En­thralled by shad­ows

> Theatre artiste Larry Reed is so in­trigued with Ba­li­nese wayang kulit that he has in­cor­po­rated its el­e­ments into his per­for­mances


CAL­I­FOR­NIA-BASED in­ter­na­tional theatre artiste Larry Reed has cer­tainly proved that shad­ows can be beau­ti­ful and in­tox­i­cat­ing, hav­ing staged more than 200 im­pres­sive shadow plays all over the world.

Reed was in town re­cently to con­duct a shadow-play course. He was here to teach shadow play to Malaysian theatre artiste Sabera Shaik, the owner of Malaysian Masakini Theatre.

The two are col­lab­o­rat­ing on a new shadow play de­pict­ing the his­tory and cul­ture of our very own Orang Asli.

Right now, Reed is car­ry­ing out re­search on the sub­ject, and the pro­duc­tion will hope­fully see the light of day in 2017, once it has gained enough fund­ing.

At a re­cent in­ter­view with the­Sun, the first thing he did was to show a sam­ple of one of his pro­duc­tions called Xanadu and I was blown away by the qual­ity of the play.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing Xanadu was al­most like watch­ing an im­pres­sive black-and-white an­i­ma­tion.

“I love theatre and film­mak­ing,” Reed said. “Shadow play is a com­bi­na­tion of film and theatre. When you do shadow theatre, you are putting your work against a white screen.”

Reed’s ex­po­sure to shadow theatre be­gan in 1970. “I wanted to learn a new lan­guage [of com­mu­ni­ca­tion]. I wanted to [find] a the­atri­cal art form other than mu­si­cal theatre that used mu­sic in the pro­duc­tions.”

One of his friends sug­gested he visit Bali. When Reed was there, he watched a wayang kulit (shadow play) per­for­mance called Ma­hab­harata, a ma­jor San­skrit epic from In­dia which cen­tres on five broth­ers try­ing to re­gain their throne.

Reed was to­tally cap­ti­vated by the magic of shadow theatre. He was es­pe­cially im­pressed by the role of the Tok Dalang.

“It is a great chal­lenge for an ac­tor to play all the roles in one pro­duc­tion,” he said.

Reed re­turned to the US and be­gan to take a short course in Asian theatre, learn­ing the art of wayang kulit.

One of his teach­ers sug­gested Reed learn the art form un­der the tute­lage of the teacher’s fa­ther in Bali. And so, Reed trav­elled to Bali again.

He ad­mits the Ba­li­nese shadow play­ers were com­pletely sur­prised that a for­eigner wanted to learn their art form.

“They usu­ally pass the knowl­edge to their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, never to an out­sider,” he said.

But they ac­cepted Reed with open arms. He brought the knowl­edge he learned back to Amer­ica and in 1972, he started his own theatre group – Shad­ow­light Pro­duc­tions – which spe­cialises in stag­ing shadow theatre pro­duc­tions. Reed ex­plained that shadow plays are like dreams, and the au­di­ence have to use their imag­i­na­tion to com­plete the whole pic­ture. “We do not spoon­feed our au­di­ence, and there is al­ways au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion in the sto­ry­telling,” he added. Reed felt this at­tracts more peo­ple to watch shadow theatre. He pointed out that there is so much colour in artis­tic pro­duc­tions these days that he loves pre­sent­ing his art form in blackand-white. “Shadow plays al­low me to do that.” Reed could not give any rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tion for his fas­ci­na­tion with shad­ows. “As a child, I no­ticed shad­ows all around me,” he said. “I grew up in a farm and I Cast: Tom Cruise, Co­bie Smul­ders and Danika Yarosh re­mem­bered an in­ci­dent as a kid where I woke up [and] saw the shadow of a bug, and I thought it was a beau­ti­ful thing to see.”

Reed said that a lot of mys­ti­cal beliefs are as­so­ci­ated with shad­ows. For ex­am­ple, in Java, you are not en­cour­aged to go out dur­ing mid­day, be­cause you may step on your own shadow.

“We are al­ways look­ing at shad­ows and it is only valid that we in­clude them in our theatre pro­duc­tions,” he said.


(left and be­low) Reed ... show­ing off some of his shad­ow­play skills; and (be­low, right) stills from his pro­duc­tion Xanadu.

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