Chinese shadow theater fights against dying of the light

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Falling audiences mean troupes are having to be creative to stay on the stage. (AFP)
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Members of the Flying Dragon Troupe create shadow puppets at the troupe’s studio on the outskirts of Beijing. (AFP)
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Shadow puppets flitting across screens and reliving age old stories have fascinated Chinese people for some 2,000 years. (AFP)
Updated 08 July 2019

Chinese shadow theater fights against dying of the light

  • Shadow theater was celebrated up until the 1960s when it was targeted as part of the Cultural Revolution
  • For the Chinese, the show is the forerunner of cinema

BEIJING: Shadow puppets flitting across screens and reliving age old stories have fascinated Chinese people for some 2,000 years, but falling audiences mean troupes are having to be creative to stay on the stage.
On a translucent screen in a Beijing classroom, a child with a cosmic ring takes on the son of the dragon king, attacking him with huge thrusts of his lance.
Behind the screen, puppeteers use rods to move the figures, to the joy of the schoolchildren watching.
The legends of the past are the bedrock of shadow theater — a tradition still popular in the countryside, though it has lost much ground in large cities over the last few decades.
Shadow theater was celebrated up until the 1960s when it was targeted as part of the Cultural Revolution. It had something of a renaissance in the 1980s and in 2011 was included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
For the Chinese, the show is the forerunner of cinema — in the Chinese language the word “cinema” literally means “electric shadow.”
With video games, film and TV now vying for viewers glued to their smartphones, shadow theater is slowly losing its audience, and performers are struggling to keep their heads above water.
Wiping his forehead after his furious on-stage battle, Lu Baobang — one of the last puppeteers of the old generation — is worried there is no one to replace him when he retires.
“We can’t offer reasonable living standards to young apprentices,” said Lu, who descends from a large family that developed one of the main schools of shadow theater in Beijing.
While the theater struggles to attract young peoples’ interest, a troupe in a Beijing suburb — whose performers have an average age of 22 — has managed to survive.
It is made up of 60 or so puppeteers with dwarfism, who present themselves as having an average height of 1.26 meters.
Jin Xinchun is one of them. He was struggling to find work several years ago, before he discovered the troupe online and moved to Beijing to join it where he was employed as a puppet maker.
“I am always happy to cut old leather to make beautiful puppets. They are my babies!,” Jin told AFP.
Wang Xi, a puppeteer founded the troupe with her husband in 2008 after meeting with the national association of dwarves.
“They had trouble finding work. And it was hard for us to find successors. Our collaboration is like two drawbacks that turned out to a be a plus!“
The puppeteers now perform regularly in schools.
But Wang Xi said she is nervous about the future: “Our masters are all older than 80 and they obviously won’t be able to go on stage in 10 years.”
State support is key to keeping shadow theater alive, Lu said.
“The government is aware of the importance of traditional culture, what we need now are concrete measures,” he said.
“This art will have no future if we don’t give young people hope.”


Florida offers drive-through Botox to quarantined residents

Updated 04 June 2020

Florida offers drive-through Botox to quarantined residents

  • US state allowed a partial relaxing of restrictions imposed to slow the coronavirus pandemic
  • Elective medical procedures resume, including Botox injections and cosmetic surgery

MIAMI: Quarantined Florida residents worried about their laughter lines and crows’ feet need frown no longer — Botox is back, and it’s being offered at a drive-through.
On May 4, the US state allowed a partial relaxing of restrictions imposed to slow the coronavirus pandemic. That means certain elective medical procedures could resume, including Botox injections and cosmetic surgery.
Michael Salzhauer, a plastic surgeon known as ‘Dr. Miami’ who has also starred in a reality television show, has been conducting drive-through Botox injections in the garage of his building in the posh Miami neighborhood of Bal Harbor.
Salzhauer said the idea struck him as he was sitting in his car waiting for a blood test for COVID-19 antibodies.
“The areas that we inject Botox are the upper face, exactly the parts of the face that aren’t covered by the mask so it’s really ideal,” Salzhauer said, while wearing a mask, face shield and surgical gown as he waited for his next drive-up patient.
Patients sign up online, paying an average of $600 each for a stippling of shots across their foreheads.
Arman Ohevshalom, 36, was enthusiastic as he waited in line with his wife in their car, although it was their first time receiving the injections.
“It’s very creative, and after seeing how they’re running it I feel just as comfortable as I would in the office,” he said.
Florida’s tattoo artists, however, are frustrated. Shuttered since March, they asking why they cannot open, too.
Botox injections are “kind of like tattooing, he’s injecting stuff into the skin,” said tattoo shop owner Chico Cortez. Florida is home to about 10,000 working tattoo artists, according to the Florida Professional Tattoo Artist Guild.
An emailed statement from a Miami-Dade County spokesperson said Mayor Carlos Gimenez has yet to set a date for reopening tattoo shops. “He is working with industry members and the medical experts to come up with the best way to reopen safely,” it said.