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Shadow Woman: The Extraordinary Career of Pauline Benton

Shadow WomanShadow Woman: The Extraordinary Career of Pauline Benton
by Grant Hayter-Menzies

The remarkable career of the American woman who became the world’s first female master of Chinese shadow theatre.

The author will be launching the book on November 9, 2013 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Kansas-born Pauline Benton (1898-1974) was encouraged by her father, one of America’s earliest feminist male educators, to reach for the stars. Instead, she reached for shadows. In 1920s Beijing, she 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. Finding that this thousand-year-old forerunner of motion pictures was declining in China, Benton believed she could save the tradition by taking it to America.

Mastering the male-dominated art form in China, Benton enchanted audiences eager for the exotic in Depression-era America. Her touring company, Red Gate Shadow Theatre, was lauded by theatre and art critics and even performed at Franklin Roosevelt’s White House. Grant 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Benton’s performance history and her efforts to preserve shadow theatre as a global cultural treasure by drawing on her unpublished writings, the recollections of her colleagues, the testimonies of shadow masters who survived China’s Cultural Revolution, as well as young innovators who have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.

– See more at the Publisher’s website.

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Chinese Shadow Puppets at Seattle Art Museum

Nov. 7, 2013, 7-9pm at the Seattle Art Museum, Stimson auditorium

Grant Hayter Menzies speaks on Pauline Benton, who learned shadow puppetry in Beijing, went on to tour in the U.S. and became a champion of this cultural tradition. Held in connection with his new book Shadow Woman: The Extraordinary Career of Pauline Benton.

The evening includes film clips of the Red Gate Shadow Theater with composer Lou Harrison, and an introduction to Chinese shadow puppets from the SAM collection by Mary Hirsch.

Free. RSVP required.