Today we had a full day working with the group from Fujian who performed yesterday. They taught hand puppet techniques and worked on a hand puppet scene. The scene actually didn’t involve any horses or monkeys, and as the day went on the puppets we were using as stand ins gradually got replaced by the real characters’ puppets which were being sewn together and built while we practiced. I was very confused. There was a lot of Fujian dialect spoken, which I couldn’t understand even slightly. When they switched to Mandarin to explain things I was too slow to even notice, and had to rely on a simple Cantonese translation from Wong Sifu (although I understand some Mandarin I really can’t switch between the two). This contributed even further to my confusion.
Anyway, the scene involved a group of girls, and a guy with a ball on a stick. I wish I knew what it was all about. I have no idea who my own character was – I think he’s the husband of the old woman with the fan who fights with the ball guy, but I’m not entirely sure. The ball guy was initially played by a horse (pictured). Michelle never resolved who she was meant to be; she was still using a monkey in the end. We spent a long time in the afternoon teaching one of the guys (who was teaching us) how to do the ball-guy. I think this was largely an attempt to prevent him from chain smoking.
Chinese Hand Puppets
There are a few variations in which one of the puppet’s hands is controlled with a stick in the puppeteer’s left hand while the puppet is placed on the right hand. The left hand can also control the legs directly (no rods). The first finger is placed inside the head, and the middle, third and fourth fingers all inside the right arm. The thumb can either operate the left arm, or grasp the bottom of the head to turn or tilt it combined with the first finger. Walking motion etc. is created by walking and moving the whole body, not just the puppet. Puppets’ hands are either jointed (so they flick) or solid and hollow to hold a stick. The stick is fixed in the left hand and slides through the right.