In 1920s Beijing, Kansas-born Pauline Benton (1898-1974)
discovered shadow theatre (piyingxi),
a performance art where translucent painted puppets are manipulated by highly
trained masters to cast coloured shadows against an illuminated screen.
Mastering the male-dominated art form in China, Benton believed she could save
this thousand-year-old forerunner of motion pictures by taking it to
America. Enchanting audiences eager for the exotic during the Great
Depression, Pauline’s touring company, Red Gate Shadow Theatre, was lauded by
theatre and art critics alike and even played the White House of President
Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Hayter-Menzies traces Benton's performance history and her efforts to preserve
shadow theatre as a global cultural treasure by drawing on her unpublished
writings, the recollections of her colleagues, the testimonies of shadow
masters who survived China's Cultural Revolution, as well as young innovators
who have carried on Benton's pioneering work.