Shadow theater


The shadow theater , also known by the name of shadow puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment using action figures flat or puppets to create cut – outs that are held between a light source and screen or mesh translucent . Puppet cutout shapes sometimes include translucent colors or other types of details. Various motion effects can be achieved both the puppet and the light source. A talented puppeteer can make figures appear to walk, dance, fight, nod, and laugh.


What is shadow theater?

Shadow theater is a show or spectacle in which a series of optical effects are generated by means of figures and hands, performing movements that produce figures of animals , things and human beings .

  • What is shadow theater
  • features
  • Source
  • History
  • Types of figures for shadow theater
  • Plays
  • Importance
  • How to make a shadow theater

What is shadow theater

The shadow theater consists of the projection of different puppets that have movement in front of a background that has been illuminated in order to provoke a sensation of movement. It is a resource that is used to be able to tell stories , invent or adapt them .



Probably among its most important characteristics is the simplicity they present, the presentation of auditory effects that accentuate the feeling of the scenes. It presents specific characters within the work, because it only expresses itself through shadows, it does not have a large number of characters .

It has the ability to generate visual effects through light sources that are projected onto a smooth, white surface. It usually uses a screen and a wall . Use the language of images to incite creation and imagination .


We can say that the origin of the shadow theater is located in prehistory , when the man who inhabited the planet made shadows using his hands and his body in front of the fire in the caves. During the 4th century BC, the shadows acquire a character of reference on the reality of the human.


Shadow theater is considered the oldest way of making and representing puppets in the world. It started about 1000 years ago in China and India . In China, shadows usually represent folk tales and legends from the past, many of them based on themes from Chinese opera . In Indonesia, shadow games are an integral part of traditional culture . The works are taken from two religious epics where there is usually a fight between good and evil. Also in countries like Turkey and GreeceRecords of a shadow puppet story have been found , in which the plays are based on everyday life and contain much physical comedy .

In Western Europe , shadow theater was quite popular during the 1800s, when the art of cutting silhouettes out of paper was in vogue. In 1926, the German shadow puppeteer Lotte Reiniger managed to make the first full-length animated film which was known as The Adventures of Prince Achmet.

Types of figures for shadow theater

There are several types of figures that can be used in shadow theater, we will mention them below.

Flat figures

This is the type of figure that is most used in this type of theater. They have a profile and have the ability to be very expressive . Among the flat figures we can mention:

  • Black silhouette: they have great expressiveness due to the outline , it shapes a full shadow and can be made of cardboard or wood .
  • Silhouette with perforations : it is a little more difficult to do but they have the ability to combine the black shadow with the light that the figures have. They can project light with cellophane, acetate, and other types of transparencies .
  • Transparent silhouettes : they are translucent figures . They are figures that have a lot of light and are spectacular. It is used to hold metal rods or wooden chopsticks .
  • Mobile figures : they have joints and slides that can humanize the figure, although for this reason they are difficult to build.

Body figures

The shadows or body figures that are used mainly in China are made with the body itself , and are mainly made using the hands . The screens when using the body figures are larger in order to allow the body to move freely.


Some of the main shadow plays:

  • Malaika, The Princess : It is a digital animation and the music was made with voices. It was written by Lizardo Carvajal and aborts the theme of death.
  • Tales of the night : is a compilation of stories about princes and princesses. Directed by Michele Ocelot.
  • Barracuda’s Treasure
  • A Piece of Moon
  • The prince who did not know how to play
  • Tales of Few Lights


Regardless of whether black , perforated, transparent or bodily silhouettes are used , shadow theater is very important because it serves to discover new educational methods and to be able to shape the expressiveness of children. It helps to promote creative abilities , the development of their plastic skills , their qualities such as imagination , observation and creativity , teamwork and the development of emotional education .

How to make a shadow theater


  • cardboard box for example of shoes
  • white tissue paper
  • black cardboard
  • skewer sticks
  • scissors, cutter
  • Scotch tape
  • optional: cardboard, markers


  • If a shoe box is used , only one window should be cut to the bottom. If the box is very deep it can be cut so that it is about 10 or 15 cm. maximum depth.
  • rectangle of tissue paper must be cut out a few centimeters larger than the size of the window and we stick it from the back with the adhesive tape.
  • You can decorate the theater with cardboard figures which we will glue on the edge.
  • We must make the puppets that we will use and we do it by drawing the silhouettes of the characters on black cardboard and then cutting them out.
  • The figures must be recognizable , so it is better to draw the characters in profile .
  • We glue the puppets to the skewer sticks with a piece of adhesive tape .
  • And the most important thing is to place a light source behind the theater, and turn off the lights.
  • Shadows can also be projected on the wall, turning off the general lights and placing a spotlight at a certain distance.
  • The puppets should be placed between the light and the wall.

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