×

The puppet casters: Middle-schoolers learn Balinese ‘Wayang Kulit’ shadow puppetry

  • JFK Middle School eighth-graders Nellie Mai, foreground, Sylvie Mahon-Moore, Lily Shimpach and Kenna Karrison perform their own shadow puppet play after completing a workshop on the Balinese tradition of puppetry known as Wayang Kulit on Friday in Florence. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • JFK Middle School eighth graders Lucy Bernhard, center, and Benjamin Gollis-Pedelaborde, right, perform their own shadow puppet play in the school's community room after a workshop on the Balinese tradition of puppetry known as Wayang Kulit on Friday, September 8, 2017, in Florence. At left, providing accompaniment is Putu Rekayasa of Indonesia, who, along with Panji Wilimantara, conducted the workshop. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • JFK Middle School eighth graders Ellie Finkel, left, and Maya Williams craft their own puppets during a workshop on the Balinese tradition of shadow puppetry known as Wayang Kulit on Friday, September 8, 2017, in Florence. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • JFK Middle School eighth-graders Sylvie Mahon-Moore, left, Kenna Harrison and Lily Shimpach rehearse a play they created during a workshop on the Balinese tradition of shadow puppetry known as Wayang Kulit. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Nellie Mai, foreground, and fellow JFK Middle School eighth-graders Sylvie Mahon-Moore, Lily Shimpach and Kenna Karrison, perform their own shadow puppet play after completing a workshop on the Balinese tradition of puppetry known as Wayang Kulit on Friday in Florence. Musician Ian Coss, who helped with the workshop, is at left. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING



@kate_ashworth
Saturday, September 09, 2017

FLORENCE — Shadows cast from paper puppets danced across a white screen. Shadows told stories in a dark, but comedic, tone — including the story of a demon at Taco Bell who met his demise at the hands of the store manager.

Eighth-grade students at John F. Kennedy Middle School were behind the screen, giggling and maneuvering the arms and bodies of the paper puppets they had just created as part of an all-day workshop on learning Balinese shadow puppetry on Friday.

Puppeteers Putu Rekayasa and Panji Wilimantara traveled from Bali, Indonesia, to perform and teach students about traditional shadow puppetry, known as Wayang Kulit.

Rekayasa and Wilimantara along with musician Ian Coss, of Boston, and theater artist Sam Jay Gold, of New York, make up the Brothers Campur storytelling group. The group met in Bali while Gold and Coss were both studying abroad on a fellowship in 2012, and have been performing together ever since.

Coss’s mother, Ellen Kennedy, a science teacher at the middle school, runs “Play in a Day” each year as a team-building exercise for eighth-graders. But this year she wanted to do things a little differently, inspired by a trip to Bali to visit her son back in 2012.

“I was fascinated by shadow puppetry,” she said.

The workshop was held at the school on Friday, which was funded through a $3,000 grant from the Northampton Educational Foundation. A performance by the Brothers Campur followed in the evening at Pulaski Park, hosted by the Northampton Arts Council .

On Friday, the halls and classrooms of the middle school were swarming with students all scattered about practicing their skits, others coloring and putting together their puppets.

Ellen Mathews, 14, said she learned some of the culture of Bali. “The arts are valued,” Mathews said. “Street art is encouraged.”

At the end of the school day, students performed their skits. The school’s community room was filled with laughs as groups showed what they had come up with.

Thirteen-year-olds Leah Abelwasman, Tali Serlin, Gabriella Fox and Maeve Dunckerley say their skit isn’t very traditional.

Their performance involved two characters that were hungry for Taco Bell, but ran into a demon at the store.

“You cannot kill me,” Dunckerley said, moving an arm on her shadow puppet. The Balinese puppets with one moveable arm and one stationary arm are demons, Dunckerley said.

The demon kills one of the characters, but another one is saved when the store manager shows up and slays the demon.

At Pulaski Park, the setting had a much different ambiance. As the sun went down, a flame burned, illuminating a screen and casting shadows from craved puppets.

Wilimantara lit incense, prayed and washed his face with holy water. He placed a basket of offerings to the gods in front of the screen.

Coss said the performances can be ceremonial. In Bali, shadow puppet shows are done when a child is born as well as someone’s death, Coss said.

They performed “The Death of Patih Sumantri,” involving a demon king whose palace was flooded. He kills the neighboring ruler and kidnaps the wife.

Coss told the crowd of more than 100 that they were welcome to stand by the stage to see what was happening behind the screen, as many people would do in Bali.

Kids peeked behind the screen, watching Rekayasa control the puppets. Families sat in the grass with their eyes drawn to the shadows as the evening turned to night.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.