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China is one of the birthplaces of puppet shows, but the popular art form of yesteryear is facing new challenges today. There are less than 300 professional puppeteers in China, though just a few decades ago there as many as a thousand puppet troupes in only one province. Our reporter Zhang Song finds out why there has been such a decline and how to tackle the threat of extinction.
Hand puppet, sock puppet, rod puppet, string puppet, or the shadow puppet...but now rather than manipulating the puppets, more puppeteers are walking out of the dark and taking the spotlight.
Zhang Song, Beijing, said, "China's National Puppet Theatre, known as the Puppet Castle behind me is the biggest maker and promoter of the change. They are pushing the hidden puppeteers out of the dark and make a direct use of their own bodies. The managers believe it's a step they have to take artistically and practically."
|Hand puppet, sock puppet, rod puppet, string puppet, or the shadow puppet...|
but now rather than manipulating the puppets, more puppeteers are walking
out of the dark and taking the spotlight. (File Photo)
Zhao Yongzhuang is the woman behind the change. Zhao took over when the state-owned puppet theatre turned into a holding company four years ago. The manager said she has made the transformation successfully. Their first experiment tackles China's legendary story, the Monkey King.
Zhao Yongzhuang, Director and Manager of China National Puppet Theatre, said, "We took away the shelter behind which the puppeteers hide, so that puppeteers can have a direct interaction with the audience. The traditional rod puppet is hard to see clearly from the back seats. We've also mixed modern stage set and elements from other art forms. For a traditional puppet show of Monkey King, about half of the tickets could be sold, while the new series of the fairytale is often sold out. The first episode of Monkey King has been staged 221 times with a box office of 12.8 million yuan."
Following the two episodes of "Monkey King" that sold-well are two more shows, one adapted from a popular animation, the other from a TV comedy. Both are already well known among audiences and are selling well at the box office.
Ticket sales take half of the total revenue of the theatre while the other half comes from the puppet castle. The manager hopes it can compete with Disneyland in the near future.