Miguel Romero
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Sabbatical Journey

I devoted my sabbatical during the Spring Semester of 2000 to research and field work in international puppetry in Asia and Europe. On my return, I synthesized much of what I learned and observed into the original Theater Department main stage production of Archipelago of Delight, which I directed, co-designed and co-authored in May 2001.

During my sabbatical semester in 2000, I spent time doing fieldwork and research on puppetry in Japan, Indonesia and at a number of European puppetry festivals. These activities included:

Japan

On the island of Awaji, birthplace of Bunraku puppetry, where a company still perpetuates a unique form of the art, I observed rehearsals and interviewed puppeteers. I also traveled to remote mountain villages where I interviewed Hoichi Okamoto, a leading contemporary puppeteer who has performed to great acclaim in New York, and viewed the private treasures of Japan’s leading puppeteer/collectors, Sennosuke Takeda, the leading string puppeteer in Japan, and Katami Eimei. In Tokyo and Yokohama, I attended a broad range of puppet and live theatre performances, including a visit to the wonderful Koryu Nishikawa Troupe, and an all-day Bunraku performance where the technical director of Japan’s National Theatre, escorted me backstage. I also toured an exhibition of designs by Kihachiro Yamamoto, a leading Japanese film and television puppet designer who allowed me to interview him on video.

Bali

I spent three weeks apprenticed to Ida Bagus Oka, a leading Balinese maker of performance masks (most contemporary Balinese mask makers create decorative masks), learning traditional carving techniques, which entailed sitting on the floor holding the wood in place with my feet and using a chisel and mallet. At the same time, I attended a variety of Balinese shadow puppet performances in situ in private royal compounds and as part of temple festivals, most of which were not easily accessible to tourists. I met, interviewed and made videos of several puppeteers and their performances.

Java

In Yogyakarta I was given a private view of the Sultan’s collection of hundreds of antique shadow puppets. This was arranged by Dr. Supardjian, a retired Professor of Performing Arts, who also permitted me to observe classes at his school and introduced me to the leading puppet maker and mask carver in the region outside Yogyakarta. I attended traditional wayang kulit (leather shadow puppet) and wayang golek (rod puppet) performances. I spent three days in the workshop of the mask maker studying the Javanese carving technique.

In Bandung, I spent two weeks in close contact with Asep Sunandar, an enormously popular wayang golek puppeteer who combines traditional techniques with contemporary political and satirical content. As a member of his entourage, I accompanied him to performances.

Western Europe

I continued my research and field work by traveling to international puppetry festivals in Segovia, Spain; Dordrecht, The Netherlands; and Magdeburg, Germany, viewing puppetry performances and exhibitions, while interacting with puppeteers from all over the world. I also spent two weeks in Charleville-Mezières, France, as a visiting fellow in residence at L’Institut International de la Marionnette, the world’s leading research center for puppet arts, and as an observer at l’École Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette. While there, I observed classes and teaching techniques and spent hours in the institute’s archives watching videos of puppet performances.

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