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Stephen Lieto's Blog

Nori Sawa Workshop Fun & Games

My conviction that my job is super cool just went to a whole new level.  Last week I received the nickname “Prince of Fire” from master puppeteer Nori Sawa during a playful workshop at Northwestern University’s Louis Theater.  A group of students and local puppeteers from the Chicagoland area broke up into small teams and immediately started to implement a couple of core shadow puppetry concepts communicated by the energetic and humorous Sawa.  The assignment was to pick any fairytale or folk lore and make a short shadow performance of it. 

Our primary objectives were to make and utilize a moving joint, integrate live performance, experiment with the creative implementation of colored cellophane and most importantly, to try as much as we plan.  One of the delightful discoveries was discovering that some ideas that seemed like they would work very well, did not; and some things that seemed too easy or like they might not work, came to life very well.  While the workshop lasted for over two hours, the time flew by and hardly seemed like enough time when under the tutelage of someone with such an immense body of knowledge and experience.  I am still recalling Nori’s instructions and realizing that as the lightning bolts were thrown in the piece I helped create, we should have been yelling “KA-ZAAAM!!”  You can’t hear it on this video but Nori was in the background coaching us to vocalize.  Ah, hindsight is 20/20.  The day was rich in fun and knowledge and I’m sure we all found different lessons from our experience. 

As groups we chose the Greek tale of Icarus, the myth of Prometheus and the fairy tale of the Little Mermaid. 

This first video had wonderful application of fabrics that added texture and shading.  It would have been quite difficult to attain this look if only hand cutting paper or cellophane.  We also see the inclusion of multiple moving joints and cut out frames that create positively beautiful shapes in their negative space. 


This video also utilized subtle fabrics, rich colors and has more of a playful interaction between the shadow puppet and live performer. 


This last piece demonstrates the use of clear strings taped to cellophane shapes and pulled across the projector screen to camouflage the origins of its movement. 

Here is a picture of our gracious workshop host, Nori, wearing the Prince of Fire’s crown of flames.

It was a fun day and workshops like this are an amazing benefit to hosting great international performers at the Chicago Humanities Festival’s Stages, Sights & Sounds.  A big thanks to all that performed, attended, and supported Stages this year.  Keep an eye out for Stages, Sights & Sounds 2013: it’s sure to hold just as much fun, entertainment, and exceptional opportunities to see extraordinary performances and work with amazing performers! 

For a taste of Nori’s shadow puppet skills and general antics check out the video below.    


Some more pictures for your viewing pleasure! 






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