Paul Bunyan, Jesse Ventura and Indonesian shadow puppets meet in new St. Paul production

arts / Article

Imagine a stage of Indonesian shadow puppets. Now throw in Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, Jesse Ventura and Paul Bunyan.  “Shadow Visitors” promises to be a true Minnesota adventure, when Sumunar, the Indonesian cultural group, and Green T Productions debut the production in September.

Sumunar was looking for a way to draw Minnesota audiences into the traditional shadow puppetry when it applied for and won a Knight Arts Challenge grant, said the group’s Executive Director Mary Shamrock.

“People come and watch with interest but a lot of the elements don’t really come across here. So, the idea was to do this but have a Minnesota story, with some Indonesian characters to still create that beginning and ending, but then let’s have a bunch of Minnesota characters, too,” said Shamrock

The story is a true marriage of Indonesian story traditions of princesses and Minnesotan traditions of local government and pop culture. “It will start in Indonesia with a couple of Indonesian princesses being sent out to the forest to meditate so that they can become powerful. Some sort of storm comes up and they get sucked up into the air and they come down in Minnesota. They land at Lake Itasca and there’s the Mississippi and someone tells them they need to go down to St. Paul. There’s a wonderful dialogue between Mark Dayton and Jesse Ventura. And Paul Bunyan gets involved and Babe the Blue Ox and various Minnesota kinds of characters,” said Shamrock.

In a traditional shadow puppet performance, one puppeteer works alone behind a screen for up to eight hours with accompaniment from the gamelan, an ensemble. “We aren’t going to have just one puppeteer, this is where Green T comes in. They’re very physical and gymnastic kind of actors, so what we’ve done is built a much bigger shadow screen than normally would be used. It’s 12 feet wide. There will be four or five people operating puppets, but then they will also step out and act in front of the shadow screen part of the time. They’ll be both puppeteer and actor,” said Shamrock.

Green T Productions has a history of making highly physical, multidisciplinary theater that is often influenced by Asian theater styles. They also seem to constantly seek out partnerships and creative collaborations, having in the past collaborated with Theater Unbound and Sumunar as well as having incorporated Balinese Kecak choral chanting, kabuki and flamenco. So it makes sense that Sumunar would want to partner with Green T Productions in a project that takes traditional elements of Indonesian wayang kulit (shadow puppet play) and incorporates modern theater and local Minnesotan characters and references.

Traditional Indonesian Puppet shows are typically done outdoors in a thrust-stage type venue with a roof. The Como Dockside Pavilion is a really good approximation of that kind of venue.

“I was just so tickled to be able to find the Como Dockside Pavilion because that’s how it is in Indonesia, an outdoor setting, open on three sides, but there’s a roof over it. If it rains the show goes on,” said Shamrock. And with three performances at a venue that also offers a food there should be little worry of getting in to see the show and being comfortable during the performance.

Bringing the richness of Indonesian puppetry, the skills of Green T and the big sound of gamelan should amount to a special show. “With collaborations, one plus one is always more than two,” said Shamrock.

Performances will be 8 p.m. Sept. 4, 5 and 6 at the Como Dockside Pavilion, 1360 Lexington Parkway North, St. Paul. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and $5 for people 12 and under.

More details at


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