Folktales of Asia and Africa

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To add a family theater component to “La MaMa Puppet Series IV — Built to Perform,” Manhattan’s La MaMa Experimental Theater Club (www.lamama.org) will present Jane Catherine Shaw in a solo show of found object puppetry, “Folk Tales of Asia and Africa,” from October 16 to November 7. Performances are Saturdays and Sundays at noon. The piece is recommended for family audiences and is ideal for children ages three to ten.

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Folktales of Asia and Africa, created by Jane Catherine Shaw (Children’s Puppet Theater), will be presented October 23 to November 7, 2010 as part of La MaMa Puppet Series IV-Built to Perform. This photo of Jane Catherine Shaw and puppets on the set of Folktales of Asia and Africa shows the production at Theater for the New City, NYC in 2009 as part of the Voice 4 Vision Puppet festival. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

In the show, Jane Catherine Shaw uses kitchen tools to animate folk tales from around the world. While she is making bread, Shaw, playing a hostess, discovers that she has guests. As she and the audience wait for the dough to rise, she tells them three stories using kitchen utensils to play the characters. At the conclusion of the show a delicious surprise is shared with the audience. This one-woman show was created, designed, and performed by Jane Catherine Shaw nearly twenty years ago and has been an audience favorite wherever she has performed it.

In “The Old Man and the Moon” from Burma, a flour sifter portrays an old man, a cookie cutter becomes his pet rabbit, and a doughnut maker becomes the moon goddess disguised as an old woman. The tale explains why the Burmese people see an old man and his rabbit in the shadows of the moon. In a Japanese story, “The Lantern and The Fan,” egg beaters hop into cloth napkins to become Japanese sisters dressed in kimonos and four steak knives become a wise man. The story explains how two basic elements of Japanese life–the lantern and the fan– originated as two sister’s gifts of fire in paper and wind in paper. In “The Dragon with Five Heads” from Zimbabwe, wooden salt and pepper shakers play sisters who must earn the right to be a chief’s bride. Bread baking is an integral part of the ritual.

“Folktales of Asia and Africa” brings puppetry to its essence, in which common objects of daily use assume fantastic character through the artistry of puppetry and the puppeteer. Both kids and adults are beguiled by Shaw’s array of character voices, her skillful use of the found object puppets and (maybe this applies more to the kids) the terrific mess made on stage during every show.

Jane Catherine Shaw (www.janecatherineshaw.com)is the co-founder/co-director (with Sarah Provost) of the Voice 4 Vision Puppet Festival (www.voice4vision.org) at Theater for the New City, which was presented for the fifth time last fall. Shaw also has deep roots at La MaMa, which has presented the NY premieres of all her major full-length works for adult audiences, many with scientific themes. These include “The Lone Runner” (a play about Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla, 1999), “Bed of Light” (an exploration of recurring dream imagery from anonymous sources, worldwide, 2001), “Universe Expanding” a piece that explored physics, myth and religion (2005) and “Thirst: Memory of Water” (Spring 2010), which addressed ecological themes linking water scarcity and the struggle of women in dry areas to care for their families.

Ms. Shaw began working with puppetry in Atlanta, Georgia at the Center for Puppetry Arts over twenty years ago. As a puppeteer there she gave over 2000 performances. She curated the Center’s Xperimental Puppetry theatre, and co-authored the original main stage production “Dinosaurs.” She created an assortment of puppets for “Youth Without Age, Life Without Death,” in the First Assos Festival in Turkey in 1995. She has worked with Lee Breuer, of Mabou Mines, on “Epidog,” “Peter and Wendy,” “Ecco Porto” and the Obie-winning “Dollhouse.” Ms. Shaw works frequently with Theodora Skipitares on her many productions, in many capacities from puppet construction to performance, including her recent production of “The Traveling Players. Present The Women of Troy.” She traveled to India with Ms. Skipitares and La MaMa founder Ellen Stewart to participate in the Ishara Puppetry Festival in Delhi. She has studied Bunraku sculpting and Kuruma Ningyo manipulation in Charleville-Mezierre with Designated Living National Treasure Nishikawa Koryu IV at the Institut International de la Marionette through a grant from the Institut and UNIMA USA. She recently graduated on the Dean’s list earning an MFA in Directing from Brooklyn College. While there, she directed an experimental version of “The House of Bernarda Alba” which combined live actresses, graphic and giant shadow images as well as life-size puppets.

“Folktales of Asia and Africa” debuted at Center for Puppetry Arts in its Museum Theater Series and reprised there. It has also been presented by Brooklyn Academy of Music (in conjunction with its BAMfamily and BAMkids Film Festival), The Atlanta Arts Festival, The Northeast Puppetry Conference at Bryn Mawr, in productions sponsored by the NYC Parks Department and most recently, in the 2009 Voice 4 Vision Festival at Theater for the New City.

“Folktales of Asia and Africa is the first production expressly dedicated to children’s puppet theater to be performed in”La MaMa Puppet Series IV — Built to Perform” since the series began in 2004. The Series is now an annual event, curated by Denise Greber, which carries on La MaMa’s tradition, since its inception, of supporting puppet theater artists from all over the world

This year’s series opens with the latest work by Italy’s Dario D’Ambrosi (Pathological Theater), “Bong Bong Bong against the Walls, Ting Ting Ting in our Heads,” with puppets by Aurora Buzzetti, October 14 thru October 30. There will be two works from Poland presented in association with The Polish Cultural Institute, “Chopin-An Impression” by Bialystok Puppet Theatre October 21 to November 7 and “Broken Nails. A Marlene Dietrich Dialogue” by Wiczy Theatre from November 11 to 21. From Brooklyn comes “Wake Up, You’re Dead!,” directed and designed by Aaron Haskell, October 29 to November 7. The festival will conclude with “In Retrospect” by LOCO7 Dance Puppet Theatre Company, directed and designed by Colombia-born Federico Restrepo with music composed by Elizabeth Swados, November 12 to 28.

From October 21 to November 7, there will be Gallery Exhibit at La MaMa’s La Galleria, 6 East First Street, displaying puppets by noted puppet theater artists including Federico Restrepo, Theodora Skipitares, Jane Catherine Shaw, Dan Hurlin, Lake Simmons, Erik Sanko, Tom Lee and more. La MaMa will have its fall gala October 25, celebrating its 49th season by honoring Cheryl Henson of the Jim Henson Foundation. The evening will have performances by Basil Twist, Roman Paska, Federico Restrepo, Tom Lee, Erik Sanko & Jessica Grindstaff, Lake Simmons & John Dyer and appearances by Dan Hurlin, Mark Russell, Theodora Skipitares, Leslee Carrara Rudolf & Lolly. Special guests will include Caroll Spinney and Oscar the Grouch. The series is supported by the Jim Henson Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, NYSCA and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

For info on the festival and all ticketing, see www.lamama.org. Special offers on the festival are available to members of www.nypuppets.org, which is free to join.