Theater Class Creates Puppets in Hands-On Study of Japanese Theater

Theater III at Trinity Hall offers a historical exploration of theatrical styles while making connections to contemporary theater over the course of the trimester. The juniors in Mrs. Phillips class recently wrapped up the elective with a study of Japanese puppet theater, holding their own performance of the art on the last day of the class.
 
Japanese puppet theater (bunraku) involves large life-size puppets that are operated by three puppeteers. The main puppeteer (omozukai) moves the head and the right arm, while the two junior puppeteers manipulate the left arm and the legs. The assistants will typically serve a 10-year long apprenticeship on each side of the puppet before graduating to become an omozukai. 
 
To appreciate and experience the nuances of the art for themselves, the students worked in groups to construct life-size puppets out of butcher paper. Each group selected a traditional Japanese haiku and choreographed movement to reflect the words of the piece. Like the Japanese puppeteers, each student was responsible for manipulating a part of the puppet's body to create fluid movement.
 
As they prepared for their performances, Mrs. Phillips reminded her students that small details are important to creating realistic movements. Slowing down the movements also goes a long way in transforming the puppets into characters for the audience. 
 
"By making and maneuvering the puppets ourselves, I was introduced to a whole new world of movement and beauty," shared Amanda Philipson '22.  "It was magical to see how working in synchronicity and adjusting our movements every so slightly, the puppets came to life. I had a blast making our puppets move and interact with one another!"
 
As a class finale, the students applied what they learned to work together on a group choreography to Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie." They ended class with a proud moment for Mrs. Phillips - a coordinated class bow with their puppets. 
 
"I was really happy to be able to continue to teach this process this year," said Mrs. Phillips. "The students mastered the concepts and understanding, even adding in a bit more creativity to accomplish the performances with current restrictions. They also had a lot of fun!  Bravo!"   
 
 
 

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