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As the lights go down a single white circle (like a full moon) is illuminated; the shadow of a hand appears in the circle – two hands. Then with a deft movement the hands have transformed into a bird, a rabbit, a flowing river or a man's face, and the audience are laughing, gasping and demanding to know “How does he do that?”
What is this magic of light and dark that so transfixes young and old? It is the ancient art of Hand Shadows (or Shadowgraphy) - the art of creating and animating shadow images using little more than the performer's hands. In Drew Colby's hands the artform is a source of comedy, beauty and wonder.
“The audience couldn’t help but clap their hands with delight after each animal left the scene. Shadow puppetry at its best.” – Chelsey Stuyt, Bristol Theatre Review
Drew's work with puppets in South Africa and the UK has evolved over 30 years. He began with glove puppets and marionettes at the age of 12, gradually becoming interested in what the everyday object could say. His first professional work was from 1995 – 1998 at the Playhouse Puppet Company in Durban, South Africa. Work spanned traditional double-bridge, long-string marionette shows, open stage bunraku-style puppetry, and performances with mixed styles of puppetry, acting, mask work and dance. From this experience Drew developed work over the next three years using open-stage short-string marionettes and rod puppets. The culmination of this period was a performance of “Madiepetsana and the Milk bird” at the 1999 International Festival of Marionette Art in Prague, Czech Republic.
Drew returned to the UK in 2000 and worked at the Little Angel Theatre, notably with Steve Tiplady on “Jonah and the Whale”, in 2002-2003. Drew's fascination with everyday objects grew out of this experience - during this time he created "Little Red Riding Hood", seen at the Battersea Arts Centre, Norwich Puppet Theatre and a summer season at The Little Angel Theatre in 2003, in addition to other prominent London and UK venues and festivals. This performance contained his first work with hand shadows. The show had only one pre-made puppet, and this led Drew to explore “instant puppetry”, where there are no pre-made puppets, simply objects that come to life, most often being conjoined to become characters and scenery. This process naturally led to hand shadow work, which is theatre created out of almost nothing (perhaps the ultimate instant puppetry).
In 2011 Drew was awarded the Puppet Centre Trust professional development bursary to travel to Azerbaijan and work with Georgian hand shadow theatre Budrugana Gagra. Drew has performed in venues and at festivals in Britain, South Africa, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Turkey, Czech Republic, France, Finland, Canada, Chile, Austria, Germany, Romania, Slovenia, Israel and India and he has created shadow sequences for B&Q, Nintendo, Lodotra, Suso, Sainsburys, Channel 4 and the BBC.
"I am in awe at how many different animals you conveyed. My son and I were both captivated."
- Natalie Rope, parent