Curriculum Study Guide:
Middle & High School Grade Level

ShadowLight Productions is excited to offer this resource to educators, which can be used in a myriad of ways from exploring immigration today, addressing stereotypes and bullying to inspiring students to tell their own stories, and more! The curriculum and activities for the Ghosts of the River DVD can be followed directly or can be used as a springboard to launch in-depth classroom projects. 

The collaborative, team building process and the audiences overwhelmingly positive response to ShadowLight’s 2009 shadow play Ghosts of the River inspired us to create this DVD project as a way to spread the work beyond the stage. The play written by Octavio Solís, directed by Larry Reed, with Art Direction by Favianna Rodriguez and live music by Cascada de Flores incorporated actors, shadow puppets, painted or cut-out scenery and music into five vignettes humanizing contentious subjects surrounding immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border and illuminating stories of those who have crossed the Rio Grande throughout time. The artists involved in the hands-on process became connected to the stories and each other throughout the production. Both they and the audience discovered how effective this art form was at building bridges and ‘crossing borders’ to connect to charged or complex issues.

The half-hour documentary Ghosts of the River: Out of the Shadows delves into the true stories behind shadow play. Going behind the scenes and beyond, the film reveals Solís’ experience growing up on the border and some cast members’ first accounts crossing it. Through the poetic lens of Reed’s collaborative, “live animated” shadow medium, Ghosts breaks through stereotypes and breaks down the invisible walls some use to treat migrants as ‘other.’ Whether using the guide to talk about storytelling, social/political issues or collaborative art forms, we’ve tried to make a palette of diverse activities that could fit multiple classroom scenarios. 

About ShadowLight

ShadowLight Productions was founded in 1972 by theatre artist, filmmaker and shadow master, Larry Reed, to nurture indigenous shadow theater traditions and to explore and expand the possibilities of the shadow theatre medium by creating innovative interdisciplinary, multicultural works. 

Larry Reed is one of the few Americans to be trained in wayang kulit, Balinese shadow puppetry and performed in this tradition around the world over the last 35 years. In the early 1990's, Reed began expanding the scope of ShadowLights artistic activities and invented an ingenious shadow casting method, which integrates the traditional shadow theatre techniques, cinematic effects and modern theatre and dance styles. Truly multidisciplinary and performed behind and in front of a large screen (15ftx 30ft), our original works employ specially-designed projectors to cast silhouettes of puppets, actors, and cutout sets, all of which are manipulated to create astonishingly cinematic effects live on stage. Each show features live music and is created by a collaborating ensemble of writers, choreographers, composers, designers, actors, dancers, musicians and puppeteers from the various performing arts traditions such as Chinese, Tibetan, Indonesian, Japanese, Filipino and Latin American.

Guide Instruction

DVD contents:
Main Feature:  Ghosts of the River: Out of the Shadows (documentary)
Special Features: Ghosts of the River (shadow play)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Both

Curriculum Structure:
Immigration Themes
General Themes
Arts Expression
Other News/ Additional Resources

Teacher Recommendations:

  • We recommend making use of the film chapters in both the documentary film and the shadow play film to focus your lesson(s). Teachers may find that the half-hour documentary film is more appropriate for High School students, and that individual chapters are conducive for middle school audiences.
  • Before your lesson, consider screening the introduction to ‘Ghosts of the River’ (the first 1 minute and 45 seconds of film) where the narrator explains the significance of the river and introduces the ghost stories.

Background Info

Background on the Rio Grande:
The Rio Grande (known in Mexico as the Río Bravo del Norte, or simply Río Bravo) is a river that flows from southwestern Colorado in the United States to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way it forms part of the Mexico – United States border. According to the International Boundary and Water Commission, its total length was 1,896 miles (3,051 km) in the late 1980s, though course shifts occasionally result in length changes. Depending on how it is measured, the Rio Grande is the fourth or fifth longest river system in North America.

The river serves as a natural border between the U.S. state of Texas and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. A very short stretch of the river serves as the boundary between the U.S. states of Texas and New Mexico. Since the mid–20th century, heavy water consumption of farms and cities along the river has left only 20% of its natural discharge to flow to the Gulf. Near the river's mouth, the heavily irrigated Rio Grande Valley is an important agricultural region. The Rio Grande is one of 19 Great Waters recognized by the America's Great Waters Coalition. (