Born in a rice paddy.
Growed in Texas.
Harvesting art by a Yankee moon.
I first knew shadows as a way of storytelling from my mom and her black and white film photography. Now I too find myself pushing and pulling a similar primordial contrast, absorbed by how we may look indirectly at an object—through a lens, through a shadow—and know it in a greater truth of itself. My shadow practice uses paper cutting, puppetry, traditional woodblock printing, crankie theater, animation, and cello to perform scenes within my personal mythology. As a transnational adoptee who looks tenderly at the force of change, the topic of metamorphosis is a steady heartbeat in my work in response to our social/political/personal ideas about chaos and control. My shadows also like to linger on grief, departure, and belonging. As I've come to roost finding shadow theater as a 'home' for all of my creative faculties, I am now working on adapting and honoring this long-standing spiritual tradition of storytelling towards original films and live performances. For me, calling on shadows is a process of celebrating the impossible and the intangible yet the universally understandable, which is a magic that I feel is so fertile for growing mutual respect and communication across communities. In designing a sustainable path for myself that can share as many stories as it absorbs, I'll always be seeking that balanced recipe of performing and teaching my art. In the meantime, I encourage that my aesthetic become an instrument for others to share their own experiences through, and I look forward to collaborating frequently with musicians, dancers, singers, cooks, scientists, anyone at all. So far I am immensely enjoying contributing my shadows to projects in folk music, film, theater, and dance.
Maisie O’Brien (she/they) is a Philadelphia transplant from Dallas and a Chinese-American adoptee. Shortly after school, they jumped ship from the visual fine arts to better simmer all of their creative passions together and be a storyteller in shadow theater. Their puppetry incorporates everything from cut paper to traditional printmaking, overhead projector, automata, crankie theater, stop motion animation, and original cello music inspired by American Old Time songs. Since starting to create and perform their original stories during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have had the pleasure of presenting their work with Great Small Works, Nasty Brutish & Short, Puppet Showplace Theater, Black Cherry Puppet Theater, The Baltimore Crankie Festival, Asian Arts Initiative, and Vox Populi Gallery. Maisie has also studied puppetry in academic and immersive contexts with Bread & Puppet Theater, The University of Connecticut, The O’Neill National Puppetry Conference, and the Chicago International Puppetry Festival Workshops.
Before and alongside developing their own shadow theater, Maisie’s work has been largely ignited by the puppetry community here in Philadelphia: a modest yet historic group who regularly demonstrate puppetry’s capacity to actualize justice as well as to simply be objects of fantastical beauty. As a second generation arts educator, AAPI folk, and transnational citizen, Maisie works to foster voice via puppetry for youth with local organizations including Spiral Q, Asian Arts Initiative, and Fleisher Art Memorial. This year they are looking forward to further centering their puppetry workshops around shadow-specific play, and coordinating partnerships with local groups in dialogue with land stewardship, food sovereignty, and sustainable art making.
Some shadow research with Minou Pourshariati as guest collaborators for Sara Outing's ongoing production Doors, presented by Tiny Dynamite, workshopped at the Louis Bluver Theater, Philadelphia.
A student's shadow puppet being tested out on the overhead projector. Taught in conjunction with Fleisher Community Partnerships in the Arts and the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia