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Shadow Theatre
Theory and Practice (volume 3)

By Rainer Reusch
Einhorn-Verlag 2005

Price: 29 EURO
Can be ordered directly from the publisher Einhorn-Verlag, Germany
or from Ray DaSilva, UK

Reviewed by Ramon Abad

Have you ever visited your local library, searching for books about shadow puppetry and finding none of them published beyond 1975? Most of the lighting techniques and theatre companies described in these books are as out-of-date as the old-fashioned book index.

There are many great websites that have history, examples and instructions on how to do, but for those of us who need a good, solid book to pick up and put down in the heat of creating shadow theatre, there has been only one great, consistent source of inspiration over the recent years.

Since 1989, the International Shadow Theatre Centre (Internationale Schattentheater Zentrum) based in Schwaebisch Gmuend, Germany has been the absolute centre for the world’s shadow theatre artists, puppeteers, designers and directors. Every three or four years they organise the world’s largest and most extensive festival of shadow theatre from around the globe.

Over the years, the Centre has produced a series of books that not only describes historical or folk traditions, which is where most literature about shadow theatre begins and ends, but is entirely unique since it is also passionately dedicated to modern shadow theatre and puppetry.

The newest and latest edition, entitled Schattentheater/ Shadow Theater, Band 3: Theory & Practice, written in German and English by the Centre’s director Rainer Reusch, is absolutely essential for any artist, director or educator who is serious in creating and teaching shadow puppetry and theatre. The book focuses not only on work for children but also on work for adults, which is an audience many books and websites often overlook.
The great strength of Band 3 (Volume 3) is its hands-on, practical advice and detailed plans of making large-scale shadow theatre. Most books and websites show how to make small tabletop shadow screens. Rainer Reusch has several great examples of small screens; a toy theatre composed of a frog’s mouth as the screen made is my personal favourite!
However, many artists or directors who choose to work in shadows often want to explore their potential in larger spaces. A major part of Band 3 has detailed descriptions of how to make large-scale work with screens or surfaces that can be used in non-traditional ways and shapes. Despite a rather conventional, almost story-telling style in describing technical requirements and steps, this is the best resource for anyone attempting to create large shadows before trying them out for themselves.

I appreciate how Rainer Reusch pushes shadow theatre beyond just a small-scale experience by including its wide potential in architecture, video projection, projected scenery and the use of the whole human form. Dedicating an entire chapter to Body Shadow Theatre is bold step!

My absolutely favourite part of the book is the lovingly detailed table of various light sources. If you’ve even tried a hand at shadow theatre, you’ll know lighting is the key. Mr Reusch includes every light possible and gives his view on the advantages and disadvantages for its uses. After working with shadows for several years now, I knew exactly what he is describing – he is absolutely spot on in his assessments: ‘Torch…Disadvantage: Faint light, batteries consumed quickly – use rechargeable batteries.’

Nowhere will you find a finer collection of photos of modern shadow theatre. The first two volumes are packed with many black & white and colour photos of many theatre companies; from Italy’s Teatro Gioco Vita and France’s Amoros et Agustin which show examples of what shadow theatre has accomplished beyond tradition. There are, regrettably, several of the same pictures used in Band 3 but what’s really interesting are several new photos that show full, large-scale work with children (the photo of the children’s orchestra in costume in front of a large screen, though it almost looks like it was shot with a disposable camera, is simply amazing!) will inspire any teacher to try a hand in creating shadow theatre with his or her class.

I read the first volume of the Schattentheater series in Larry Reed’s office in San Francisco sometime in 1996 when I was a new member of his shadow theatre company ShadowLight Productions, which has chapters in the first two books. At that time it was my first exposure to reading and seeing work from many artists and companies from around the world who were making contemporary shadow theatre. It was truly inspirational to see the work of an international network of artists and puppeteers active in shadow theatre.

When I met Fabrizio Montecchi, director of Teatro Gioco Vita in the company’s atelier in 2004, I was able to relate with him from the work of theirs that I had seen in the second volume. Having been a fan of these books over the years, I can now, on the publication of Band 3, highly recommend them to anyone who is new to the artistry of shadows and is willing to explore… and even the seasoned shadow puppeteer who thinks they’ve seen everything!

Rainer Reusch is director of the International Shadow Theatre Centre, Germany.
All photos by Rainer Reusch

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