The Fundamentals of Puppetry
The goal of any puppeteer is to make the puppet look as natural as possible so that the message can be projected without distractions. A puppet that makes unnatural gestures or movements will draw the audience’s attention away from what’s being delivered. When the audience is focused on a puppet’s mannerisms they aren’t keying in on the message or the performance as a whole. In order to keep this from happening there are some must do’s that need to become second nature for the puppeteer in order for the program to go on without any unwanted and unprofessional distractions.
The first, most vital basic that you need to learn is:
Proper Mouth Movement
There are two main no no’s in puppetry that will register poor performance every time. They stand out like a sore thumb and turn off an audience quicker than anything.
The first is biting your words. This is due to lack of proper lip synchronization (lip sync).
Lip sync is when the movement of the mouth is in proper time to the words and syllables that are being spoken or sung. Have you ever seen a movie where the soundtrack was off or maybe an old foreign film where they have dubbed in another language over the original? This is what it looks like when your puppet has poor lip sync. When the lips and words are off even by a second, it’s almost enough to stop watching the performance in some cases. The goal is to open and close the mouth for each syllable and avoid biting the words. Simply speaking, when you bite your words, your mouth will be open when it is supposed to be closed and vice versa.
The first lesson to help eliminate biting your words is to make sure that you always start and end each sentence with your puppet’s mouth closed.
Practice Tip: Stand in front of a mirror and speak. Watch every movement that your mouth makes, now put on a puppet and practice having the puppets mouth match yours.
Practice Tip #2: using just your hand or a puppet, sing to the radio.
A second common mistake in proper mouth movement is known as flipping the lid. This is when you unconsciously stop moving your thumb and start popping your forehand up to talk. What happens, in turn, is the lower jaw of the puppet stays stationary while the entire top of the head moves up and down. Try to talk like that… go ahead; try it. After a few seconds of talking like that your neck is going to hate you.
Because of the suspension of disbelief, the audience is projecting life onto these puppets, they know that this is painful to do in real life and therefore the puppet must be in pain. Subconsciously sensing the puppet is in pain makes the audience feel uncomfortable as well and now you have lost their attention and they couldn’t even tell you why.
Practice Tip: Place your hand in the position that it will be in if you were wearing a puppet and place a light, easy to balance book on top of your hand and, as with the previous tip,sing to the radio without knocking the book off.
This is one of five basics that is needed to become a puppeteer that people will enjoy watching.
Join me in the next lesson to discuss the second important basic. Also check out the training video made on this topic. Dn’t forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel if you haven’t.