This is Women’s History Month in the USA.
I’m welcoming back Author Grant Hayter-Menzies on the phone from British Columbia, Canada. Hayter-Menzies has written books about extraordinary women who have found their way to defying the conventions of their time, as well as opening themselves to new cultures -Chinese culture in particular.
Our conversation will focus on his 2013 book Shadow Woman: The Extraordinary Career of Pauline Benton.
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. What does that mean?
A century ago in 1920s Beijing, she discovered shadow theatre (piyingxi), a performance art where translucent painted puppets are manipulated by highly trained masters to cast colored 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Benton's performance history and her efforts to preserve shadow theatre as a global cultural treasure by drawing on her unpublished writings, the recollections of her colleagues, the testimonies of shadow masters who survived China's Cultural Revolution, as well as young innovators who have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.
In the second half of today’s show you’ll hear my conversation with Stephen Kaplan of New York City who, with Ms. Kuang-Yu Fong founded Chinese Theatre Works. Thanks to them and an exhibit they curated at Flushing Town Hall in Queens several years ago, I was introduced to Pauline Benton’s work. She was the founder of Red Gate Theatre and the first to bring Chinese shadow puppetry to American audiences nationwide.
The Asia Today with Jeffrey Bingham Mead Show airs live on Radio 1490 WGCH, 105.5 FM and WGCH.com anywhere starting 10:30 a.m. Eastern USA Time on Saturdays.