• Phone number
  • Email
  • Location
  • Compass link
  • Videos link
  • Search
  • MENU

Shadow Puppetry
Artist in Residence Prep-Year 2, 2023

The blank canvas screen is the universe and the light bulb brings to life the puppeteer’s story.”

Cipta Croft-Cussworth -Toymaker and Puppeteer

Cipta Croft-Cussworth comes from a line of Indonesian shadow puppeteers called Dalang. He has created his own style of modern storytelling and puppet making using found objects and recycled materials.

Cipta shared his passion for shadow puppetry with the Prep- Year 2 children as an artist in residence in Term 1, 2023.

This residency launched a whole school Wellbeing Inquiry.

Shadow puppetry is about telling stories. There are stories about kings and queens, magical places, castles and magical creatures.

If you have an interesting shadow puppet, you can create an interesting character, and this in turn opens the possibility for interesting stories.

The shadow puppets the children created were able to be used when developing story characters during a residency with a writer in residence in Term 2.

Cipta’s shadow puppet performance

Cipta began his residency with a shadow puppet performance where he introduced the basic story line of a shadow puppet play and asked for input from the audience for the development of the story. The children become part of the performance.

This performance provided a wonderful introduction to the medium of shadow puppetry. Children learnt about the inside workings of the puppets and the role of the shadow puppeteer.

Cipta explained about set design and how it works. The screen is a white cloth held up by string from the ceiling. There is a light shining from behind the cloth. Behind the stage there are holes where you can put the puppets. The screen becomes a magical space and represents the universe.

Cipta explained some technical aspects of the craft of shadow puppetry. To make the puppets appear smaller, you bring the puppets closer to the screen and move them further away from the light to make them appear bigger and blurrier.

Traditionally shadow puppets were made from leather, but the modern way is to use card. They are mounted on long sticks.

Fundamental features of shadow puppetry:
• The characters tell the story.
• The setting tells the place where the play takes place and where the characters’ adventures take place.
• The light behind the screen creates the shadows.
• The puppets are black when behind the screen, but coloured when you look at them

Week 1


Cipta introduced the children to the categories they needed to consider when designing puppets, sets and props. He explained that shadow puppets can be designed from the front and the side. A silhouette is the shadow cast by the light from the side. He asked students to think about the outline when they created their designs for the shadow puppet. Cipta agreed with the children that snakes and spiders make amazing shadow puppets. They can have many moving sections.

The children began by designing and putting their ideas on paper. In the process of putting their ideas down, they also discussed their shadow puppet. They began to think about whether their puppets would have articulated limbs, tails, and even mouths! Most students wanted to make their puppets move.

The children created many drawings. Their drawings showed the development of their design ideas.

Cipta divided the drawings into groups. Which drawings created sets? Which are characters? How can we make a story about the puppets? How do we develop the story? Children brainstormed ideas to develop a range of characters.

They were asked to consider aspects of their characters such as whether they could move or not, how many parts would the character have, the scale of the character.

The children reflected on the session:
“I like using colours for the puppets because I didn’t realise there were colours on the puppets.” Frankie
“I didn’t realise how exciting making puppet shadows was… I didn’t realise until today how they were made.” Gemma

Week 2


Students finalised the design of the head and body of their shadow puppet character based on the drawings from Week 1. Cipta asked them to consider how a shadow puppet moves and to think about the assembly of the head, body, arms, and legs.

Week 3


There are many possibilities for the structure of the puppet, and each difference helps the characters to have an individual personality and offers a range of story opportunities.

Students reflected on this next stage of the process – on whether they needed to add legs, and if so, considered the angle, and the number of legs, the style and shape of the wings, and where they would attach these to the body. They thought about whether the arms held a prop or accessories, or a magic wand, or had something shooting out of the arm. The puppet could have tentacles.

Remy’s Dragonpuss needed to have multiple sticks attached to it so that each section could move. Remi also wanted to add some fire.

Cipta explained that details such as arms, legs, and props needed to be thick enough so they had structural strength. Shadow puppets can be as intricate as you want them to be, it’s just that they also have to be strong.

The children discussed ways to create the puppet, and to make them stronger and more durable. They tested that puppets behind the screen while making decisions about the details.

Week 4


Traditional shadow puppets have intricate patterning on the surface created by mark-making with paint and punched holes.

The children were asked to embellish and create patterning on the surface of their puppets which had been spray-painted by Cipta. They were asked to use the existing colour and create a pattern with in that colour.

After they were satisfied with the surface design the children had the opportunity to do some storytelling with their puppets. They worked with a partner and considered each other’s characters in relation to their own.

Together, students worked in small groups to create a story using their characters. They wrote and illustrated the main ideas for the plot of this story. The characters were in embellished along with the storyline.

Why would a witch go for help?
Are the puppets friends?
Would they go to each other or run away from each other?
What is the name of your puppet?

Cipta gave the them tips to animate the puppets. Spinning and movement gave the story depth. Spinning is also used to transform a puppet from one character to another.

Symmetrical characters work well when spinning the puppet to give the effect of opening and closing the arms. Cipta also showed the students how to make simple props from books.

If the shadow puppets fight, as part of the story line, it is important not to let the shadow puppets touch. The puppets are delicate and need to be handled carefully. The children have acquired amazing technical skills related to the medium.

Week 5


This week Cipta handed over the role of puppeteer to the students. In groups they developed a story line for their puppets. Though this performance/workshop session, students experimented with the light, distancing the puppets from the screen, overlapping the interacting puppets, using their puppets, props and sets.

The children loved using their imagination and drew on traditional storytelling genres to create their own plays. They cast spells, waged wars on the ocean, they flew to the moon and encountered monstrous beasts along the way.

“I like the process of making the puppets and especially designing the puppets.”