On Sunday, January 29th, Flushing Town Hall welcomes Chinese Theatre Works to its stage for two family-friendly performances at 1 PM and 3 PM to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit with Hao Bang-ah, Rabbit!, featuring traditional budaixi-style puppetry and live music. Both performances will be followed by hands-on workshops for children. We talked with co-Executive Directors Kuang-Yu Fong and Stephen Kaplin about their production and the company’s general mission.
Could you tell us about Chinese Theatre Works’ history and mission? What kind of plays do you produce?
Chinese Theatre Works (CTW) was incorporated in 2001 out of the merger of two smaller cultural organizations, The Gold Mountain Institute for Traditional Shadow Theatre (founded in 1975) and Chinese Theatre Workshop (founded in 1990). Our mission is to preserve and promote the traditional Chinese performing arts; to create new performance works that bridge Eastern and Western aesthetics and forms; and to foster understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture in audiences, artists, students, scholars, and educators around the globe.
CTW’s original productions incorporate a variety of traditional Chinese performing arts, including opera, puppetry, dance, and music. We start from a place of deep respect for these traditions– learning from those masters who understand the forms from the inside, and then applying that collective wisdom to our own experimental works. This way, we help these old classic forms continue to grow and adapt themselves to the new cultural and historical contexts here in NYC and in America. We do this by telling traditional Chinese stories through contemporary Western styles, telling well-known Western stories using traditional Chinese forms, and mixing together different cultural performance styles within a production.
On January 29th, you are performing the traditional puppetry show Hao Bang-ah, Rabbit! at Flushing Town Hall. Could you please explain to our readers what budaixi-style puppets are and why they are so important in Chinese culture? What can audiences expect from your show?
The art of glove puppetry, “budaixi,” is a beloved performance tradition that has been enjoyed by Chinese audiences for centuries. The small (8” tall), beautifully hand-crafted figures are superbly flexible and capable actors. The puppet’s head and hands are beautifully carved out of wood and attached to cloth bodies into which the puppeteer slips his hand like a glove. The costumes and headdresses are gorgeously embroidered miniature copies of the traditional costumes worn by Chinese opera actors. On the hands of a master puppeteer, animated by only his five fingers, these wonderful puppet figures can vividly portray the wide range of human emotions as well as any human actor. This style of puppetry was most popular in Southern China and Taiwan and, in contemporary times, has continued to develop and evolve.
“Hao Bang Ah!” is a common Chinese expression meaning “Great!” or “Well done!” Each year, CTW celebrates the Lunar New Year season with an original “budaixi” production that features the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. This year’s production stars the Rabbit, who will preside over a jolly selection of wild puppet skits, dances, popular songs, and well-known Chinese sayings celebrating the wit and wisdom of the Zodiac animals. Audiences will be introduced to traditional Chinese New Year customs and food (red envelopes, fish, and “nian gao”). Special guests include the Jade Rabbit on the Moon and other all-star members of our Zodiac puppet ensemble. Sing-alongs, games, and hands-on post-show demonstrations will make the Chinese bi-lingual cultural experience accessible to even the youngest audience members.
Audience members have the option to sign up for a workshop after the show. Which activities are planned, and what age groups can participate?
After the show, we will be hosting a shadow theater workshop. Shadow theater is an Asian contribution to the performing arts. Chinese shadow performance (“Pi Ying Xi”) has a history going back 2000 years and is unique as the world’s oldest motion picture medium. In China, the first written records tell about a Taoist magician using shadow images to comfort the great Han Emperor, who was grieving the death of his beloved wife. In succeeding centuries, the Chinese shadow theater tradition evolved into a sophisticated art form.
In this workshop, participants will learn techniques for making their own shadow figures. CTW teaching artists will guide participants step by step, from choosing a design to bringing that figure to life. All designs are based on figures from the Paulin Benton Collection – the same puppets CTW uses in its performance. This workshop is best suited for kids ages 5-12 but is fun for family members of all ages.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in an acting career, or someone who may want to become part of Chinese Theatre Works?
Chinese Theatre Works is always on the lookout for volunteers who are excited about our mission. Whether you have a background in performance, non-profit work, or are just passionate about Chinese Culture, we’re always thrilled to welcome new people into our community. Come speak to us during one of our events or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
JOIN US ON SUNDAY, JANUARY 29TH AT 1 PM OR 3 PM FOR A PUPPET SHOW AND HANDS-ON FAMILY WORKSHOP. GET YOUR TICKETS HERE!