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.