3 Women, Many Plays: One Hundred Years of Shadow Theater History in the U.S.A.

Traditional Chinese shadow puppetry is one of China’s most spectacular folk arts and representative of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Despite its enduring history dating back to Han Dynasty, shadow puppetry in China is facing a gradual decline with the rise of modern entertainment such as movies and television. Practitioners in the United States, however, managed to preserve the art form throughout the last century and into the present. The remarkable story of how this happened is inextricably entwined with the lives of three women.

In 2020, Chinese Theatre Works collaborated with CHINOPERL to present a forum looking back on the one hundred years of shadow theater history in the U.S.A. Moderated by Fan Pen Chen, the program features a series of presentations reflecting on the careers of 3 remarkable American women, Pauline Benton, Jo Humphrey, and Kuang-Yu Fong, who together are responsible for the transmission of traditional Chinese shadow theater to North America. Additionally, the panelists also brought about a wonderful discussion on issues of cross-cultural transmission and the survival of traditional performing arts in the contemporary cultural landscape.

This program was partially funded by the NY State Council on the Arts and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.

Host Institutions: Chinese Theatre Works (CTW), Chinese Oral and Performing Literature (CHINOPERL)

Moderator: Fan Pen Chen

Panelist: Annie Katsura Rollins, Grant Hayter-Menzies, Kuang-Yu Fong, Jo Humphrey, Stephen Kaplin, and Natalie Christou