until the story is devised.

  2. Record the process as it happens by making notes on the worksheet provided.


Journal entry: Shaping the story (Appendix C)

Assessment: Students are assessed on their ability to incorporate the elements and conventions into the adaptation of the myths to strengthen the modern day story. See Assessment criteria sheet. (Appendix G)

IV. Shadow puppetry

1. Show exemplars of shadow puppetry – an authentic puppet, and a video.

2. Discuss the features of shadow puppetry:

  • dalang,

  • gamelan,

  • figures,

  • gunungan,

  • screen,

  • light source,

  • seating,

  • stories.

Provide background information sheet: Understanding traditional shadow puppetry. (Appendix H)

Journal entry: Features of traditional shadow puppetry (Appendix D)

V. Creating the space

Create the space in the story that allows the action to flow.

Draw pictures of the different places in which the action of the story takes place.

VI. Defining the characters

Discuss and define each character’s traits, qualities, and attitudes, and use these to help describe their physical appearance. (For example, an inquisitive character might have a big nose.)
Role on the wall – use this technique to further define the character:

  • draw an outline of the character;

  • record the character’s external appearance outside of the outline, and put their inner feelings and attitudes inside.

VII. Designing and making the shadow puppet

  1. Design the shadow puppet on paper, ensuring the parts that are to be jointed are overlapping. In pairs, students share the puppet designs and give feedback regarding the ways design reflects character. (Note: Patterns are given in the resource books listed under ‘Materials and resources’.)

  2. Redraw the separate parts on a piece of cardboard.

  3. Details can be cut out of the figure to allow the light to shine through. (Do not cut away too much cardboard, or it will weaken the puppet.) Decoration can added to the puppet for light to shine through, such as lace, cellophane, paper doilies, net or other loose-weave fabrics.

  4. Cut out the puppet parts, and lay down in position to check overlap at joints.

  5. Make the joints by piercing a hole at each joint position, then pushing a split pin through the holes and bending it back. (Note: The holes must be big enough to permit free movement of the joints.)

  6. Wire or vertical rods to operate the puppet can be fixed on with ‘blue tac’ and masking tape. (Note: Considerable effective movement can be achieved by letting the arms hang freely and moving only one main rod attached as one arm control. Legs do not usually have controls, but instead hang from the body, but some degree of control is gained by the way the main body is manipulated.

  7. Practice manipulating the shadow puppet.


Journal entry: Creating a shadow puppet (Appendix E)

VIII. Role development

Hot seating

  1. In groups, students ask questions (one at a time) about the character’s past, attitudes, and beliefs.

  2. From the answers, create a history is created for each puppet’s character.

Character modelling

In pairs, student A holds puppet in a neutral pose, and B moulds the puppet into a series of postures depicting the following moments:

  • entering a friend’s house before a blind date;

  • just before blowing out candles on a birthday cake;

  • trying on a new outfit but finding it is too small;

  • looking at the clock while waiting for party guests to arrive.

Reverse roles

Student B holds A’s puppet and models the moment when:

  • someone hears they have been awarded a medal for their good works;

  • walking onto a marae;

  • finishing the last mouthful at a family feast.


Find the part of the body your puppet leads by. For example, forehead, oral (throat) centre, chest, stomach, pelvis, or knees. Make the puppet:

  • live in that centre;

  • sit down on a chair in that centre;

  • stand up and walk around leading from that centre;

  • explore the world around from that centre.


Develop the shadow puppet character’s movements through the following situations:

  • at the beach,

  • in the movies,

  • dancing,

  • at a sports game,

  • fire station,

  • work canteen,

  • in the office,

  • art gallery,

  • at a party.

IX. Developing the character …

    • …over time – discuss aspects of the drama to clearly define the:

  • era;

  • time frame;

  • characters’ development over time.

Discuss methods of showing a change in time during the story.

    • through setting – consider the puppet’s environment, for example:

  • furniture,

  • colours,

  • smells,

  • textures,

  • sounds,

  • country or city setting,

  • inside or outside.

Puppets then interact with the chosen objects.

    • through intentions – choose an action of your puppet character in the story, and follow this process:

  1. Decide what s/he is trying to achieve by the action.

  2. Practice the action to show this intention.

  3. Show the group.

  4. Receive feedback.

  5. Practice again.

  6. Choose another action and repeat the process.

    • through character’s feelings – in pairs, explore the puppet’s feelings. For example, is it:

  • happy,

  • sad,

  • angry,

  • frustrated,

  • in love?

Practice, and give feedback.

    • through point of focus

  1. Choose one scene – a particular moment in time that captures the dramatic action, or a theme, character or other aspect that gives purpose to the drama.

  2. Place puppets in a variety of positions – where do they stand/sit? At what levels?

  3. Experiment until a strong point of focus has been created in the scene.

Feedback – with the groups in pairs, have them give feedback to each other on the focus points of their scenes.

Feed forward – students take on board feedback by working to improve the point of focus in their scene.

X. Developing character through techniques


Making noises only, students show:

  • anger,

  • fear,

  • happiness,

  • annoyance,

  • excitement,

  • surprise,

  • that they are furious,

  • that they like their partner.

Practising a line

Each student chooses a line in the script, and experiments to find their character voice. Practice the line with different intents, for example:

  • to issue a warning,

  • to express love,

  • to share joy,

  • to discipline,

  • to make someone laugh.


Do this exercise twice in pairs – first at arm’s length, and then at a distance. Use the puppet hands to show:

  • greeting,

  • attention wanted,

  • annoyance,

  • anger,

  • achievement,

  • pleasure.

Body movement

Working in pairs, students move the puppet’s head only to show:

  • anger,

  • fear,

  • happiness,

  • annoyance,

  • excitement,

  • surprise,

  • that they are furious,

  • that they like their partner.

Shadow puppet walk

Working in groups, students establish a ground level, and then introduce one shadow puppet character at a time by making them:

  • stand still,

  • move in slow motion,

  • freeze and then move in a way that reflects the character.

XI. Tell the story

1. Rehearse and perform the plays.

2. Give feedback – have the groups perform to each other, and then give feedback immediately afterwards. Comment on:

  • effective use of voice, including pausing, pace, volume and articulation (clarity);

  • controlled gestures;

  • gestures that demonstrate intention;

  • if the overall mood of the story has been conveyed;

  • if the role of each shadow puppet is believable;

  • if the puppets’ movements are appropriate to their role, and create an imagined space for the audience.

3. Give feed forward

  1. Discuss feedback.

  2. Improve work.

  3. Rehearse again.

XII. Assessment

1. Performance

Each group performs their puppet show to the whole class, and is assessed according to the criteria in the Assessment criteria sheet. (Appendix G)

2. Understanding shadow puppetry
3. Peer evaluation

Have students fill out the peer evaluation (Appendix F) sheet after another group’s performance.

4. Journal entries

Assess the following journal entries that reflect the process:

  • Developing a character through flashback;

  • Freeze-frame images to structure the story;

  • Shaping the story;

  • Features of shadow puppetry;

  • Creating a shadow puppet;

  • Role development;

  • Rehearsal process.

  • What image touched you in this myth?

  • What elements and conventions will you use to strengthen your story?

  • Why these conventions?

  • What do you hope to achieve?

  • How can the convention of slow motion be used to heighten the point of focus in a scene?

  • What relevance does this story have to today?

  • Who is in the crisis point scene?

  • What are they doing?

  • How could this be shown in a freeze-frame?

  • What is happening in the flashback?

  • What changes are there in the characters’ attitudes?

  • What is the point of focus?

  • How is the point of focus clear?

  • Can you see the tension in the bodies of the characters in this scene?

  • In what ways do levels contribute to the effectiveness of this freeze-frame?

  • Why does/does not this freeze-frame reflect the crisis point?

  • Did the character/s behave in a way that was true to their personalities?

  • What do we see?

  • What can you tell about the characters from their body language?

  • What is the landscape like?

  • What does it suggest?

  • What is shadow puppetry?

  • In what ways do the stories reflect the culture they came from?

  • What props need to be represented to create the space?

  • How do the puppet’s features reflect the character’s personality?

  • What other physical features could be incorporated into the puppet to add to the effectiveness of its appearance?

  • How has the puppeteer captured a sense of how this character leads?

  • In what ways does exploring different situations and movements reveal aspects of character?

  • In what era is your drama set?

  • Over what length of time does this play take place?
  • How are you going to show any changes in the time in your drama?

  • What is happening to each character in the drama at each moment in time?

  • What surrounds your character?

  • What props will you need to help the audience believe you are in this place, at this time?

  • What is your character doing to get what s/he wants?

  • What problem does your character need to attempt to overcome in order to achieve his /her objective?

  • What conflict occurs because characters are not achieving their objective?

  • What is the point of focus in your play?

  • How can the point of focus further command the audience’s attention?

  • What tone of voice does the puppet use to express his/her reaction to impending danger?

  • How are different motives/intents shown by the way we say a particular line?

  • What have you learnt about the character through his/her gestures?

  • How does a simple movement of the head enrich the role?

  • How does the puppet move within the space to reflect its character?

  • Is the movement this character makes believable for the personality reflected in his body shape?

  • How could voice be used more effectively to enhance character?

  • How could gesture add emphasis to the words?

Appendix A

Journal entry: Developing a character through flashback



1. What could have been a major event in one character’s past?

2. How could this event have affected the character?

3. Why does this event need to be told as part of the story?

4. Who are the other characters involved in this flashback?

5. What is the moment in your story when you will freeze the action and flash back to this event?

6. At what point will you freeze the action in the flashback to re-enter the main story?

7. What impact does the flashback have on the rest of the story?

Appendix B

Journal entry: Using freeze-frame images to structure the story

Today you will create freeze-frame images (still stage pictures) that describe specific moments in your story. These will be shown to the class. Then you will use these images as starting points for spoken thoughts, and to improvise the action following that moment.

Specific moment

Freeze-frame image

Ideas for improvisation

1. Action at the beginning of the story

2. Point of tension that results from the ‘hook’

3. Climax

4. Flashback

5. Resolution

Appendix C

Journal entry: Shaping the story



1. What is your story line?

2. What is/are the setting/s of your story?

3. What are the roles and who is playing each one?


4. What are the scenes about? List and describe them.





5. Which drama elements will you use to strengthen the story?




6. Which drama conventions will you use to strengthen your story?




Appendix D

Journal entry: Features of Indonesian shadow puppetry

Comment on the following features of shadow puppetry that you observed today.



1. Wayang kulit

2. Dalang

3. Gamelan

4. Traditional figures

5. Gunungan

6. Screen

7. Source of light

8. Seating

9. Materials

10. Stories

Appendix E

Journal entry: Creating a shadow puppet

Describe the process you followed to create your shadow puppet.



1. Finding a story

2. Seeing a shadow puppet and an authentic Indonesian shadow show

3. Defining the character

4. Designing the puppet

5. Cutting out the puppet

6. Making the joints

7. Adding details

8. Attaching the rods

Appendix F

Peer evaluation of another group’s performance

Name:………………………………………. Date:………………
Group story title: …………………………
Tick the appropriate square

Always Sometimes Never

Did the group:

  1. focus into the task?

  1. retain their focus throughout the


  1. trust and support one another?

  1. portray believable characters?

  1. Tell a clear story that held your interest?

  1. look like they had worked hard throughout

the puppet designing, making, and rehearsal


Describe how a shadow puppet’s body movements enhanced the performance:

Were the characters’ voices effective? If so, explain why. If not, explain why not. Consider pace, pausing, volume, and listening (responding to cues).

Write one or two sentences of feedback for this group, based on your observations.

Appendix G
Criteria for assessment

TASK: To incorporate elements and conventions of drama into an adaptation of a myth to strengthen the telling of a modern day story.

Not Achieved

Not yet Achieved


Achieved with Merit

Achieved with Excellence

Students were unable to complete all the necessary requirements to achieve this task.

Students do not yet meet the criteria.

Students use elements and conventions of drama to devise and strengthen their modern day story.

Students select and use appropriate elements and conventions of drama to devise and strengthen their modern day story.

Student select and use, with deep understanding, appropriate elements and conventions of drama to devise and strengthen their modern day story.

TASK: Each student performs in their group to tell their story to the class

Not achieved

Not yet achieved


Achieved with Merit

Achieved with excellence

Students were unable to complete all the necessary requirements to achieve this task.

Students have not yet met the criteria.

Students make a contribution to the performance by listening and co-operating with others. They perform their group story to the rest of the class.

Students make a contribution to the performance by actively listening and co-operating with others. They perform their group story to the rest of the class, sustaining their role.

Students make a contribution to the performance by actively listening and encouraging others to co-operate to make a contribution. They perform their group story to the rest of the class convincingly, by sustaining their role with flair.

Appendix H

Shadow Puppetry
Understanding traditional shadow puppetry
Wayang kulit

The Indonesian word 'wayang' is derived from a word meaning 'shadow' or 'ghost'. The intricately cut and perforated shadow puppets are traditionally made from buffalo hide, and 'kulit' means 'leather' or 'skin'. So wayang kulit is the Indonesian term for traditional shadow puppets.


The dalang (puppeteer) is a complete artist. He/she has to excel in a great many things. For example, s/he must be able to:

  • know all the traditional figures (100–150), their nature and their symbolic importance – most dalangs can also make puppets;

  • guide puppets through the prescribed movements (e.g. graceful, careless, rude) in the proper sequence – many movements are based on dance, and all dalangs learn to dance;

  • recite the many traditional texts (approximately 600) – working dalangs are also expected to be able to script these themselves);

  • develop a repertoire of hundreds of stories, and be able to repeat them word for word;

  • use his voice to give each of the figures its proper tone;

  • create the illusion of conversation;

  • compose and sing songs;

  • direct the accompanying orchestra – and be able to play all of the most important instruments;
  • be a poet – the poetry is performed in the form of song, using a repertoire of standard melodies, the words of which are composed by the dalang to create a mood;

  • sit cross-legged for nine successive hours;

  • strike the keprak (rattle) with right foot for setting the mood, generating sound effects, signalling the musicians and for emphasis;

  • be a teacher – dalangs share new wisdom and comments on current events, often through selection of an appropriate story

  • write and perform a combination of stand-up and slapstick comedy;

  • be a linguist – a performance might draw on up to 10 languages (seven levels of Javanese, plus Indonesian, Old Javanese and, more frequently recently, English).

  • be a good businessperson – many members of the village and family depend on the dalang for work, including preparing for a performance, playing the music and making puppets – dalang's responsibility, plus his/her role as a teacher, make the dalang a highly respected member of the community.

Many dalangs come from dalang families, and they begin to learn their trade as toddlers. Much of their learning is informal, through observation and imitation. More recently, students can study puppetry through private institutions, and at the STSI university in Surakarta.


The gamelan is the traditional Indonesian orchestra, made up of a wide array of tuned percussion instruments, which are played (traditionally) by 20–25 musicians. During shadow-puppet performances, the musicians sit around the dalang, who conducts them. This live music helps build the atmosphere of the performance (in a similar way to film music).


In Java, wayang kulit begins with the gunungan (hill). This is a fantastic decorative puppet-piece shaped like a pointed leaf. It represents a vine-like plant on which birds, monkeys, and other beasts climb. The leaf is a representation of the past and future, and at the same time is a symbol of its creation.

The gunungan is more often called the kayon, (although most books seem to refer to it as gunungan). At the beginning of a performance, the gunungan is arranged in front centre of screen. When the dalang is ready to perform, he sings a short song, during which he raises the gunungan directly up, rotates it three times, and moves it to the right, where it is placed as the right limit to the performance space.

A second gunungan has already been placed as the left marker. The two gunungans have different pictures on the rear, one representing fire, and the other representing water.

During the performance the gunungans are used to represent scenery elements, particularly forest and clouds.


The most popular story cycles are drawn from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. These ancient Sanskrit Hindu epics from India were introduced to Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand by Indian conquest and trade over thousands of years.

After their first introduction, the stories were only performed in the royal courts. They were popularised much later, by the first Moslem missionaries. Islam disapproves of representing people, but the fabled characters of the Hindu moral tales fit well with Javanese Islam as taught by these first missionaries.

Favourite stories from Ramayana tell about:

  • Rama's marriage to Sita;

  • their banishment to the forest together with Rama's brother, Smana;

  • Sita's abduction by the monster king Ravana;

  • Sita's rescue, with the help of the monkey king Hanuman.

Some of the stories are legends, and some are based on ancient and modern historical events. Since 1945 in Indonesia, wayang kulit has also used political themes. (This reduced somewhat during the Suharto era when many dalangs disappeared – many dalangs were jailed, and many died.)

Other stories used for wayang include Christian stories. This type is called Wayang Kristen, and uses biblical characters, Panji stories about a fabled Javanese royal family, and stories about Mohammed's uncle. Children's wayang uses animals to tell folk stories.

A particular story is often selected by the dalang to make a political or historical point. For example, following recent devastating floods in Jakarta, a famous puppeteer performed a story about a kingdom suffering a series of natural disasters. This was interpreted by the audience as a very pointed comment about the corruption in the Jakarta city government that had led to the city's drainage areas being built over by exclusive new housing developments.

The dalang sometimes takes quite a direct activist role. For example, some use wayang to deliver messages educating audiences about pesticides.


The performance follows a standard scene plan.

  • The first scene introduces the kingdoms, characters and the situation.

  • Toward the end of the scene, one group of characters will usually leave their kingdom to go off sort out the situation.

  • The scene usually ends with the first round of battle, when the opposing sides first meet, but
no-one is killed at this stage.

  • At the end of the first scene, the dalang again raises the gunungan, and replaces it as he sings a song signalling the change in scenes and in the mode of the accompaniment – some dalangs place the gunungan at an angle that indicates the progression of time, but many do not.

  • The second scene usually takes place in transit, often in the forest, and introduces a particularly Javanese group of characters, the clowns, which are not drawn from the Indian epics. (Often the audiences will grow rapidly for these scenes, because the dalang's use of humour is a major drawcard.) The clown characters are in some ways reminiscent of court jesters – they usually poke fun at the noble classes, but they are also loyal retainers. The father of the clowns, Semar, is concurrently a humorous and a very powerful supernatural figure. His ambiguity extends to gender, in that he has both male and female physical characteristics.

  • This second scene has the first battle in which a character is killed. The character who is killed is another Javanese addition – Cakil the small demon soldier. He is always killed by a very refined character, and always in the same way.

  • At the end of the second scene the gunungan is again raised, and a song is again sung to indicate a scene and musical mode change.

  • The final scene resolves the story, usually with a decisive battle, which is symbolic of the struggle between good and evil.

Light source

The light used to cast the shadows can be created by:

  • lit torch, or burning faggot (bundle of sticks);

  • burning candles;

  • sunlight coming into a dark room through a window covered with cloth;

  • oil-burning lamp;

  • kerosene-burning lamp;

  • electric light.


To make a screen, a white sheet can be stretched over a simple frame and stapled onto it.

Traditionally, travelling Indian puppet shows use an adjustable frame. In other traditions, the screen is made from:

  • silk – for court shows;

  • nettle fabric or paper – shows for the Chinese poor;

  • fine cotton cloth – in Java;

  • parchment – in North Africa and Egypt;

  • ground (frosted) glass – modern presentations in England and America.


The puppet figures can be made from:

  • very thin leather, soaked in oil;

  • dark fabric;

  • cardboard;

  • plywood;

  • sheet metal.

Cardboard is the easiest material to use for making shadow puppets, and gives good results. A thick piece of polystyrene mounted under the screen is useful for holding puppets when several are being used at once, (for example, during a dialogue).


Simmen, Rene (1975) The World of Puppets. London: Elsevier–Phaidon

Teaching and learning reflection

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