Puppet Origin Stories: Senta
In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we spoke to the Makers and Designers of the puppets we have in The Finger Players (TFP), to create the repository that is the Puppet Origin Stories – a humble effort to highlight the background, and the making and design history of these puppets. We hope that this can be a continued endeavour at TFP, and we hope that you can go on this journey with us.
The Flying Dutchman is a one-act opera composed by Richard Wagner, which tells the story of a sailor and his daughter caught in a storm at sea. For the production presented by The Finger Players (TFP), the daughter Senta and the Flying Dutchman were presented as a shadow puppetry cut-out in certain moments. In the overture, the segment about how The Flying Dutchman came to be doomed to sail the seas forever was also done via shadow puppetry. This design team was co-led by Ang Hui Bin, Myra Loke and Daniel Sim.
This project was a consolidation of Hui Bin’s exploration of shadow puppetry. She wanted to push the boundaries of shadow puppetry, and experimented multiple times with the team, often throwing products of their experiments away even if only a small segment of it didn’t work.
To find a shadow puppetry language that could complement the opera, the team experimented almost a year before their usual process timeline. They first started by building three-dimensional objects in a variety of sizes and volumes, but were left unsatisfied. Eventually, they found a design concept they were happy with as a starting point. Ironically, it was something extremely simple, which harked back to the original beauty of shadow puppetry – that depth and dynamicity could be achieved purely through the artful manipulation of depth and ratio of shadow to light. This was achieved using a platform specially designed by Daniel.
For the design of Senta, it was essential for the shadow to visually echo the real-life performer. The design team worked with costume designer Max Tan’s designs, and incorporated the costume’s silhouette into the puppet, simplifying the lines whilst maintaining its intricacies and elegance. This was inspired by the age-old method of how Wayang Kulit was created – where shapes and symbols were chiseled out on a piece of buffalo hide. It was extremely tedious, because each shape had to be chiseled out one by one, using a shape specific chisel. For example, to achieve the shape of a circle, two semi-circles had to be chiseled out. As the team was using a mounting board instead of buffalo hide, it was also important to chisel it at just the right angle to ensure the lines would not be destroyed, and that the cut-lines were straight so that the shadow cast would be sharp.
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