Khmer Shadow Theatre are forms of shadow play in which leather shadow puppets are used. The two main genres include Sbek Thom (or “large puppet”) the other being Sbek Toch (or “little puppet”) which uses smaller puppets and a wide range of stories. And another genre called Sbek Por uses colored leather puppets.
Sbek Thom is a Khmer shadow performing art which features two-meter high puppets made of cow’s leather. This kind of Khmer shadow performing art is said to be an influence from India dating back to the first century.
In the past these shadow plays were performed as a religious ritual, and were only performed in the worship for the special occasions such as Khmer New Year, King’s birthday, or for showing respect to certain famous people. However, this shadow performance has evolved from a ceremonial or ritual activity to a performing art while its ritualistic dimension is still retained. Khmer Shadow Theatre has also been inscribed by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) to the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity:
This art from is in danger of disappearing all together as many of its practitioners were killed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
In Angkor Awakens we attempt to pay homage to this art from by using elements of it to help explain Cambodia’s sometimes confusing history. In no way should our performance be considered representational of actual Khmer Shadow Theatre, but rather an attempt to pay homage to the art and more so to the artists who perished during the oppressive Khmer Rouge regime.
-Scott Hitz, Puppet Director