Getting On Stage
The second most important basic to get under your belt in order to look professional and create that suspension of disbelief that your audience wants to give to your performance in how your puppet enters and exits the stage/scene.
There are some really bad ways to bring a puppet on stage, trust me I have seen them all and been guilty of quite a few over the years. The bad thing is they are all common mistakes made all of the time.
Note: Before going over these, let me preface by saying that there is no wrong way to enter or exit IF it is intentional and fits the performance and it does not harm the puppet (or puppeteer).
The Pop- this is where the puppet just pops straight up from behind the stage. With the popularity of scare games such as Five Nights at Freddy’s, this would equate to a “jump scare”. A time where this is good would be in a situation where maybe someone is digging a deep hole and someone calls to him or her, then that puppet can do a sudden pop up.
To use as an everyday entrance is too spontaneous and unexpected, therefore unnatural to the viewing audience and sets the tone for the rest of the program because, in the back of their mind, they are wondering when and where the next puppet will come from. Even in the case of multiple puppets lip syncing to a recorded song (which is where I see this happen all of the time), have a coordinated entrance that doesn’t just have the puppets appear from nowhere.
The Bounce- this one gives the impression that maybe the puppet was playing on a trampoline off stage. If the puppet is entering on a pogo stick then this is acceptable and can be a really good entrance, again, as long as it is intentional. Or maybe your puppet is a rabbit or kangaroo, then it is intentional, but this entrance is commonly done when a puppeteer is walking in their puppet and makes the steps too harsh.
The Escalator- gliding in as if the puppet is on an escalator can be comical and entertaining, but only if the puppet skit calls for the puppet to arrive on an escalator or maybe skiing or skateboarding, but with that, it needs to be prefaced somehow before hand to give a heads up to the audience that the action is intentional.. Any other time, the puppet looks as if it is ghostly and will detract from the presentation.
An, oftentimes, lazy version of the proper entrance is, what I call, The Ladder. It works out to look like a slow pop up with a sway that gives the appearance that the puppet is climbing straight up as if on a ladder. This doesn’t effectively use the depth of the stage and could look good if the skit is to take place on top of a roof or park slide, etc.
The Proper Entrance
Again, there is no wrong way to bring in a puppet as long as it fits into the skit or song that you are performing, but there is a standard that is generally used most of the time.
This standard entrance is The Staircase. To bring a puppet on stage in this manner, you want to picture an imaginary set of 3 to 5 stair steps and have your puppet walk up them to get to the proper height on stage. On the first step the head of your puppet should be below stage and on the last step, your puppet should be at proper height position (we will cover this shortly).
A common mistake made with this entrance is being too close to the front curtain which will give the ladder appearance, so make sure that you give yourself enough room, starting with your puppet hand pulled behind you in order to give you enough space to make your steps a proper distance apart.
Pay attention to how you and others walk up a flight of stairs. Do you stay even, up and forward? No, of course not. To do this would make your puppet appear to be jumping from one step to another; this one is called The Hop, by the way. And, again, rule of thumb is that it is fine if it is…? Intentional.
To pull off the entrance that we are looking for, start off on the first step with a lean to the right. As you come up to the second step, move your puppet incrementally forward and up in the same motion. Now, for the next step, do an equal sway (nothing too dramatic) to the left as you incrementally move up and forward. Keep switching out from side to side until you are in proper height position. Proper entrances may seem minor, but they do set the tone for the rest of the play.
This is really important when you have audience members who have seen good puppet performances in the past because they know that if there is purposeful care given to the little things like entrances, that the same level of professionalism and quality will be projected throughout the rest of the performance.
An exit is just an entrance in reverse. This is the last thing the audience sees, and it will leave a lasting impression that will make them remember the performance and you (which comes in great when setting up future performances). A proper exit says you care about the entire performance, not just the main skits. It shows professionalism and a sign that you care enough to give them a quality performance from beginning to end. If you are sloppy on the exits, it’s usually a matter of time before you get sloppy on other aspects of the performance. To do a proper exit, turn the puppet hand in toward you, NOT away from you, and then walk the puppet toward your chest as if it were going down the same steps that it walked up
Practice Tip: Have someone record you so that you can view your entrances and exits the way an audience will see them.
Hopefully you are continuing to practice these steps as we learn them. Practice is what makes it second nature. In my next post we go over basic number 3. Keep practicing and be sure to check out the training videos on youtube.