Shadow Puppets with Mary Robinette Kowal

“Tra la la!” said Mary as she made the little shadow puppet move behind the back lit screen. In front of the screen my four kids sat spell bound, watching the surprisingly life-like motions of the little shadow man. A second player entered the stage and Mary gave this character a distinctly different voice. “Is this the road to London?”

As a professional puppeteer, Mary Robinette Kowal is quite accomplished at this sort of performance. She has performed all over the United States and some other countries as well. Having her perform in my kitchen to an audience comprised of just myself and my children was an opportunity not to be turned down.

I stood at the back of the room, watching not just the slapstick antics of the shadow figures, but the larger scene of Mary and the children. The same light which turned cardboard cut outs into shadow figures also illuminated Mary’s face from below. Both Mary and the children were completely focused on the shadow play as it wound to its comic ending. The Children laughed with delight as one of the figures went head first into the river.

“I want to see it again!” Patch declared
“Me too!” said Gleek.
Mary laughed and re-set the stage for an encore performance. My older two kids wandered off, but the younger set laughed again as the figures moved through the now-familiar play. Once the play wound to a close, Mary invited the kids behind her screen to see how the puppets worked.

“You hold these two little rods in one hand and roll this one between your fingers so it moves his leg.” said Mary as she demonstrated.
Gleek hardly waited for Mary to finish before she took the puppet and tried it for herself. Patch claimed the other figure, delighted that he could make the little guy pound away with his axe. Mary saw that the kids were exploring the possibilities of the puppets and stepped back to stand with me.

“Tra la la!” said Patch
“Is this the road to London?” Gleek chimed right in. As we watched the two kids do an impromptu encore performance of the play they just watched. Mary and I stood silent and smiling until the ending arrived for the third time.

“If you have cardboard and a shower curtain, you can make a stage like this.” Mary said quietly to me. “Then they could make their own puppets.”

This second prospect was so enticing that I went and fetched cardboard right away. Mary was struck with the idea of making a little puppet Schlock. She settled at the kitchen counter and began to sketch and cut. Gleek wandered over and decided to make a puppet of her own. I fetched supplies and cut coat hangers for rods. Puppets were made and tested behind Mary’s screen. All too soon it was time for Mary to leave.

“One more time!” pleaded the kids. Mary was kind enough to comply, this time there was a difference. She used the Schlock puppet in place of the second little man.

The little cardboard Schlock is still on my counter even though Mary is now gone. I keep picking him up and using the coat hanger rod to make him wave. When I do I think about the joy and magic that can be created out of a few household supplies. The little Schlock makes me happy every time I see him. We will be making our own shadow stage and puppets.

2 thoughts on “Shadow Puppets with Mary Robinette Kowal”

  1. Dear Mary we are trying to create a wave effect we would like to know if there is any way we can do it through Shadow puppets. Have you done any stories that involved a sea or storm in your performance.

    Thanks for your time.
    Jithin & Anu

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