Sunday, June 13, 2010

Shadow Puppets

Shadow Puppets

Our last night in Siem Reap we went to the shadow puppet show at the Bayon restaurant. Previous, when we had been staying at a guesthouse, our room window had a view straight across the pool below to the balcony of the Bayon where we could see the back of the shadow puppet show behind the screen. We decided after seeing the show backstage we should see it from the front.

According to
Wikipedia, shadow play is "an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment using opaque...figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images."

I was hard pressed to locate much information specifically about Cambodian shadow puppetry on the internet.
This article at everything2 offered quite a bit of information, though I have no way of telling how reliable it is.

According to the article, there are two types of Cambodian shadow puppetry: Sbeik thom (big skin) and Sbeik touch (small skin). The skin refers to the medium used to create the puppets which are traditionally made from animal hide. When we visited the Roluos temples in Angkor we visited a small workshop where shadow puppets are made. The artists were all young boys who were learning the trade. Each puppet for sale has the name of the artist on the back. When we picked one out to purchase the kid was called up to do the transaction and have his picture taken with is work. According to their instructor each kid received a percentage of each of his sales. I would like to believe that this workshop was more like an extracurricular activity and the kids were learning a useful trade and that it wasn't just a child labor workshop. I have no definitive way of knowing, but it didn't have that sort of sketchy vibe.

Roluos Group

At the Bayon, the puppet show is held on the second-floor balcony. The balcony forms a square around an opening in the middle that looks down on the entryway to the ground-floor restaurant. On the far said of the opening is the screen behind which the performers manipulate the puppets. To the right is the live band that accompanies the show. We were on the opposite side of the opening. As it was low season our group sat at one of only three occupied tables. Before the show began we were given a sheet explaining the plot of the three plays we would see as the dialogue would all be in Khmer.

Shadow Puppets

After the initial novelty of the shadow puppetry had worn off and the marveling at the intricacy of the puppets had passed, we started to discover that it was less than exciting. Additionally, someone at the restaurant thought that in the middle of the puppet performance would be an excellent time to break out a loud garden hose with sprayer and hose down the entryway immediately below the opening in the balcony and water the plants. It was a noisy distraction from the performance.

Overall, I cannot recommend the performance at the Bayon. Technically, the price of the show is advertised at $4. We are not charged for the show (most likely because it was low season and they were happy to have anyone). The food was way overpriced (especially for portion size) and the drinks were outrageous. It is common for menus here to advertise a price for a spirit and a separate price for the mixer. However, they will also usually have a list of mixed drinks at set prices. The Bayon had a gin and tonic listed as a cocktail, but there were no prices on the menu for the cocktails. We learned the hard way when they delivered each one of us our own shot of gin and can of tonic water. Granted, it made of a strong drink, but a very pricey strong drink.

If you are looking to see a shadow puppet show in Siem Reap, you might want to shop around to another venue.

— Sara

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