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Everyone has played with a puppet at one time or another. But for some people, making bits of cloth and wood come to life becomes a passion that follows them through their lives.

Puppeteers build, develop and perform with their creations in scripted plays or in improvisational plays (made up as they go). Being a puppeteer mixes crafting skills with story writing and acting.

For the amateur puppeteer, something as simple as a couch can become a stage. (Stuffed animals make an excellent audience for beginners -- they never criticize or throw anything!)

On a more professional level, there are two types of stages: those that are meant to travel and those that are permanently located. The traveling kind can be taken to schools, community centers or anywhere else an audience is waiting. Portable stages are the kind that most puppeteers use.

Puppetry is an art form that sometimes doesn't get the respect it deserves from other people working in the dramatic arts. Puppets are actors, and therefore good puppeteers must have as much talent as actors who work in television or movies.

A quality puppet show will grab the attention of the audience because it keeps them on their toes, making them believe that the characters are living and breathing.

Puppets have been around since ancient times, and one of the earliest forms is still around. A version of this can be seen any time someone is playing around and making shapes using an overhead projector.

Shadow puppets were used by our ancestors to tell stories and to entertain one another. Cut-out figures were projected on to the side of a tent or a big rock using light from a campfire.

When people look for entertainment in North America today, a lot turn to that infamous box -- television. North Americans haven't developed as much of an interest in puppets as people in Europe have.

Puppets have been an important part of the European theater scene for a very long time. Street entertainment in 19th-century England was often provided by Punch and Judy, two puppets that have a strong European and worldwide following still today.

If you still would rather watch TV, you can find some puppets there too. The Muppets and Sesame Street are where many people in the U.S. were first exposed to puppetry. Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog and the Cookie Monster are big names in the entertainment business. If you ever see Miss Piggy, she'll be the first one to tell you that she is the biggest star!

Television and the movies are going to continue to occupy people's time, and puppets will always have to compete with these two giants. Puppeteers devote time to this art and will continue to offer shows to audiences.

If you are considering a career in the theater, you may consider puppetry as an option. The University of Connecticut has the only program in the United States where students can get a university degree in puppet arts.

Christine Cook is a professional puppeteer. "I believe there is a large number of people who are interested in puppetry as an art form who go to shows. Credit must be given to Jim Henson and the Muppets, as pretty much everyone under 35 has been raised watching puppets on TV.

"There is a much smaller number of people interested in doing puppetry. Puppeteers are strange people. Think about it. They are performers, who by nature of their profession are people who seek attention and desire others to watch them.

"Puppeteers hide behind a doll, inside a costume, or drape themselves in black so they disappear altogether. Weird people. Nice, but weird."

Designing a puppet can be as simple or as intricate as the puppeteer likes. There are different types of puppets to consider as well. Some will say the simpler the better, as simple puppets help avoid things going wrong during a production.

Getting Started

Fortunately for beginning puppeteers, the costs are quite low. Household stuff makes a good starting point.

"Newspaper and flour, old clothes, weird junk. As you become more versed in sculpting techniques and more particular about your material and style, it will cost more," says Cook. "The main thing puppetry costs is time."

Some of the basic types of puppets include:

Basic hand puppet: Usually they will have two sections, the body and the head. The body can be made of fabric, with hands made of materials like paper mache, wood or parts from an old doll. For the head, puppeteers can use different things, like paper mache, Styrofoam and fabric. Use your imagination to make your creation come to life.

Hand puppets with mouths: The lower part of the mouth will move to talk to your audience. Build the mouth first, and make sure it will be easy enough to move when the show is on. The puppeteer's hand should fit comfortably in the puppet, and should not be uncomfortable or cramped.

Hand and rod puppet: Jim Henson's Muppets are good examples of this kind. The puppeteer's one hand is in the head of the puppet to animate the mouth, while the other hand controls the rods that are attached to the puppet's arms or the other moving parts.

Using material that moves easily is important, like foam or fabric. Some puppets even require more than one person to make them come to life.

Rod puppets: This type involves a main support rod making up the middle of the body. Other rods are attached to the arms, head, legs or anything else that needs to move. Good coordination and practice are especially important with rod puppets, and all other types for that matter.

Marionettes: In this case, the puppeteer is above the stage, and the puppet dangles from strings attached to various body parts. These puppets can be manipulated to look like they are dancing or walking.

As you can see from all these different types, there are a lot of choices for puppeteers. Choosing the type of puppet is important to have the show go on as the puppeteer wants the audience to see it.

Being coordinated is a quality that will help puppeteers, as well as the ability to do more than one thing at a time. Dramatic skills help people in their hobby or profession as a puppeteer.

Think puppetry is kind of cool? Consider these careers:

Professional puppeteer: Creating puppets, developing shows and performing for people. Traveling can be a big part of this job.

Theater manager: Organizing puppet shows and other events. Promoting the shows so that people are interested and come back again and again!

Talent agent: Traveling from place to place, seeking out the next potential Jim Henson. This job might not just relate to puppeteers, but to other people who are future stars of movies, stage or television.

When thinking of taking up a hobby or profession, sometimes people get cold feet. Here are some tips to think about:

  • Practice makes perfect. Try and try again.
  • Experiment with as many types of puppets as possible.
  • Tune in to your audience. Use their feedback.
  • Recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and use them.
  • Avoid showing off. The puppet is the star, not the puppeteer.
  • One tip that seems like common sense, but is really important: Make sure the stage doesn't fall down!


Center for Puppetry Arts
With an education section and links to a museum
Learn more about your favorite characters

The Puppetry Home Page
A free resource for the puppetry community

The Punch Page
Everything related to the famous puppet

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