Shadow Puppetry: Bringing the Art of Silhouette Theatre Into Your Home (on a rainy day)

Shadow puppetry is a unique art form with a history going back at least 2000 years. The earliest practices emerged in China and India, featuring such themes as legends and myths, and stories from religious traditions. The art also flourished in other regions including Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and eventually to Europe where the cutting out of silhouettes in the 1800s became a popular activity.

The concept of shadow puppetry took a new leap in the early twentieth century thanks to the pioneering work of German film director Lottie Reiniger, who created over 40 animated films using the technique, including one of her most notable, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). While shadow puppets may not enjoy the same popularity today as in centuries past, it is an engaging art form that can be enjoyed by all ages. As people cope with the challenges of staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a shadow puppet show is a great way for children and families to exercise their creativity and explore a wide range of themes, characters and stories together.

The concept of shadow puppetry took a new leap in the early twentieth century thanks to the pioneering work of German film director Lottie Reiniger, who created over 40 animated films using the technique, including one of her most notable, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). While shadow puppets may not enjoy the same popularity today as in centuries past, it is an engaging art form that can be enjoyed by all ages. As people cope with the challenges of staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a shadow puppet show is a great way for children and families to exercise their creativity and explore a wide range of themes, characters and stories together.

Shadow puppets can be made from a variety of materials found around the home. Traditional figures were often made from leather, but many household items can also be used including paper and cardboard (old cereal boxes are great), plastic (clear and coloured), wood, feathers, different types of fabrics, and more.  

To get you started, here are some links to videos on building your own shadow puppet show, as well as other resources on the art itself. The artistic  possibilities are endless, and we hope you’ll share some of your creations with us on our Facebook page. As you will see, the puppets can range from simple shapes to more sophisticated creations, and can tell stories from favourite fairy tales to ones you make up.

This last one is more complex and can be used by older youth, artists, and more experienced puppet makers looking for a challenge.

Here are some examples of shadow puppet shows from different cultures: 

Finally, here are a couple of resources to provide the historical context for the art of shadow puppetry: