...theatre at your fingertips

Hand shadows are an ancient form of puppetry perhaps predating all other forms, in which the puppeteer uses his or her hands to cast shadows of animals, people and objects onto a flat surface. Also known as shadowgraphy or ombromanie, it can be described as "cinema in silhouette". Performers of the art are often called shadowgraphists or shadowgraphers.

The light source used for hand shadows is small and bright - a candle, a flashlight (with the lens and reflector removed) or any very small light (e.g. an LED light with no reflector or lens). The shadows are projected onto a white screen either from the front or the back. The performer sits or stands between the light source and the screen. The further the hands are from the light, the smaller the shadows will be; the closer the hands are to the light, the larger the shadows will be. The shadows are more sharply defined the closer the hands are to the screen (and the further they are from the light). The performer watches the shadows being cast rather than his or her hands during the performance, as this helps to create the shapes and movements accurately.

Hand shadow puppets are a particularly engaging and special form of puppetry. You can see audience members at a hand shadow show simultaneously watching the screen and trying to shape their hands into what they are seeing. You could say it is the only puppet show you will ever see where everybody takes the puppets home with them in their hands at the end of the performance!