When we first started our puppet experience, we only had two animal puppets and a make-shift theater. Upon finding out how effective they were, we decided to get some more and purchased a man, two boys and two girls. Three would have been enough for most plays, but we wanted to have some variety.
For a new team, I would suggest starting with a minimum of three children puppets. We have around 100 plays and at least half of them can be performed with two or three puppets. As time goes on, you may want to add an adult.
When we began there were only two choices of hand puppets; regular (half-body) puppets and human arm puppets. Today there are full-body puppets with or without removable legs and some allow you to insert your hand in the bottom or through the back. With all these choices, which should a team go with? Let’s take a look at the options in more detail.
Human Arm Puppets
Of the types listed above, the human arm puppet is the hardest one to use and master. To do it properly takes two puppeteers working together and a lot of practice. It’s important to maintain proper height because if you hold the puppet too low, the audience can barely see any arm movements.
You can work it with one puppeteer, but if they hold the puppet too high or lean it to one side the armless sleeve becomes visible. When that happens, it spoils the illusion and lessens the quality of the play.
It’s more difficult to maintain proper entrances and exits with this type of puppet. Also, when using two people, if the one doing the arms gets tired and lowers them, it looks like the puppet is stretching its neck. If the puppeteer working the mouth gets tired and drops but the puppet’s arms stay high, it looks unnatural.
Human arm puppets can be done very well and do add a lot to the program, but they are better used when the team has some experienced puppeteers that can do them properly.
Regular (Half-Body) Puppet
The half body or regular puppet has you insert your hand in the bottom and works best from a kneeling or sitting position on a low level or standing position on an upper level stage. Your arm is extended above your head during the performance. You can attach arm rods to each wrist that allow you to make gestures to add additional realism.
There are good reasons why this is a great puppet for beginning and advanced teams.
– You can clearly see your puppet during the performance which allows you to constantly gage the puppet’s height, maintain proper eye contact, check to see if it is leaning from side-to-side, etc.
– It is easy to do quality arm motions.
– Your arm remains hidden and isn’t exposed when the puppet exits.
– It is readily available in small, medium, and large sizes from most manufacturers.
– They seem to be the favorites of our team members when given a choice.
Full Body Puppet
This is full body type where you can’t detach the legs. We’ve used this type of puppet for close to a year now and have seen some advantages and disadvantages compared to the regular puppet.
– These puppets usually have a slit in the back where you insert your hand allowing you to stand behind a curtain with your puppet in front of you. For some, that is an easier way to work a puppet.
– Our theater is permanent and made out of luan plywood so you can’t see through it when working a puppet on your knees, but there is a curtain behind the puppets when they come up. The material is thin enough to see the audience without them knowing. When talking to an emcee out front, I can see the audience and make comments on what kids are doing, what they’re wearing, who’s sitting next to whom, and so on.
– They can be used out front in a solo puppet performance.
– It’s difficult to see your puppet to make sure you maintain proper height, eye contact, posture, etc.
– Some of the puppets have the slit in the deer hunting t shirt as well as the puppet which makes it easy to see the puppeteer’s arm when turning to the side or exiting.
– To me, it’s more tiring on the arm to hold the puppet out in front of you rather than up in front.
– If you only use it the same way as a regular puppet where the legs aren’t seen, it doesn’t add any value to your program.
Full Body Puppet with Removable Legs
– When performing in a regular theater, you can remove the legs and use it like a regular puppet.
– If you want to bring the puppet outside the theater, leave the legs on and use it like a full body puppet.
– With some extra practice, you can have the puppet sit on the theater and dangle its legs instead of standing behind it.
– If it’s a blacklight puppet, you can effectively use it both ways.
– If you only use them like regular puppets the legs can get in the way of performing.
– If you leave the legs on in a normal theater and insert your hand through the back, your arm can be seen when you exit or turn to the side.
When choosing what type of puppets to purchase for your team, it is important to think both short and long term. You may have a specific need for a regular puppet now, but later on may wish you had a full body one instead. Purchasing a puppet with removable legs would cover both.
We have little need for full bodied puppets with the way our room is set up. As a result, we have a couple of puppets that get very little use because they don’t fit our need. If we had thought more carefully, we would have bought regular puppets instead.
write by Cyril / Cyrus