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The 10 Commandments of Puppet Care

Rules to live by

Whether you are a hobbyist or looking to go professional, there are certain rules that need to be adhered to if you are going to keep your puppets around for a long time.

Every puppet has a price tag attached to it, whether you bought it outright or built it yourself, therefore each puppet, every prop, all of your supplies are an investment and need to be treated as such.

The Top 10

Here are the top ten basic rules to insure that you get the most life out of your investment.

1: Ye shall not use the puppet for any physical activities that could potentially cause damage to the puppet or it’s accessories.

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Fighting

  • Treating puppets as a sports ball- kicking, throwing, shooting baskets, etc.

  • Using the puppet’s mouth as a glove and picking up items, biting people, other puppets or animals.

2: Ye shall not hold or carry any puppet in a manner that could loosen, break or damage stitching or appendages.

This includes, but not limited to:

  • Picking up, holding or transporting puppets by nose, ears, arms, hair, eyes or any other part that could get damaged over time.

3: Ye shall not make deliberate contact with the puppet in ways that will soil the puppet.

This includes:

  • Touching the puppet with hands that are dirty, sticky, wet or with uncovered fresh or bleeding scrapes, cuts or open sores.

  • Making contact with puppet skin or fur with makeup.

  • Using the puppet in conditions where others, such as small children, babies or animals could soil the puppet.

4. Ye shall not allow your puppet to touch the floor or any other surface that could, more than likely, transfer dirt or other damaging materials which could soil or harm the puppet’s surface.

Simple fact is that a floor is where people walk and, especially doing events outside of your area of practice where you are the one in charge of cleaning, it is difficult to know what exactly is on the ground. Always be aware of what your puppet is sitting in.

5.Ye shall not leave a puppet in any location that exposes the puppet to direct sunlight or excessive heat such as:

This could be anywhere that excessive change in degrees could happen.

  • In vehicles

  • Outdoor stages

  • In front of large windows

  • Directly next to heating units

Remember that your puppet is made of materials that can melt, combust or fade under the right conditions, so don’t mess with fate.

6. Ye shall never allow access of your puppet to anyone not properly trained and/or authorized to do so.

Honestly, most of the damage caused to puppets aren’t by the puppeteer themselves, if they are trained; no it’s from people not authorized to use them, that thinks it would be fun to play around with them.

Make sure that your puppets aren’t “loaned out” to people who can’t or won’t properly handle them and make certain to store all puppets in way that keeps them securely out of unauthorized hands.

7. Ye shall never leave external props, supports or attachments, such as arm rods attached to puppets when being stored.

This is one of the biggest no no’s that I have seen so many times. People find it easier to just leave the arm rods attached when they store a puppet, thinking that it will be less work the next time they pull out their puppet. The only problem with this is that the arm rod is usually bent, it sometimes catches on the puppet in a way that causes fabric stretches, rips and scratches on eyes. I once saw a puppet that had a cardboard mouth covered in thin felt; the armrod had pressed into the puppet because it was stored with other puppets in a plastic bin, which caused a large rip inside the mouth as well as a crease that permanently deformed the face.

8. Ye shall ALWAYS clean your puppet before storing.

This is so important. If you do your maintenance on the puppet before storing it, it will be ready to go the next time you pull it out. A thorough cleaning and once over before storing and a quick once over each time you pull your puppet out to use will guarantee that you will not notice when something needs attention, such as loose stitches, etc.

  • Brush down hair/fur

  • Wipe down non fabric components, such as eyes, with a damp cloth (no chemical cleaners).

  • Dust the inside with a medicated powder.

  • If the puppet is wearing a costume that is not it’s normal attire, remove it and properly store them.

9. Ye shall place puppets in proper storage locations that are designated specifically for the puppet.

Ok, the operative word here is “PROPER”. Shoving your entire puppet collection in a filing cabinet (no names mentioned here, but you know who you are) is NOT proper storage.

Each puppet needs it’s own spot that keeps it from making tight contact with other puppets.

I have seen situations where eyes get scratched or even broken because they got caught on another hard surface of a secondary puppet.

10. Ye shall always be aware of and report any and all situations with the puppets, props or accessories to have them taken care of as soon as possible.

“A stitch in time saves nine.” We have all heard this quote, but some don’t understand what it is talking about. Basically, if you catch a loose stitch when it is a single loose stitch, it will save you having to sew an appendage back on. Repairing one stitch saves you time and money...oh, and frustration.

Bonus- The Golden Rule of Puppetry.

Do unto other (supplies in your puppet team-scripts, props, mics, etc) that you would have done to your puppet.

Always treat everything that is part of the puppet team as good as you treat the puppet. Your puppet is obviously the biggest part of your performance, but if you have a tattered stage or mics that crackle form being dropped one too many times, it takes away from the professionalism and will affect future perceptions, as well as your pocketbook when you have to replace these items.

In short, treat your puppet supplies right and they will serve you well for a long time. I had a puppet that was 30 years old when I donated it to a ministry in Peru and it was still the same as when I first bought it, minus a few small scuffs in the eyes that I was able to repair with a Sharpie.

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