"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity." -- Albert Einstein
While visiting museums in Singapore, I discovered that there are several styles of shadow puppets. The museums placed the puppets in two sided displays so you could see the puppets and move around to the other side of the screen to see the shadow that they cast. Some of the puppets are translucent and colored so the shadows are tinted. Other puppets are opaque and cast a dark shadow on the screen. I was surprised to see that some of the opaque puppets were intricately painted. That sparked my curiosity. Why spend the time and effort to decorate them if it didn't affect the shadow on the screen? I consulted some books with information on shadow puppets and was surprised to discover that there are two answers. The first reason is that the shadow puppet plays are traditionally performed at night, but sometimes there is a desire to perform them during the day. In that situation the screen is taken down and the audience sees the show as if they are watching rod puppets perform. By being decorated the puppets are more versatile. The second reason is that in some cultures it was traditional to divide the audience. Women and children were limited to sitting in front of the screen where they saw only the shadows. Men were allowed to sit in the back where they could observe how the puppeteer manipulated the puppets. Now that tradition is no longer followed, and anybody can sit in the back to watch the puppeteer's technique.
That brought back a powerful memory. When I was growing up my family frequently visited the Knott's Berry Farm amusement park where I saw Tony Kemeny performing with his puppets. His stage was built into a wagon representing the ones itinerant performers might have used going from town to town. One of my favorite things to do was sneak around behind the wagon and peek through the crack in the door to watch Tony as he operated his puppets. I cherished those behind the scenes glimpses. They helped feed my youthful interest in puppets as a hobby. I don't use puppets much now, but I incorporated them into my performances when I appeared at the Raging Waters amusement park for eleven years.
That is a reminder to me that I might be observed from the side or back while performing. For example, when Carole and I visit the Seattle Ronald McDonald House the parents sometimes stand behind me so they can watch the expressions of their children while I perform. I need to be sure that my props at least look presentable from that side. Often it is easy to let the back of things like signs get worn because the audience normally doesn't see it. As a magician it is also important that I try to keep secrets from being seen when somebody is at that angle. That is why I use an open top box on my magic table to hold gimmicks. No matter where somebody is standing their view is blocked so they can't see the secret. Also, when I am holding a gimmick in my hand I tend to keep it in front of my body while manipulating it so my torso blocks the view of those behind me.
Satisfying my curiosity about shadow puppets was applicable to being an entertainer. Sometimes curiosity is its own reward. Somebody recently asked me if I knew why Maple leaves have such large indentations. It turns out that they allow the leaves to fold up during a high wind so there is less wind resistance and the tree is less likely to be toppled. Sometime when you see a Maple tree, start at the stem of a leaf and run your hand towards the tip to see how easily the leaf collapses. I may never use that information but it does fill me with a sense of awe at how wonderfully our world was created.
How can you maintain your curiosity? What questions can you try to answer?
What if somebody watched your performance from behind? Would you be content with what they saw?