Traditional and Post-Traditional Wayang Kulit in Java Today

Authored by: Matthew Isaac Cohen

The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance

Print publication date:  July  2014
Online publication date:  July  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415705400
eBook ISBN: 9781315850115
Adobe ISBN: 9781317911722


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Claims of authenticity and antiquity are attached to puppet theatres worldwide, particularly by advocates seeking patronage from heritage bodies, income from the tourist trade, or a sense of legitimacy and purpose in response to dwindling audiences. However, all we know about puppet theatre indicates that traditions are never, in fact, static but require constant revamping for contemporary audiences and changing performance contexts. Even forms that appear on the surface to be stagnant or inert, such as fusty American holiday marionette shows, the state-subsidized Bunraku company of Japan, or the ritual-bound shadow puppet theatres of India such as tōgalugōmbeaṭṭa (Singh 1999), are, in fact, constantly being renewed and altered in sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic ways. Innovation is not tradition’s opposite; change is required to keep tradition vital and meaningful as sociologist Edward Shils (1981)long ago emphasized.

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