Bradford Clark with a Sun Wukong (Monkey) puppet during his trip to China

Bradford Clark with a Sun Wukong (Monkey) puppet during his trip to China

Art of Asian puppetry shines in BGSU’s 'Monkey Storms Heaven'

The Department of Theatre and Film will offer audiences a rare treat with its presentation of “Monkey Storms Heaven,” a puppetry performance created by renowned puppeteer and BGSU faculty member Bradford Clark. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (April 23-25) in the Joe E. Brown Theatre in University Hall.

Villagers in southern China attend a puppet show.

The story for “Monkey Storms Heaven” is loosely based on several tales included in “The Journey to the West,” one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature. Thought to have been authored by Wu Cheng’en, this 16th-century comic novel is based on earlier folk stories, full of farcical domestic interludes, violent battles and satiric characterizations of both gods and men. Clark’s interpretation features the delightful characters of Monkey, Pig and others, brought to life by exquisite puppets designed and sculpted by Clark. In addition to teaching at BGSU, Clark is the curator of collections at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta.

Through the tale of “Monkey Storms Heaven,” audiences will have the chance to experience two major non-Western puppetry techniques: large tabletop figures, each worked by two operators in a style inspired by Japanese puppetry, and shadow puppets inspired by traditional Chinese theatre. Original music will be provided by a live ensemble. Adult audiences are sure to enjoy the battles, transformations and slapstick comedy of this highly theatrical show. Because of its bawdy humor, the production is not suitable for children.

Clark has traveled and studied puppetry extensively in China and Japan. He brings to the production much of what he learned last summer, when he accompanied Dr. Fan Pen Li Chen of SUNY-Albany, a Chinese puppetry consultant; Professor Ye Mingsheng of Fuzhou, China, and his graduate student on a research trek in southern China. “Covering about 7,000 miles in seven weeks, we viewed (and sometimes commissioned) performances by both large, state-supported contemporary puppetry troupes and small, family-run traditional companies,” Clark said. “In major cities and tiny villages (where I might be the first  ‘foreigner’ to ever visit), we attended festivals and private ceremonial performances in family homes. We met with performers, puppet makers and scholars, and photographed collections.”

Chen will visit BGSU this week, working with students and speaking. Before “Monkey Storms Heaven” opens Thursday evening, she will make a public presentation at 6:30 p.m. in 315 Bowen-Thompson Student Union. Among her topics will be religious puppet plays in China.

Clark plans to continue his travels and research in northern China and Sichuan Province this summer.

Single tickets are $12 for students and other adults and $5 for senior citizens over 65. Group rates are available. Contact the theatre box office at 2-2719 for more information or to purchase tickets.

April 20, 2009