Puppets have been a major part of theater professor Jennifer Goodlander’s life.
That interest has taken her to Indonesia and Cambodia to study traditions of puppetry.
Goodlander is scheduled to perform a puppet show Feb. 2 at the IU Art Museum.
She works with traditional Indonesian puppets, which play a part in religious practices in areas like Java and Bali.
She presented a talk about her research in these regions Wednesday at the IU Art Museum.
The museum is currently displaying five Indonesian puppets, made from wood and leather.
Goodlander spent last summer in Indonesia, witnessing these performances and studying the traditions surrounding them.
The performances typically last from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and embody religious significance in certain regions.
“The gods come down from the heavens and use the puppets to communicate,” Goodlander said. “The human audience is almost seen as unnecessary.”
An orchestra and a group of about four women who sing along with the puppeteer also accompany each performance.
The performances and puppets are sacred, and women have largely been prohibited from having much interaction with them in the past.
That tradition is beginning to change, providing Goodlander a focus for her thesis.
“It was highly controversial,” Goodlander said. “Puppets are considered sacred, and women couldn’t even touch them.”
Normally, the traditions and stories are passed down through generations. A man’s father teaches him how to perform the stories.
Now the art can be studied in universities in Indonesia, and women are allowed in more regularly.
“There isn’t a continuing tradition, but women are showing that they can do it,” Goodlander said.
The price of puppets is a large part of what bars women from joining the field. It’s much easier to inherit them instead of buying each one, Goodlander said.
Each puppeteer has a set of puppets that includes anywhere from 250 to 500 puppets.
Goodlander has about 150 in her collection, which she buys from a puppet maker in Indonesia.
Despite the tradition surrounding the puppet performances, Goodlander said some Indonesian people have come to adopt the Internet as a way of spreading their message.
“Indonesians love to take videos of the performances and put them on YouTube,” Goodlander said. “It’s an art form certainly not frozen in the past.”
Follow reporter Alison Graham on Twitter @AlisonGraham218.
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