ZEN SHORTS | Delightful Bunraku Puppetry by Rogue Artists Ensemble

Now Playing at Pasadena Playhouse through June 25

The Panda and the siblings have tea in the garden in Zen Shorts now playing at Pasadena Playhouse

Looking for something a little different to take your kids to right now? May I suggest a very unique, whimsical puppet show called Zen Shorts playing through June 25 at Pasadena Playhouse. Rogue Artists Ensemble has studied and perfected the art of Bunraku puppetry to bring to life the wonderful stories by Jon J. Muth. Zen practices of breathing and letting go and subjects like friendship, family and the calming nature of the great outdoors, are told within sweet, simple stories.

A Zen Master Panda bear moves next-door to a family with three children and his stories are so engaging, it compels them all to put down their videogames, come outside and experience the stories as they gaze at the moon and the mountains.

A traditional art shaped during the Edo Period, in Japan, Bunraku had its beginnings around 1600. It began with a narrator and musicians called shamisen, who then merged with puppetry. It is a specific kind of puppetry whereby three puppeteers are dressed all in black with even their faces covered so that the entire focus is on the puppet. One is operating the legs and feet, one operates the body and arms while a third, who operates the head, usually provides the voice. It’s a feat of absolute precision that takes years of practicing together so that the three move as one.

The Rogue Artists operating the Zen Panda bear and the neighbor boy in Zen Shorts at Pasadena Playhouse

The fantastic company of Rogue Artists are Liz Fenning, Anil Margsahayam, Glenn Potter-Takata, Mark Royston, Miles Taber, Understudy, Dillon Nelson. All do a magnificent job and have beautiful, engaging voices. The children were mesmerized by each type of puppetry used from the various three-person puppets to wooden, two dimensional puppets used in a very humorous play about a farmer to the innovative “shadow play” using laser-cut figures and a camera that captures it and projects it onto a screen. I really loved that one.

Afterwards, the company comes out from behind their masks to explain the artistry behind the performance and the kids are invited to ask questions. The kids were not only fascinated by the technique but asked questions about the Zen ideas. With each story I was having moments of breathing with them as I, too, was reminded of these very wise ideas of not carrying our pain or our anger with us; an important reminder for us all.

The remainder of the performances are: Monday, June 19 at 7:00 p.m. Friday, June 23 at 10:00 a.m. Saturday, June 24 at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m Sunday, June 25 at 10:00 a.m.   All tickets are $25 and general admission seating.   Running time is 60 minutes.  

Please visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org/zenshorts for more information.

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Alisa Hayashida has been covering arts, culture, & events in the greater Pasadena Metro areas and Los Angeles Metro areas for the past six years. She is a valuable arts advocate in South Pasadena, with an extensive background in theater arts. Since graduating from UC Irvine, her work has taken her from Los Angeles to India, London, Paris and throughout Europe. She lives in South Pasadena with her husband and son and has been a devout South Pasadenan for the past 25 years.

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