Puppetry has a close relationship with conjuring and magic. All throughout history, magicians have entertained the general public in the streets, as well as on the stage. The very first known magician went by the name of Dedi in ancient Egypt. His name bears a mention on the Westcar Papyrus of 1700 BC situated at the East Berlin State Museum. In Beni Hasan, Egypt, a wall painting displays a conjurer putting on an act for another (the cups and balls trick). The painting is now unfortunately submerged underwater thanks to excavations that took place in 1966. The painting dates all the way back to 2500 BC.
Such tricks may have first been performed by tribal shamans (also known as witch doctors) in prehistoric times. The shamans performed these tricks to show off their powers, as well as to strengthen their authority against those who were lining up to replace them as the spiritual leader of the tribe. In today’s Indonesia, the dalang (also known as the shadow player) acts as a sort of shaman, performing tricks for exorcism and healing. So, puppets can be viewed as a trick for magicians where the audience isn’t privy to the mechanics of how the figures move.
It could be that puppets came from artists who had seen the stunning automata public presentations- sometimes presented by official players- where each of the techniques implemented to create the figures’ motion were hidden. In their bid to imitate the automata, these folk artists could well have discovered a way to manipulate the puppets.
Unlike other puppet types, the shadow puppet always remains hidden in performance. Only the effect that it creates is visible. The shadow puppet in performance isn’t just one cardboard or widen object but a number of things combined. However beautiful or clever the shape of the puppet, its magical effect comes from the combination with a screen and with light.
Here, we’ll look at the three different parts of the shadow puppet effect: the Screen, Puppet Shape, and Light.
The Puppet Shape
The purpose of shadow puppet shapes is to block at least some of the light and create a shadow. If you want your angles to have crisp shadows, it’s important to ensure that the material remains thin. Any object can be used but thin black poster board is advisable. It can be a challenge to find high-quality poster board as the majority of it is made for short-term school projects. There is still some available, however, and it’s worth having a good look around for.
The first thing to do when constructing your puppet shape is to take the design you’ve drawn on paper and transfer it on to the pasteboard. You can use white carbon paper which you can buy from an art supply store. It leaves the pasteboard with a white line and is far more visible than pencil. The next thing to do is to use scissors to cut out the design. A small pair of good-quality scissors provides clean edges and cutting around edges is made easier by using curved scissors.