Shadows Allow Children to Shine

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Ohr Chadash Academy students show their puppetry skills.

Students at four Baltimore-area schools had the chance to create artistic depictions of historical events with shadow puppetry with the help of some real experts with last week.

In advance of the JCC Owings Mill’s “Layer the Walls” shadow puppetry performance on Nov. 17, producers Liz Parker and Rachel Sullivan taught shadow puppetry tutorials.


Sullivan said puppetry is a dynamic way to tell fictional stories based on history. “It’s a visual roller coaster. We use three different forms of puppetry.”

They use Bunraku (a Japanese form) for the tale of an Irish worker on the Brooklyn Bridge, masks for a snow storm, and then shadows for a crowd scene.

“Puppets allow us to create whole worlds with our whole bodies,” said Parker.

At Ohr Chadash, for instance, Parker taught how puppets’ distance from the light affects its size on the curtain, how it should move, how to create a mood, and how to reverse text.

Kids participating in the puppetry tutorial.

She divided the class into groups to each create a scene from the book, which they then performed.

Ami, a third grader, explained as he cut out a paper puppet that his class had read a book about a 1909 union strike and their puppets were going to reflect that story.

“The girl in the factory wanted to be paid more and work less hours,” he said.

Hush-toned Ariella, with a big blue bow in her hair, explained the protagonist “was locked up in a room from sunrise to sundown. She thought it was not fair so she started strikes.”

“I like history,” opined Pennina, after running over to join the conversation. “I like learning how people fought through the hard times and how they standed up for themselves.”

(Peninna noted that in fact she has already been published in a magazine. This article may be another step in her ladder to fame.)

Ami said that he learned that “if you do what you think is right it may change the world.”

Putting on a Show

“No, no, no, we’re last, we’re the victors,” one girl grabbed her classmate as “factory workers” began a scene.

Sullivan reacted to the actors. “What a cruel boss!”

The kids climbed tables closer and closer to the “stage,” a white hanging cloth. One student ‘policeman’ pulled a ‘striker’, Esti.

Esti pretending to be arrested. 

“Don’t pull me, I actually almost fell!” Esti exclaimed to her audience.

Sullivan invited the children to attend the Nov. 17 show at the JCC — and give a post-show performance. Each school will perform one scene from the book.

Sullivan also handed out wallpaper samples to the children. The children can bring them to their parents and write together about their current home.

They can then post their samples on a temporary wall at the show, which the teachers take on tour.

“All ages can have a great time,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes adults need ‘permission’ for things like this but it’s not just for kids. This isn’t Sesame Street.”

The teachers shared a tour brochure with the class. A boy shouted “They look weird!”

Principal Randi Orshan chimed in, “We’re honest people here.”

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