If the idea of being a performer appeals to you, consider puppetry. Puppetry is fun and has been used in communication for decades to convey ideas. This is an ancient art that has existed even before live theater and mime. Puppetry is a great way for shy people to take that step forward as theater performers because while they enjoy the excitement of the performance, the audience focuses on the puppet show. Puppeteers usually love to perform and entertain people. Being creative, and easily adaptable to changing situations, puppeteers are also self-confident with great hand-eye coordination and a perfect sense of timing.
Here is a detailed look at the concept of puppetry, its history, and types of puppets and how you can get started with this fun hobby, followed by tips to take you ahead.
What is puppetry?
Puppetry is a form of theatre or performance which involves the manipulation of puppets. Puppetry takes many forms but they all share the process of animating performing objects. Most puppetry involves storytelling.
Getting started with puppetry
Taking up puppetry as a hobby can be very fulfilling. You might even end up earning a living by doing it consistently. There are many ways to learn this wonderful art. You can take up a course at any one of the numerous schools or universities that offer them. It is possible to get a degree in Puppetry Arts through regular classes or distance education, if you become serious about pursuing this hobby. These structured courses teach you everything you need to know about puppetry.
You can also find someone who is already a puppeteer and make them your mentor. When you have the guidance of an experienced puppeteer, you can learn the basic skills quickly. You will also have the advantage of making fewer mistakes and learning much faster than you would, if you were to attend a course. There are several books that provide tips and practice routines related to puppetry and how to make puppets. Online courses that give you basic information are worth checking out, as they also provide you with advice about how to manage your hobby.
As a puppeteer you need to be a reasonably good actor, writer and storyteller. You would certainly need a good sense of comic timing, good health, focus and stamina, as performances can sometimes be strenuous. Puppeteers view their puppets as real personalities rather than something they use in their performance. With your multiple talents, you can be a puppeteer who performs live, on TV, at the theatre and at events.
Being a puppeteer takes plenty of preparation, planning and training and sometimes involves long hours. When you take up puppetry as a hobby, you will also need to do some studying and practice new routines. Most puppeteers work part time as well as full time. You can get together with a theatre group or work on movie sets and TV shows where puppets are used. Some puppeteers also perform touring across cities. After you get started, and learn the basics, you can enjoy performing at children’s parties, small shows at hotels, etc. Some puppeteers also perform as part of a group.
Making hand puppets
You’ve probably played with puppets as a child. If you enjoyed bringing things to life with your imagination, this is your chance to follow your passion. To get you started with simple puppets, here’s a quick guide about how to make some easy hand puppets. The supplies are easy to put together. You will need a couple of sheets of craft or construction paper of two different colors, glue, scissors, a pencil, markers or color crayons, some embellishments like ribbons, pom-poms, some scraps of fabric, eyes, buttons, etc. You can use one sheet for the puppet’s face. Fold the sheet in half from top to bottom. Then unfold it and apply glue along the top edge and side edges. Do not apply glue along the bottom edge as this must be open to insert your hand. Now fold the paper again and stick the top and side edges. With your crayons and markers, create your puppet’s face and give it character. Use the embellishments to decorate it. Allow it to dry completely. Build a story around it, and get your friends together for a show!
You can also use stuffed toys as puppets to practice with. Soon you will be able to put on a quality show that will grab your viewers’ attention and you will see them enjoy watching your puppets come to life.
As you can see, getting started need not cost you much. You can begin by using whatever you have available at home. It could be old newspapers, old clothes, or just about anything you can build a story around. Your main investment in becoming a good puppeteer will be time.
If you are familiar with ventriloquism, you can also enjoy being a ventriloquist puppeteer. Ventriloquists throw their voices around to make it appear as though it is the puppet talking, not them. This takes time to master.
You can train yourself by playing with a few voices you can come up with. Pick a puppet that makes you feel at ease. This could be a hand puppet or stuffed toy. Work on the character you plan to portray. The main thing is to practice your voices. You need to be able to sustain a conversation with different voices and this will need stamina. Expert ventriloquists do this with their mouths closed. Work on your pronunciation. According to accomplished ventriloquists, consonants like P and B are the toughest. Therefore, you need to practice well, so that you can throw your voice around without opening your mouth or moving your lips.
After you develop the expertise, develop a routine and add in the jokes that will make your audience laugh till their bellies ache.
Designing and building your puppet
Puppetry is a hobby that involves a lot of creativity and therefore, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to designing your puppet. But here are some questions whose answers will help you do it better:
What do you want your puppet to do?
This is the first question to answer. You may need to get a script or storyboard ready since it will help you decide your movements and sequence of actions. Other questions to think about are - Do you want your puppet to speak? Does it need limbs? Your act may only need the top half of a puppet. Based on the theme of your performance, try and think about everything your puppet needs to do and prepare. You can make your act unique and interesting by being different.
What type of puppet would suit your personality?
There are many types of puppets. Decide which type of puppet would be good for you. Would you prefer a rod puppet or a muppet? Would a marionette, glove puppet or finger puppet suit you better? Get all the information you need, to make the right choice. You can create your own puppet out of anything.
How will your puppet operate?
After you decide on the type of puppet and what you want it to do, you would need to decide how it will operate. It needs a mechanism to do what it is expected to do. This must be easy for you to handle. The puppet must be the right size. If you are left handed, the puppet must be convenient for you to work with.
What material do you need?
Depending on the kind of puppet you plan to use, you will need to consider its weight, its looks, colors, texture, gender, age, character, etc. Make sure what you use is safe.
What is your budget?
You can create a puppet no matter how small your budget. Shop around for what you want. Whenever you see something that is likely to be useful, buy it. Collect what you are likely to use. Get durable material and tools.
Do you need any templates, sketches or samples?
If you are going to use a puppet, it is worthwhile to know how to make it because you are going to operate it. This will help you set it right in case you have a problem.
What about repairs?
Be prepared to carry out repairs when your puppet wears off. Find out where you can find the necessary material quickly to do this, so that your performance does not face a hitch. It is a good idea to keep some a spare parts ready in a repair kit that you can easily access when you need it.
To be a good puppeteer, you need plenty of energy to wield your puppet. Preferably choose a puppet that’s easy to handle and not too heavy, as it can get tiring. Practice the movements you need to make with the puppet. You may need to get a stand to place your puppet on, when you need to take a break during your act, especially if it is a long show.
Small puppets are easy to manage. You also need to think of storage options for your puppets to keep them free from dust before and after your show. If you use marionettes, you need to hang them up to avoid them getting tangled. Label all your storage containers since it will make it easier for you to find things.
Also, think about the stage, the props you plan to use and the lighting. You can also paint your puppet in neon colors or have a backlit theater. It all depends on what your show’s all about.
What about your workspace?
Mark out a place to work on your puppets and to store all your material. Make sure you have adequate ventilation as this is important when you use glues and paints, varnishes and woodwork. If you use special machinery, you will need a proper workshop with equipment that involves maintenance. If you have children or pets at home, keep them away from your tools.
Are you planning to work alone or with a partner?
As a puppeteer, you can hold an act on your own, or do it with a partner. The partner could be your friend, son or daughter. Depending on who you are planning to work with you will need to decide on the details and coordinate before you rehearse.
Building a puppet is a joy and you can create the puppet from your imagination. Learn to improvise along the act. If you get an idea that is not in the script, go ahead and introduce it. Practice will make you confident and perfect.
There are books that provide you the basics of puppets along with tips about how to build them, techniques you can use, ideas for setting up your stage, lighting tips, etc. with illustrated examples.
Tips on planning a puppet show
These tips apply whether you plan to work with children or adults.
• Young children can usually only manage one puppet while older children might be able to handle two. So you will need to choose accordingly.
• Before you put on a show, rehearse without the puppets, working on your expression and acting. You need to practice the dialogs and projection. You have to know the lines by rote and the sequence at which it must be said. Only then does it become easy to improvise.
• You may think of using a narrator to tell the story in between dialogs during the show. This can help link scenes and tell the audience what is happening. Your narrator can be visible to the audience or even stay backstage.
• If you are working with young children you may want the entire puppet show to be narrated.
• Break your show into ten or fifteen minute acts to make it more interesting to the audience.
Puppetry can start as a hobby and easily turn into a full time vocation if you become passionate about it. You might even have the opportunity to become an instructor at a puppetry class or camp. It’s a great route to becoming an actor, puppet designer or an animator. But to discover the fun of puppetry, you don’t really have to turn it into a career, although that’s exciting too. Making puppets and presenting them as a group or as a family show can be a wonderful experience and a great way to spend quality time together.