from downtown Beijing, is a residential building in the Tai-Hing district,
Ming Li lives with his performance troupe, known as Ming Lis
Shadow Puppet Group. He stands about 47, and speaks with a soft
voice. On this day, as he greets me, he is concerned about keeping
his dream alive: he owes one of the performers more than a months
salary. But later, after a successful performance in Shanghai, the
financial situation takes a turn for the positive.
A group of little people stand inside the crowded house. Ming Li sits
among them, talking. It is a warm day, but the white curtain at the
window blocks the sunlight from coming into the room. The people all
have growth hormone deficiency (GHD), a medical condition caused by
problems arising in the pituitary gland; they also happen to have
special talents and perform in Ming-Lis Little Ant Shadow Puppet
Ming Li did not graduate high school and spent a long time wondering
what he would do for a career. He worried that his height would limit
his choices. He has spent time as a bellboy, a waiter, a bartender
and a cashier. But those positions dont pay very well, and he
worried that he would never be able to command a good salary. So,
while earning the same salary without a raise for many years, he continued
to ask himself, What can I do? Many of his friends, who
also have GHD, urged him to just be happy with what he had.
In 2008, however, Ming Li got an opportunity to make a change in his
life. He met the leader of the traditional Shadow Puppet Theater Group,
Hai Luk, who asked Ming Li if he was interested in learning about
the art of shadow puppetry. Ming Li said yes, and Hai
Luk started to teach him the secrets of this traditional art form.
Though he had a lot to lose, Ming Li decided to quit his job at a
print shop to focus on shadow puppetry. His family complained, worried
that he would not be able to support them doing puppetry. But Ming
Li was determined to achieve his dreams and a sense of personal fulfillment.
He continued working with Hai Luks Shadow Puppet Theater Group.
At the beginning, Ming Li was not confident, but he kept practicing
and began to improve very quickly. What most people take three to
five months to learn, Ming Li mastered in one week. In three months,
he was ready to perform on stage. Hai Luk was very impressed with
Ming Lis first performance, surprised that he could master such
a challenging skill.
Ming Li not only acquired a skill, but also gained self-actualization
and reached his full potential. He was even more satisfied because
he felt genuine appreciation from the audience, which motivated him
to stay with it, despite any doubts he had.
Sadly, Ming Lis dream began to unravel when there was a disagreement
between the master and the investor in the theater. The investor wanted
to decrease the time for rehearsal and increase the number of performances,
but the master did not agree with that idea, and the two argued nonstop.
Ming Li was really disturbed by the situation, and decided to leave
the Hai Luks Shadow Puppet Theater Group.
Ming Li and the vice director, both in their mid-thirties, resigned
at the same time and started to think about what they could do next.
Finding another job was difficult. Then Ming Li remembered a person
who told him to call if he needed help. This person was one of the
teachers in the theater group that Ming Li had worked with before.
Ming Li was asked to gather three to four performers to form a new
shadow puppet group. Then they rented an old rundown basement where
the group all lived and practiced together with the master who is
in his sixties. In 2009, there were five performers in the group.
With financial support from friends and family, they practiced for
a whole year before their first performance. With more responsibilities
came better effort and greater strength. In the meantime, Ming Li
also needed to worry about making a living. When they could no longer
afford to rent the basement, they had to move to the countryside.
Under these most difficult circumstances, there came an opportunity
to give their first performance. They were all very nervous and anxious.
However, the performance was a success. Later on, the troupe became
famous and received lots of invitations to perform in business, schools
and many other districts.
Nowadays, Ming Lis Shadow Puppet Group can put on a variety
of productions, including children plays, fairytales and dramas. In
2011, the group performed in South Korea and received an award from
the local mayor.
Ming Li keeps tinkering with the plays to keep them fresh; hes
added singers, dancers, acrobat and masks that complement some of
the costumes. Ming Lis group continues to become more famous
as more people with GHD from all over the country arrive, eager to
join the group. Some of Ming Lis friends do not think he should
accept everyone who shows up, but Ming Li tries to help as many as
he can to earn a living by performing or helping out with the troupe.
These days, it has 13 performers all living together in a small apartment.
Ming Li has devised an even bigger plan for which he will need more
assistants to make his dream come true: He intends to create an organization
for people with disabilities to not only perform, but also to create
arts and crafts. Beyond the puppet show, he will incorporate more
music, dance and drama. Ming Li, who once believed that he was a bad
manager, is achieving his dream, step by step.
by Fan Bai
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