Behind the Scenes: Hanoi Water Puppets

It took a few days of convincing to get backstage at the Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre. Apparently there are a lot of secrets back there, behind the scenes of the famous tourist draw. But eventually the writer and I were able to convince the director that we weren’t out to leak anything, that we just wanted to fill in the gaps for a travel story on the theatre and its actors. So we got a little access, and I was told that I could fire away on the photography front, as long as I didn’t use a flash.

I had to take some creative approaches, as the area was nearly pitch black save for the light coming in from the front of the stage. The actors were obscured behind a split bamboo curtain and all the lights remained off to retain the illusion. Every now and then as the puppets would rotate, a bit of light would shine through, and at one point candles were lit atop some of the carved figures, shedding a much-needed glow on things. Of course overall it was an amazing way to see the show, watching the actors submerged in waist-deep water controlling the puppets using long, slender bamboo poles beneath the surface. I got pretty wet and almost fell in a few times, but it was worth it. I like the end photographs. And really that’s all that counts.