MANILA, March 27, 2021 – National Artist Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio’s Papet Pasyon, the puppet play about the life of Christ and His Passion, is set to stage on March 28, 2021 at 3pm, via the Facebook pages of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Arts and Letters and Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas.
Since 1985, Papet Pasyon has been opening up horizons for audiences of all ages, bringing them the story of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection using different art forms connected to our culture: puppetry, senakulo, and pasyon. Lapeña-Bonifacio, known as Lola Amel to the children who have seen the puppets come to life, grew up admiring these forms of culture, and wanting to share them to the new generation, wrote and directed the first Papet Pasyon.
After 36 years, this is the first time Lola Amel would not be in the audience to applaud the performance; nonetheless Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas continues to stage it to remind Filipinos of their rich culture and traditions, inspire in new generations a love for their faith and heritage, and remember fondly the Grand Dame of Southeast Asian Children’s Theater.
AMELIA LAPEÑA-BONIFACIO (4 April 1930 – 29 December 2020) has dedicated her lifetime in search of and in propagating literature and theater forms reflective of Asian and Philippine roots. Well-respected in the Philippines and other countries, she has taught, inspired and encouraged women and young artists in the fields of literature and theater.
She pioneered in the study of Philippine Zarzuela in Bulacan publishing THE “SEDITIOUS” TAGALOG PLAYWRIGHTS: EARLY AMERICAN OCCUPATION and cited by the Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia as “the first book on Philippine Theatre.” This study inspired seven researches on Philippine Theater in various regions by members of the U.P. Department of English and Comparative Literature and other books on drama.
She started writing plays for adults in the 1950s but the lack of storybooks in Filipino and educational shows in the 1970s, a time when she was raising her own child, made her decide to concentrate on writing for children. She was one of the first writers to introduce and promote children’s and Asian literature. Due to her exposure to Asian theater forms, she was inspired to introduce the various forms to the Filipino audience through her Japanese-inspired plays like Ang Paglalakbay ni Sisa (The Journey of Sisa) and Si Juan at ang kanyang Madyik na Sombrero (Juan and his Magic Hat). Theater scholar and Asian Theatre Journal editor Kathy Foley recognizes her as the one responsible for the Asianization of Philippine theater.
She also introduced six plays for children, all based on Philippine folktales, in her book, ANIM NA DULANG PILIPINO PARA SA BATA (Six Filipino Plays for Children) published in 1976. She has written significant plays such as ABADEJA: ANG ATING SINDERELA (Abadeja: Our Cinderella), SITA & RAMA: PAPET RAMAYANA (Sita & Rama: Ramayana in Puppetry), and DALAWANG BAYANI (TWO HEROES) which introduce Filipino audiences to Philippine and Asian sensibilities. PAPET PASYON (THE PASSION PLAY IN PUPPETRY) is the Philippines’ 1stsenakulo for children, premiered in 1985 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and continues to be staged every Palm Sunday.
Her exposure to various theater forms in Southeast Asia and Japan inspired her to introduce the art of puppetry to the Filipino children. After the successful staging of Abadeja: Ang Ating Sinderela in 1977, she established TEATRONG MULAT NG PILIPINAS. Her main goal was to awaken the Filipino children to the beauty and richness not only of their own culture, but of still unfamiliar Asian cultures. She chose the word “mulat”, which means to open, to awaken her audiences to the Philippine and Asian stories and theater.
Fascinated by the Indonesian wayang golek (rod puppet) and wayang kulit (shadow puppet) and the Japanese bunraku (a puppet manipulated by three puppeteers), she infused Asian and Philippine designs to the puppets, costumes and other art works. She has collaborated with established and young artists in the creation of Mulat’s puppet shows. She discovered a prominent woodcarver in Paete, Laguna, Justino Cagayat (and later on his son, Paloy) who agreed to carve the puppet heads, hands, and feet for the various puppet shows of Mulat. In its 43 years of existence, Mulat has been recognized as a pioneering puppet group not only in the Philippines and Southeast Asia but in other parts of the world. All these efforts have resulted in the creation of a new Puppet Theater Tradition in the Philippines.
In 1985, she established UNIMA-Pilipinas or the Philippine Center of the international puppet organization UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionnette) to help promote puppetry in the Philippines and introduce Philippine puppetry to the world.
AMELIA LAPEÑA-BONIFACIO is an educator, artist, and a mother who has nurtured young artists. Similar to the Asian tradition of passing on one’s knowledge to a family member, she has influenced her daughter, Amihan, son-in-law, Raymund, and two grandchildren, Aina and Roel, to join her in popularizing the art of puppetry.
After the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991, AMELIA LAPEÑA-BONIFACIO wrote to Nissan Motors Japan to request for a van that could be used for outreach performances particularly in the provinces affected by the eruption. The donation by the NISSAN ROREN Worker’s Union proved to be valuable since it gave the opportunity for Mulat to travel to various places. Mulat has effectively extended meaningful educational children’s theater to various preschools, grade and high schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, orphanages and other institutions in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao through puppet-making workshops and/or performances.
She is also a visionary, wanting to have a place for children. Mulat received requests from schools to come over to UP and watch a puppet show. They were accommodated in various auditoriums in the UP Campus. For smaller groups, she built a small puppet theater in the garden next to their cottage in Mabini St. with a seating capacity of 50. When the family transferred to Teacher’s Village in 1989, she used their garage for an audience of 75. In 1993, she and her husband purchased an old house, still in Teacher’s Village, and converted the 1st floor to a puppet theatre with a seating capacity of 100 and the 2nd floor to a museum for puppets, dolls and masks. With much determination, she acquired a grant from President V. Ramos, which was implemented during the term of President Joseph Estrada, to build a three-storey building on the lot. Hence, the establishment of the AMELIA LAPEÑA-BONIFACIO TEATRO PAPET MUSEO–the very first children’s theatre and puppet museum in the Philippines.
Malaysian professor and theatre critic Krishen Jit dubbed LAPEÑA-BONIFACIO as “The Grande Dame of SE Asian Children’s Theatre” since “there is no puppet master in Asia that has so successfully synthesized the myriad and rich puppet traditions of the region towards a construction of a pan-Asian contemporary theatre form and content… a shining example of a completely committed theatre person dedicated to excellence and innovation.”
For her exemplary intellectual achievement and distinctive contribution to the development and promotion of the art of puppetry in the Philippines, the University of the Philippines recognized her as the MOTHER OF PHILIPPINE PUPPETRY (2010) and was conferred the title National Artist for Theater, the country’s highest recognition for artists, in 2018.
Puppetry has been part of Thailand’s art practices since the 15th century. The earliest writing about Thai puppetry was written by an envoy of Louis XIV of France named Bishop Tachard who visited Ayutthaya in 1685 and it is probable that the art form has existed even 300 years before the arrival of foreign ships.
There are four major categories when it comes to exploring Thailand’s puppet theatre — Central Thai’s court and popular performances, regional genres influenced by Malaysia (South) and Laos (Northeast), and contemporary puppet theatre.
Types of Thai Puppets
Hun Lakorn Lek
One of the most popular types of puppetry, hun lakorn lek, is a form created by Master Krae Sapthavanich and later revived by Master Sakorn Youngkhiewsod, or better known as Joe Louis. His puppet troupe, the Joe Louis Thai Puppet Theatre is greatly associated with this type of puppet and still performs up to this day.
Hun lakorn lek puppets are manipulated by three people, similar to the Japanese bunraku puppets. One puppeteer holds the head and right hand, another holds the left hand, and the third one holds the feet. Rods are connected to the hands that also contain a mechanism in order to make the fingers move. In this practice, the puppeteers hold the puppet higher than their heads when performing as a sign of respect, since most of the characters they portray are gods and goddesses. When watching their performances, another noticeable aspect is how the puppeteers synchronize their movements to the puppets, making dance a second skill to their puppetry.
Hun Luang and Hun Yai
Hun Luang (royal puppets) and Hun Yai (big puppets) are types of puppets that are most often seen in court performances. The last time these puppets were performed was during the royal cremation of King Rama IX last October 26, 2017. Before that, it was not seen for 150 years, the last time being King Rama IV’s funeral in 1868.
These royal puppets (hun luang) are intricately made of wood, and are placed on top of wooden poles which are connected to the waist of the puppeteers. Twenty (20) pieces of strings are attached to the limbs and are manipulated from below the puppets. Each puppet stands for about 1 meter and weighs around 3-5 kilograms varying on their costumes.
Hun krabok developed as part of the popular performance genre of puppetry. The puppets are made from either wood or papier mache and are attached to a bamboo pole that will serve as its spine. Large pieces of cloth serve as costumes and the actual body of the puppet, and attached at their hands are rods for manipulation.
Nang means ‘leather’. Nang yai is a large shadow puppet made of cow or buffalo skin. Similar to Cambodia’s sbek thom, two poles are found at both ends of the puppet and are held above the head by the puppeteer. Each character is made into one shadow piece.
This type of puppet is usually performed in large open spaces where a large light source or bonfire is present, and the shadows are projected upon big screens or walls. The puppeteers also express the characters’ actions or emotions through dance.
Deriving its name from Pattalung, a city in southern Thailand, nang talung is a smaller puppet with movable parts. This is shadow puppet is similar to the Indonesian wayang kulit.
The Philippines has little local puppet tradition to draw on. During the late 19th century, there were shadow play performances called carrillo which means “small cart.” Carrillo is also known as potei, kikimut and titire in Pampanga (a province in Central Luzon).
The higante (giant), which is similar to the mascots or big puppets, lead the procession during the Higantes Festival, also known as the Feast of San Clemente, celebrated every November 23 in Angono, Rizal. San Clemente is the patron saint of fishermen. Leading the procession are three higantes—father, mother and child—with the body made from bamboo, the head from papier mache. The costumes are bright and colourful, and the hands are always on the waist. Each higante is controlled by one person who is inside the body of the higante.
In the late 1930s, film actor-director Manuel Conde introduced ventriloquism through his puppet Kiko. At present, Kiko is owned by Jun Urbano, also a ventriloquist, an actor and a film director.
Puppetry became popular with the introduction of Jim Henson’s “Sesame Street” in the 1970s.
Groups inspired by the muppets were the Alsa Balutan Puppet Group Inc. (founded by Tessie Ordoña, 1976), National Media Production Center (headed by Lolit Aquino, 1978) which later became the Black Theater of Manila and now known as the PIA (Philippine Information Agency) Puppet Theater, Roppets Edutainment Production Inc. (founded by Danny Liwanag, 1987) and the Quezon City Public Library Puppeteers.
The Anino Shadowplay Collective (founded in 1992 by students of the Philippine High School for the Arts) specializes in shadow puppetry while Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas (founded by Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, 1977) ventures into rod and shadow puppetry and the bunraku technique.
Another group that practices the art of bunraku is the University of the Philippines Center for International Studies (UPCIS) Bunraku Ensemble led by Dr. Jina Umali. Members of the ensemble are given the opportunity to undergo intensive training with the women puppeteers of the Naoshima Onna Bunraku in Naoshima, Japan.
Ventriloquism, or the art of ‘throwing one’s voice’ was made popular by ventriloquists Ony Carcamo and Wanlu. They perform with their puppet or known as a ‘dummy’. Ony and Wanlu are founding members of the International Ventriloquist Society IVS Philippines, an association which aims to professionalize the art of ventriloquism in the country.
The art scene in Singapore is highly influenced by Chinese and European cultures. World War II led to significant changes, which subject its styles to different phases of transformations and development throughout the decades echoing the country’s multicultural nature. Throughout, it remained to be heterogeneous; a distinctive characteristic of the identity of Singaporean society and culture.
HAND AND GLOVE PUPPETS
The human hands play an essential role in puppet performance and practice, whether to cast shadows on the wall or a screen, to create movements after being concealed by a glove-like material to project a distinct figure, and occasionally through mechanical aid such as strings and rods.
Hand or glove puppets are some of the major classifications of puppet performance and practice. However, the contemporary puppet theatre community considers the bare-hand puppetry and glove puppetry as distinctly different puppet practices.
Because of its portability, hand puppetry and glove puppetry are the most widely known form of puppetry in the world. Countries vary in origins, design, and characteristics of their hand and glove puppets and practices. Bare-hand puppetry, which utilizes minimal to no props, is pure mime and by its name, uses the hand alone as puppet itself.
In glove puppetry, the hand and the forearm are concealed with materials formed to create a figure, from simple crafted everyday materials to meticulously sculpted faces and designed costumes. In Asia, Chinese glove puppets (also known as potehi) vary according to region. The glove puppet masters are usually working in relatively small puppets, with loose sleeves for agility and flexible handling of props such as weapons and sticks.
During the first half of the 16th century, the Taungoo Dynasty was born. Together with Taungoo kings, they gave birth to key administrative and economic reforms that made Konbaung Dynasty — the other half of the dynasty that reigned during the 16th century– prosperous. It also took the title of being one of the most literate states in Asia at that time. It is said that the traditional Burmese string puppet started sometime in the 11th century. The wooden puppets served to entertain the Burmese royals during that time. [1, 2]
It usually takes 20 days for the making of a complete dressed Burmese puppet. A wooden doll that has strings attached on every joint of it including the puppet’s eyebrows to help manipulate the emotions of the puppet. Before people performed marionettes with 60 strings on it but as time passed it was reduced to 12 strings per puppet. Their dresses are made from hand-stitched costumes with gold thread or embroidery. There are 28 main characters in traditional Burmese puppet shows, ranging from gods, animals, monsters, and royals. [3 4]
Traditional Burmese Puppet troupes traveled from one place to another to tell stories, perform songs, dance and even inform villagers of court intrigues and politics. This art form that was made for the entertainment of royalties became a revolution that changed the perspective of people during that time.
Indonesia is one of the countries in Asia with a rich culture when it comes to puppetry. Java is considered the center of the Indonesian struggle for independence during the 1930s and 1940s. It is also considered one of the most cultural heritage sites that have been rebuilt. It became an edge for Java to acknowledge their island and put it on the map.
Wayang (meaning shadow) is the most known and old puppetry art form in Indonesia. The Dalang, or the puppet master, manipulates the Wayang, serves as the storyteller, gives voice to all the puppets, and also leads the Gamelan, the traditional musical ensemble.
There are different types of Wayang:
Wayang Kulit – flat, leather shadow puppet
Wayang Golek – three-dimensional, wooden rod puppet
Wayang Klitik – flat wooden puppet
Wayang Beber – long, painted paper scroll
Stories portrayed in Wayang are from the Hindu epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and cultural legends of Indonesia. Aside from being a source for entertainment, Wayang tradition paves its way as another form of passing information, used for teaching, and philosophical understanding.
Today, puppetry in Indonesia is made more creative by meeting contemporary Indonesia’s traditional characters and adding humor to the lines to make the stories more entertaining and educational for the kids.
Formerly known as the Khmer Empire, the Kingdom of Cambodia has a prolific heritage of intangible arts. Sbaek in Khmer or the Cambodian puppet theatre utilizes shadow puppets and has been performed in Cambodia for thousands of years. Before the Khmer Rouge regime, the system virtually eradicated the art of puppet theatre, education, and many arts and cultural forms.
Shinsunako; “Rama riding Hanuman”
There are three types of Cambodian shadow puppets:
Sbek Thom, is the large shadow puppet similar to the Thai nang yai. It is made from buffalo hide and usually painted. The performance features Reamker, the Cambodian version of the Indian epic, Ramayana. Sbek Thom is considered a sacred art form in Cambodia.
Sbek Toch, on the other hand, is closely related to the Thai nang talung. It is smaller, with movable parts, and made from leather hide.
A third type of shadow puppet is Sbek Por which is made from colored leather hide.
Shadow Puppetry is something that people in Cambodia care for. It represents the history of their country and reflects the rich culture of Cambodia. This is one of the main reasons why are theatre companies around Cambodia that still cater to this kind of puppetry.
Japan has been known for practicing one of the oldest traditions of puppetry known as bunraku. A certified UNESCO intangible cultural heritage, bunraku was birthed in Osaka during the Edo period to serve as entertainment for commoners, and later evolved into artistic theatre in the 17th century.
Made from Japanese cypress wood, bunraku puppets are about one half life-size manipulated by three puppeteers. Typically, the master puppeteer (omo zukai)would hold the head and right arm, while two other puppeteers would hold the left arm (hidari zukai) and the feet (ashi zukai).
Puppeteers usually take 10 years to master one segment of the puppet starting with the feet before moving on to the left arm and then the head and right arm. Traditionally, one would need to dedicate a lifetime to master this art of puppetry.
These puppets typically do not have strings, instead they have wooden handles for each body part. Strings are sometimes added as mechanisms for the eyebrows, eyelids, eyes and mouth, to help the puppet show more expression. There may also be some mechanism for the hands in order for the puppet to grasp an object. These additional mechanisms are added depending on the movement needed from the puppet.
When performing bunraku, the puppeteers are still seen by the audience on stage dressed in all black to symbolize their invisibility, at the same time the energy they provide to make the puppets come to life. This practice is called the transferring of souls. In addition to that, since the puppets are quite large, the puppeteer holding the head would need to wear geta or elevated slippers made of wood. It is worn to help the puppeteers in manipulating the puppet so that they would not need to slouch too much because of the higher level of the puppet.
Bunraku now is still very much popular among locals and tourists, and the traditional form is still being practiced up until today. Throughout the years, puppet theatre groups that have modernized the traditional practice have also emerged in the country.