For hundreds of years, the glove puppet theater has been a staple of mass entertainment in Taiwan. It’s a wonderfully adaptable form, suited to performances before gods at temples and before us mere mortals at public shows. It leaps seamlessly across boundaries, equally at home on stage and screen as well as the outdoor venues where it got its start. And the imagination’s the limit as far as content is concerned. Glove puppet theater is perfect when it comes to presenting swashbuckling martial arts stories. But in the hands of a true master, glove puppets are just as good at contemporary drama or teaching children to say no to drugs.
Chung Jen-Pi is one such master, a man whose entire life has been about puppetry, who’s helped drive its development, and who, even in his 80’s, continues to create new shows. His life’s work is the subject of an ongoing exhibit at the National Center for Traditional Arts. His son and fellow puppeteer Chung Jen-Liang joins us on the phone today to tell us about the puppet theater’s history and the living treasure who’s spent most of 80 years driving it into the future.