Portraying figures from Hindu mythology, members of a Creighton theater course performed Wayang Kulit, or Shadow Puppet Theater, in Creighton’s studio theater on Thursday.
Receiving funds from the Non-Western Grant Program, the class was able to study and perform this early form of theater, which originated in 8th Century Indonesia.
Each member of the class designed and painted clear plastic cutouts in order to portray different characters from a Hindi myth that explains the reason for the lunar eclipse.
The Dalang, or puppeteers, stood in front of a strong beam of light in order to project their colorful puppets onto a large white screen. The audience sat on the other side of this screen and watched as the students shared the Hindu tale.
The performance, which featured seven Creighton students, was a 20-minute adaptation of “The Giant Who Chased the Moon,” the Hindu mythology of how the Giant King Kala Rau is beheaded for drinking the nectar of the gods. In the myth, Rau’s decapitated head flies into the sky to swallow the Moon Goddess, which explains the occurrence of the lunar eclipse.
Stephanie Jacobson, a teaching artist and director of youth productions at Omaha’s Rose Theater, adapted this myth and helped train the students for the short performance.
“Everything that you see has been created for this class in particular,” Jacobson said of the performance. “In traditional Indonesian shadow puppetry, there is only one puppeteer who puppeteers every character, and the plays are not 20 minutes. They’re eight hours long.”
Jacobson, who worked for the Jim Henson Company in New York and participated in the Eugene O’Neill Puppetry conference last summer, said she spent a lot of time independently studying theater and puppetry.
“I’ve been addicted to puppets since I was very little, so I’ve done a lot of that kind of work,” Jacobson said. “I would definitely say I’m not an expert, but I’m a life-learning puppet nerd.”
College of Arts and Sciences senior Allexys Johnson said that both Jacobson and assistant professor of theatre Amy Lane helped the actors learn this unfamiliar style of performance.
Johnson explained that there are key differences between working with puppets and acting on stage.
“It’s a different mental process for me because there’s a lot to handle with puppets,” Johnson said. “Of course, on stage regularly, I always think about character and what my relationships are, but here there’s so much focus going on to how you’re moving. Then you also have to add on top how exactly you’re saying your line and how you’re delivering it and making sure that the audience knows who’s speaking because they [the puppets] don’t move their mouths.”
Other actors agreed that it took time to adjust to the puppets. College of Arts and Sciences junior Kathleen Watz joked that her hands started cramping up as she started working with the puppets. Once she got used to them, Watz said it was actually quite similar to blocking any other play.
Hailee Domagalski, a College of Arts and Sciences senior, said that shadow puppetry actually allows the actor to be more conscious of his or her performance.
“It makes it so much easier when you have the screen because you can see [the performance] as it is happening, whereas in traditional theater you can’t see how you look to the audience,” Domagalski said. “So it’s kind of almost like a mirror.”
While the night was mainly about the performance, audience members received the opportunity to learn about this traditional form of theater throughout the night.
Before the performance began, the students stood at various stations around the studio theater, teaching attendees about Wayang Kulit and Hindu mythology. After the performance, audience members asked Jacobson and the actors questions about the process of putting together the show.
With all these unique aspects, Creighton’s Fine and Performing Arts Department provided an evening of culture, entertainment and education to the crowded studio theater Thursday.