Bringing new life to traditional glove puppet theater with passion and creativity

A group of puppet enthusiasts starting out puppet-making out of interest are using their craftwork and performances to shine on the world's stage.

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SamadhiTang Creative Puppet Group

SamadhiTang Creative Puppet Group (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – SamadhiTang Creative Puppet Troupe (三昧堂創意木偶團隊) is a glove puppet theater troupe formed not by professional puppeteers or puppet makers, but by a group of enthusiasts whose love of puppetry has helped bring this traditional form of Taiwanese art to the international stage.

Glove puppetry, originated in the 17th century in the Fujian province of China, became popular later in Taiwan, and while maintaining the tradition of the art, it has undergone various changes in terms of design, materials, crafting, and performances in the country.

Founded in 2011 in Chiayi County with members' background ranging from university assistant professor, TV director, factory worker, and so on, SamadhiTang started out as a group gathering together for their common interest and to try to create puppets on their own.

They make all the puppets themselves, from puppet designing, wood carving, custom stitching and styling, weaponry crafting, and even characters and story setting. As of 2016, they had made more than 140 puppets.

Their debut exhibition at Chiayi’s Koji Pottery Museum in 2011 proved successful and quickly brought them into the limelight. Afterwards, they started to receive invitations to exhibit their work from museums and organizations at home and abroad.

Yen Jen-hung (嚴仁鴻), marketing executive at SamadhiTang, told the Central News Agency that the group began putting on performances in 2012, with only Wang Wen-chih (王文志) manipulating the puppets in the beginning.

The other members, due to lack of skills in manipulating puppets, started to receive training from Wang’s father, Wang Chin-kuei (王進貴), who is the director of Yun Lung Ke Glove Puppet Theater Troupe (雲龍閣掌中劇團) and has had 35 years of experience in glove puppetry.

Wang Chin-kuei said the puppets created by the SamadhiTang team were very exquisite and of high quality, but their skills in puppet manipulation still had a lot of room to improve, and hence he decided to pass on his experience to the team, and train each member to become puppeteers.

Following the instructions of the director, Yen said, the team was able to give a 90-minute performance on their own by now, and their performances, along with exhibitions, had been staged in Asia and Europe.

The charm and uniqueness of their performance also lie in the prelude they prepare for each show. As insisted by Wang Chin-kuei, the prelude is a ceremony informing the gods about the upcoming performance. Each god appearing on the stage represents some meaning, such as good luck or good fortune.

Since the team would present the prelude in the native language of the country where they performed, they always brought a lot of surprise and joy to the audience.

Wang Wen-chih said he had found that some of the foreign audience appeared to be even more fascinated by their performances than the Taiwanese audience.

In the hope of passing on the Taiwanese puppet art to the younger generations, SamadhiTang, teamed up with Chiayi Performing Arts Center, organized a workshop on puppet manipulation a while ago. The workshop is said to be so popular that the registration was full shortly after the announcement had come out.

Therefore, the group decided to hold two more workshops for those who are interested in puppetry. The workshops are scheduled for October 7 and 14 at Wenzo Ursuline University of Languages.

With the commitment to puppetry and success they have enjoyed so far, SamadhiTang is set to continue using the craftwork in their hands to bring marvels to the greater audience around the world.