Monday, November 23, 2009


We get a lot of questions from aspiring puppeteers, and I've answered many of them individually. Been thinking that this FLEXI-BLOG might also be a good forum for discussing all things puppet related. Like my friend John K. does on his amazing animation blog: I'll try and pass along important info I've learned over the years towards the betterment of the Art of Puppetry. And hopefully, some of you will catch-the-dream and maybe even work for us one day. If anyone has any questions they'd like to pitch, I'm wearing my catchers mitt, and it has a face.

Below is a letter I received, with the name removed to protect the innocent:

Hello! I'm in a master's degree in puppetry arts program. I've seen your work since I was a child--the Juke Box Band was always my favorite part of Shining Time Station.

Glad to hear it. I'll definitely tell the band (they're right over there.)
I'm especially interested in film and TV work, but my program leans toward the theater side of puppetry. That's why I'm writing you--in hopes that you wouldn't mind giving me some advice on how best to pursue the film side of puppetry, so that when I graduate in a couple years, I'll be prepared.

I suggest you learn everything you can about designing, building and performing puppets LIVE. The more you know about all these aspects, the more "heart" you will be able to transmit to your characters. Most television and film puppetry is a "reflection" of character, rather than an embodiment. That is, the essence and personality seem to exist in some netherworld behind the puppet, rather than from inside it. I attribute that to many many (way too many) puppeteers mindlessly attempting to recreate the movement, voices and action from what they've seen on programs like Sesame Street. They put on the same google-eyed socks with the ear-to-ear slit-for-a-mouth, watch the monitor, and try Try TRY to replicate that aimless bouncing around that they saw as a kid which creates a colorless, color-by-numbers performance. Watch sometimes. They all run in the same way regardless of the character - - whether its a good guy, a monster or a carrot - - and they all do little double takes whenever someone talks to them - -whether the situation requires it or not. Same movements. Same voices. Pointless, copycat jiggling.
When you study puppetry for the stage by looking into a mirror as opposed to a monitor, you will discover many more sides and facets to the personality that is inherent within the character, not imposed upon it. You'll see what that fairy or demon really looks like from all angles; how a twist of the head can be quizzical or admonishing or both. What does gravity do to the way a puppet without legs actually walks, rather than giving the impression that the puppets are blindly bouncing on a water bed. The more you can transform your being into what's on your arm or down the strings, the more alive the puppet will seem in the audiences imagination. Then with this vital performance skill inscribed onto your DNA, once you put your character on camera and look at the monitor, rather than just filling in the prescribed blanks, you are filled with ideas on how to best use three dimensional space as a living breathing thinking character.

Are there particular skill sets or computer programs I should start learning?

Learn what you can about everything that interests you. This will not only infuse your puppet artistry, but will also make your whole life whole. Go forth and absorb and you'll find - - if puppetry is to be your true destiny - - that whatever you learn is tinged with " do I apply this to puppets. . ."

I would be very grateful for any guidance, however brief, that you would be willing to share with me.

I always ask aspiring puppeteers if there is anything else they'd rather do that puppetry. Because if there is, then do that other thing. Bear in mind that the field is cluttered with dilettantes. However, If you discover in your heart-of-hearts that you can't live without making something out of nothing, and make that something spring-to-life in someone elses imagination? Then, Welcome to the Bridge!

1 comment:

  1. Your proposal makes me happy, I'll be doing a thesis project next year wich includes puppetry (and I've never done puppetry) and I think its great to have a place where we can ask questions and solve troubles. I'm thankful.