Chinese Theatre Works (CTW) was created in 2001 out of the merger of two non-profit institutions with long histories of bringing traditional and innovative, contemporary Chinese performing arts to local New York City, national and international audiences. These two companies, The Gold Mountain Institute for Traditional Shadow Theatre (founded 1975) and Chinese Theatre Workshop (founded 1990), were dedicated to the mission of preserving and promoting traditional Chinese performing arts, and creating new works that bridge Eastern and Western theatrical aesthetics and forms. Chinese Theatre Works carries forth their mission and presents programming drawn from their combined repertoire.
The Gold Mountain Institute was founded in 1975 by Jo Humphrey to perform traditional Chinese shadow theater for U.S. audiences. Inspired by the work of Pauline Benton and her Red Gate Players, who in the 1930s were the first to bring this artistic tradition to the U.S., Ms Humphrey created duplicates of shadow figures in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History, and developed a repertoire of adaptations of Chinese literary classics and folk tales. That project, the Yueh Lung Shadow Theatre, soon grew into a larger performance and educational company under the Gold Mountain Institute name, introducing audiences of all ages to traditional Chinese shadow puppetry.
Kuang-Yu Fong founded Chinese Theatre Workshop in 1990 to continue her work bringing together Chinese and Western performance styles and techniques, as well as to support the traditional Chinese performing arts in the U.S. and beyond. The company provided educational programming and informative lecture/performances in English, and also produced both traditional original shows on Chinese cultural themes for general audiences. Its original productions mixed Chinese Opera and shadow puppetry with modern dance, Downtown performance art, European folk tales, toy theater, and object theater, drawing on Chinese folk tales and literary classics as well as aspects of the contemporary Chinese experience from slowly changing gender roles to immigration to the U.S.
In 1998, Ms Fong, who had previously been a performer and teaching artist with Gold Mountain Institute, became Executive Director of the company. Three years later, the companies merged to create Chinese Theatre Works. The present company carries on both its predecessors’ missions, as well as their commitments to education as a key component. Chinese Theatre Works’ programs cut across ethnic and cultural boundaries, and aim at sparking interest in Chinese cultural traditions among the wider public as well as in Chinese Americans who have not had access to this part of their heritage.
Chinese Theatre Works has won the highest honor in U.S. puppetry, a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA, for Toy Theater Peony Pavilion. The company has also been featured at many festivals and conferences across the world – for example the Puppeteers of America’s National Biennial Festival; Puppet Power in Calgary, Canada; American Association of Theater Educators conference (New York); the DALA Festival (Seoul, South Korea); The First International Puppet Festival (Tangshan, China); 1st Shanghai International Puppet Festival (Shanghai, China); Taipei Children’s Theater Association’s Festival (Taiwan); and the Puppeteers of America’s Northeast Regional Festival.