Dr. Robin Ruizendaal earned a Ph.D. In Chinese studies from Leiden University, Holland, and has been involved in research on puppet theatre for twenty years, including extensive fieldwork in China and South-East Asia. He is also the Director of the Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum and Artistic Director of the Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company. We spoke to him recently regarding the current position of puppet theatre in Taiwan, the role of the museum and his own passion for the beauty and elegance of Asian puppetry.
What is the current position of puppet theatre in Taiwan?
Taiwanese traditional puppet theatre consist of shadow, string and glove puppets, and 95% of the companies belong to the latter. It is music theatre (musicians always outnumber the performers), usually performed as part of a religious celebration. At present the are over 300 professional glove puppet theatre companies. The are also a dozen modern and experimental puppet theatre companies. In 2006, puppet theatre was selected as the most representative symbol of Taiwan. There is a puppet theatre television channel, which is very popular. Puppet theatre was originally for a male adult audience, but watched by women as well. There are no traditional children’s shows. The puppets do not interact with the audience.
What role does the museum play?
The museum has the most complete collection of Asian theatre puppets in the world. It goal is to preserve, restore and promote this Asian heritage through exhibitions, performances, workshops, a traveling museum and special courses. We share data, photos and videos of performances.
What is your personal passion for and connection to Asian puppet theatre?
I was touched by the beauty and elegance of the performances, the music and the religious significance that is lost in Europe. Asian puppet theatre goes back to the very religious roots of the puppet and that makes it exciting. The gods are still on stage and work their magic!
Where do you see the future of puppet theatre in Taiwan in the next decade?
The puppet theatre will remain popular, thanks to religious temple festivals and television. National creative puppet competitions for elementary and high school student are huge and every year in the finals 120 schools take part. In both traditional and modern categories, it is a ten day event. There is no puppet school, but there are government sponsored master courses that last three years. It is my hope that more modern companies will be formed and ‘The Close to You’ festival caters every year to experimental puppet object theatre from Taiwan and abroad.
Further information regarding the role of puppetry in Taiwanese culture can be seen in the video “The World’s A Stage: Puppets, Identity, and Politics in Taiwan” by Dr. Robin Ruizendaal, available on YouTube.
Interview by Emma Windsor
Based in Taipei, Taiwan, the Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of traditional Asian puppet culture. The Museum aims to become a puppet educational center, as well as provide a stage for puppetry from all of the Asia-Pacific area and promote interactions between local and international puppet troupes. To find out more about the Museum, visit the website: www.taipeipuppet.com