in Monasticism, Self-Realization Fellowship

Monks' Halloween: Chinese Shadow Play

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For the 87 monks atop Mt. Washington, Halloween was a time to unleash pent-up energy. The holiday extravaganza gave the SRF monastics license to dazzle the public in the hilltop community in South Pasadena, California. Every Halloween, since the 1970s, monks would create, produce, and perform shows: during the night, 5,000 children, teens, and adults attended.

photo 4In 1998, five monks, myself included, performed the Shadow Play. Monk Bret inspired the idea of creating a shadow play. We then connected with Chen-An Chin, author of two books: ‘Lanchou shadow show’ and ‘Reactivity indices for biomolecules’. Mr. Chin’s hobby was trying to save the dying art of Lanchou shadow puppetry: His full-time job was professor of Chemistry at a University in TX. In Chinatown, only a few miles away from Mt. Washington, lived Mr. Chin’s brother–also an expert in Chinese Shadow Puppetry. Through Chin’s brother we obtained hand-crafted, animal-hide shadow puppets and were instructed in the ancient, dying art of Lanchou shadow puppetry.

Streaming audio: Listen to the Monks’ Halloween shadow puppet show (11:59)

Behind stage, screen, sticks are held to animate puppets

Behind stage, screen, sticks are held to animate puppets

Monks’ Halloween Shadow Play, The Two Precious Gems, was written, performed, and recorded by:

Director, writer: Br*. Bret

Shadow puppetry: Br. Xavier, Br. Cormac, Br.Scott

Voices: Narrator (Br. Bret); Bix (Br. Clive); Carlos (Br. Xavier); Princess (Br. Joe); Tshaktra (Br. Scott); Tiny Demon (Br. Cormac)

Audio production: Br. Jay

*Br. = Brahmachari, an ordained monk in the Hindu tradition, who vows celibacy, simplicity, obedience, loyalty in the Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order.

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swords and other “puppetry” each had their own sticks for puppeteers to hold

Outdoor, puppet stage during the daytime (shadow puppets are used in the dark with a backlit screen)

Outdoor, puppet stage during the daytime (shadow puppets are used in the dark with a backlit screen)

Special thanks to Chen-An Chin and his Los Angeles brother, and to the monks who I may’ve forgot to mention by name but who nevertheless also inspired, created, and staged the Monks’ Halloween Shadow Play.

At night, audience during performance

At night, audience during performance


Watch video about Chinese shadow puppetry

Questions for readers: Ever seen a live shadow play? Puppets from…?

Leave a Reply

  1. Cute.
    Yep — in Indonesia.
    You wrote,

    Br. Bret–former improv actor and anglo-reincarnation of Bruce Lee–

    I guess “Br.” is cult-jargon for “Brother, and you should tell us more about this reincarnation if you are going to drop in the essay — or don’t.

  2. @Sabio: The Indonesian shadow puppets are unique and beautiful works of art. I’d seen the Indonesian style of puppets before the monks found the Lanchou Shadow Puppets that we ended up using for the Play.

    Yes, Br. stands for Brahmachari: A celibate monk, who lives seeking the truth found in Hindu Vedas. I made edits to clarify in my post. Thanks for your comments.

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