On March 1, puppets will invade Xavier Hall’s Studio Theatre. It can reasonably be assumed that most college students may not immediately accept this fact as exciting. One may be wondering why Saint Louis University students would want to see a Friday night puppet show. But a closer look into the unique upcoming show “Mukashi Mukashi: Asian Tales From Long Ago,” challenges these preconceived notions and poses the real question: Why not?
A combination of ancient Japanese and Chinese folklore, “Mukashi Mukashi” redefines the conventional ideas of a puppet show into a sophisticated cultural art form. The play was created and directed by SLU alumna Louise Hung. Following her 2004 graduation from SLU, Hung continued her studies at the University of California at Los Angeles graduate school and completed “Mukashi Mukashi” as her final project in obtaining a Master of Fine Arts. As a proud Billiken, Hung expressed her excitement in returning to her roots. “Being a SLU theater alumna and being able to bring this here is like a dream come true. I’ve taken the skills I’ve learned at SLU, I went to graduate school, and the work ethic I learned here definitely carried throughout my professional career.”
With an original premiere at the nationally-acclaimed Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, “Mukashi Mukashi” earned widespread credibility in its field as it toured elementary schools in the Los Angeles area. Now, SLU has the opportunity to showcase the well-renowned work of its graduate, as well as current student talents in the creation and production of this unique show.
Given that the show was created to engage a young audience, “Mukashi Mukashi” embodies a total sensory storytelling experience with live music, expressive acting and an ornate display of set and costume artistry. According to Hung, “The form the students are working in now is very physically active, very rhythmic, it’s all live sound. It’s asking the students to work in a very presentational way, in a very bold way that typically you don’t always see in a college atmosphere.”
SLU’s theater department has been working around the clock to develop the necessary elements do a show of this nature justice. Set designers created three main puppets specifically for this show. The puppets will be operated manually by their student actors and represent the play’s main storyteller, a giant carp and the largest, an 8-foot-tall King of the Underworld. Additionally, the set was specially designed for Xavier Hall’s Studio Theatre space to accommodate the shadow puppet sequences of the show. Illuminated screens will allow actors to operate silhouetted shadow puppets on sticks, originally designed and constructed by another SLU alumnus, Scott Schoonover. As an artist specializing in mask making, Schoonover obtained a Master of Fine Arts from University of Iowa and even travelled to Bali as part of his cultural and artistic research of masks. Through the work of such dedicated individuals, audiences will gain a total Asian cultural immersion.
“Mukashi Mukashi” presents a completely acceptable and encouraged opportunity to immerse oneself in another culture through its values, art and stories, as well as an opportunity to appreciate the work and talents of former and current SLU students. Step out of your comfort zone, see the show, embrace your inner child and obtain an unparalleled cultural experience.
The show opens this Friday, March 1, with a 7 p.m. show in Xavier Hall’s Studio Theatre. Tickets are $5 for students and adults, but free for children under 10 years old. Performances will also take place on Saturday, March 2 at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., as well as a 1 p.m. matinee on Sunday, March 3.