Saturday, July 20, 2024

Japanese folktale features handmade puppets

The world of puppetry comes to life as the Plattsburgh State theatre department brings the first play adaptation of “Tale of the Bamboo Princess.”

“Tale of the Bamboo Princess” follows the moon princess, Kaguya-hime, when she is sent to Earth to be raised by a bamboo cutter and his wife. While her beauty draws suitors, none of them win her heart. Only when she must leave Earth does Kaguya-hime learn about true love and leaves a lasting impact on her adoptive parents and community.

“The play is from ninth and 10th century Japan,” said Collin Moore, a senior and doubling major in theatre and TV and video production.

“What the bamboo cutter and his wife don’t know is that Kaguya-hime grows really fast and is the daughter of Mother Moon. So once she ages, it’s time for her to go see Mother Moon,” Moore said.

This play was originally a Japanese folktale, but director Erika Guay commissioned the folktale and brought it to life as a play.
“I chose the folktale because it’s one of my favorites from my undergrad years,” Guay said.

When Guay isn’t directing, she teaches a puppetry class every other spring.

To transition the folktale to play-form, the theatre department hired Milbre Burch to write the adaptation.

Burch is a Grammy-nominated storyteller. She was the keynote speaker at the National Storytelling Network conference this year in Arizona.

“We spent four to six months putting the play together,” Guay said, referring to her and Burch working together.

Guay said this production is part of a class, which is a three-credit course, Production Workshop, where anyone can audition for the play that is going to premiere.

One of the interesting things about this play is there are no actors in it — all characters are puppets handled by actors who will be cloaked in black so they are invisible to the audience.

The puppets are Bunraku puppets, and it took the first half of the semester to create them.

McNally said they built the puppets from scratch, all the way to gluing on each layer of hair to the puppets’ head.

There are seven large puppets, 40 shadow puppets, which are figures that are placed between light and a screen, and a couple of hand-style puppets.

“We built these puppets,” said Sarah McNally, a sophomore majoring in theatre.

“Everyone helped with everything,” Guay said. “When you’re a puppeteer, you can’t just rely on manipulating a puppet when you don’t know how it’s built.”

“The puppets are made out of cardboard, paper mache and wood,” Moore said.

In the play, there are no set gender roles. Females can play males and vice versa.

“I play Kaguya-hime, Mother Moon, some shadow puppets of suitors and the Bamboo Cutter’s wife,” Moore said.

“I’m in charge of the Bamboo Cutter for half the play, and then at the end I play the emperor,” McNally said. “I also play shadow puppets of the suitors.”

“This is a new type of theater to me,” Moore said. “Not only do I learn how to be a puppeteer, but I also have to learn how to bring my performance energy through the puppet. You have to make the puppet look life-like.”

McNally said while the female puppets have more subtle movements, the males have bigger movements when talking.

McNally said she is really excited to perform in front of a live audience.

“We perform in front of the mirror and see ourselves, but it will be awesome to perform live and get the audience’s reaction to it.”

Following the opening night performance, the theatre department will host a reception with Burch in the Myers Lobby Gallery. They will talk with Burch about her work as a theater artist and her process for the Bamboo Princess.

The “Tale of the Bamboo Princess” will premiere April 30 at 7:30 p.m. in the Hartman Theatre in Myers Fine Arts building. The play will run May 1 and 3 at 7:30 p.m. and May 3 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be bought at

Email Samantha Stahl at

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