Starting Your Team
Now that we have discussed all of the basics and got those out of the way, there is a chance that some of you are wanting to move to the next level and develop a team. If not, that’s alright. Keep reading to ge an idea of what is involved anyway, because, if you are going to look into getting into an independent act, this will still help you. The only difference is that you will be
wearing all the hats.This is where the fun begins. In this post, I will cover and lightly discuss everything you need to know to get started. I will try to cover all of the bases in a way that I hope doesn’t seem too overwhelming.
So if I haven’t scared you off yet, let’s get started.
The Positions needing filled
In my years of doing this, I can honestly say that it is a long row to hoe, but you can start a really good puppet team with only two people, if you are willing to put in the effort and wear many hats.
Knowing this makes it easier to be the bad guy when needed and cutting away the dead weight that will come along and test your leadership and, if nothing else, the overall professionalism of your team.
That being said, a puppet team has many positions that need to be filled. You will find that it’s not just about putting on a puppet and going forward.
I will, first, give a list of the roles and then go into detail about each. If you are a small team, then there will obviously be members who fill more than one position. I actually encourage team members to learn multiple positions simply because it is practical to have a team that can jump in where they are needed when a situation occurs.
There was once a situation where, right before a performance, a family emergency came up concerning our sound-man and he had to leave. His duties were split among three other puppeteers, each taking over when the other was needed on stage. The performance went off without a hitch or hiccup.
It is important that each member knows exactly what their title and job requirement are, as well as the jobs of the other members, so now for a breakdown of each position and what it entails.
Director- The director is the head honcho; the one who oversees all aspects of the team. It is a great responsibility to take on, so would-be directors need to think and pray hard about their decision to do it before jumping in with both feet. Just remember, everything ends at the head, so every issue is yours, every decision is yours even if you didn’t make it.
So now that I have scared you, let me say that being the director of a quality puppet team is a ministry that can be a life changing experience for you that you will never regret. By following the guidelines I’m going to be setting out, setting up and operating a successful team won’t be a breeze, but it will set your team up as a well oiled machine that will alleviate many of your responsibilities as other members of your team take over.
The responsibilities of a director will vary depending on the size and scope of your team. There are, however, a few things that will be a constant no matter what.
Director needs to:
Be in charge, leadership is very important. Effective leadership is the determining factor in how well the team will function.
To set up and choreograph programs. Even if you get your team to the point that you have a choreographer and/or stage manager, you are still going to want to keep abreast of everything going on.
Keep aware of budgeting. Again, you may have a financial director a.k.a. treasurer, but it is important as the director, to keep informed of every expense as well as any income.
Be the long arm of the law. This is the hard one for many people. It is vitally important to keep discipline a big part of the team. To let the members get by with poor quality standards, both in performance and attitude, will reflect on the performance and the general moral of the team as a whole. Sometimes, the director has to be the bad guy in order to keep the team professional.
Continue to learn. Don’t assume that because your team is good that they can’t get any better. It’s the director’s job to keep the team growing more professional. Always look for new things to add to a performance. Personally, look for new ways to recruit, train, lead and excel as a director.
Be a guidance counselor when needed. The better your team gets, the more it will be like an extended family. As such, there are going to be times where there will be personal issues where a director isn’t so much needed as much as a friend or parental figure. Be ready for it.
Assistant Director- The assistant director will sometimes feel like the unsung hero of the group. It is the assistant director’s duty to know everything that the director knows in order to help the director keep everything together and organized.
Also, since the director cannot be in multiple places at once, it is the assistant’s job to be the director’s eyes and ears in locations that the director cannot be. A good example of this would be during a performance. Obviously the director would not be able to be behind stage, while making sure that the technical end of things (i.e. sound, lighting, cues) are going to script up in the sound booth.
A personal preference of mine that seems to work out pretty good is to have an assistant director for every 6 to 8 team members and if your entire team consists of younger children, I would say one for every 4 to 6 team members. This works out great when you are trying to practice multiple skits at once.
Assistant Directors need to:
Be able to step in as the director when needed. This does not mean that the assistant will over rule the director. I have seen situations where the assistants have become power hungry, which led to pride, which led to power struggles within the team.
Follow directions as well as relay directions well. If given a directive by the director to relay to the rest of the team, it is important that the directive be properly relayed or this could lead to confusion.
Be willing to step into any role that is required of you. This could be anywhere from emcee to director. Just like the director, the assistant will wear many hats (in some situations, at the same time).
Be punctual and organized. It is the job of the assistant to assist the director, so the assistant needs to be there. Anywhere at any time, the assistant needs to be on time and ready to do what is required.
I could get into more specifics with this, but as your team develops, the director will know specifically what will be required.
Puppeteer-This is the backbone position of the team. Without effectively trained puppeteers, you do not have a team. From this group you have professional entertainers, actors, story-tellers, script writers, designers, teachers, and it is from this group that you will find your future directors, assistant directors, sound techs, lighting techs, emcees, etc.
This is the group that will make or break your team. Always remember that a good team can be started with two people, so there is no excuse for having lousy or unprofessional team members. They will only bring down the team.
I have seen a few situations over the years where certain team members were allowed to break every rule of the team, never show up on time, they were disruptive, and basically ran the team in the ground, all because they were allowed to do it and not receive any repercussions for their actions. Often times (more often than not) these were the pastor’s kids. I realize this statement has me stepping on toes, but we do these individuals no justice by letting them act this way without consequences because it only teaches them to continue their activities, children of leadership or not. This will project on how your team comes off.
The responsibilities of the puppeteer are as followed:
The puppeteer must have a desire to do it. Being a puppeteer is a strenuous job that requires dexterity, upper body strength, and a willingness to work in sometimes-tight situations.
Must be punctual. Practice is a must and, because most people have lives outside of the puppet stage; it is important that schedules be kept.
Needs to be willing to learn. There are so many learned aspects of puppetry, by which there is no way for every puppeteer to know everything. If they have a willingness to learn, however, then they will pick up a lot that they can use, not only in the team, but personally as well.
Needs to be able to follow rules as well as instructions. Rules are set in place to put everyone on the same playing field. You have heard that saying, “there is no ‘I’ in team”; well, in this team, everyone works together as a well trained unit and in order to do that, there needs to be order and this is why rules are in place. If a person cannot follow rules, or is easily offended when disciplinary action is given for not following the rules, then this is a person that will not be an effective member of the team and will only cause future situations.
Doesn’t need to be totally fit, but must be willing to practice daily. In any given program, there will be times where a puppet is going to be on stage for more than two minutes and when that happens, the puppeteer’s arm will begin to get heavier and fatigued. The only way to keep your puppet out of quicksand or lazy prop is to strengthen those muscles that are being used regularly when performing. The only way to do this is to practice daily to know what those muscles are and then to supplement practice with working out to help build those muscles.
Above all else, the puppeteer needs to be available. Available to learn, available to step into another role if needed, available to do whatever it takes to help develop and grow the team.
When working with different age groups, you will have different issues as well as different expectations, but all puppeteers need to have these six basic responsibilities down in order to work as a puppeteer.
Technician- this is one of the team members who is rarely ever seen and rarely gets the credit that they deserve. These are your sound techs, your lighting techs, and your general stagehands. These positions are just as important as the puppeteers themselves. These are the ones that keep everything flowing professionally and, more importantly, they keep things flowing when something goes wrong (and trust me, it will).
Techs must understand the basics of running a sound system, lighting system, etc. There really is a very small learning curve to this that cannot be learned while in the middle of a program. Poor quality in the area of tech issues during a performance reflects poorly on the entire performance as well as the team.
Must be willing to learn new things. Systems give out, money comes in, eventually new systems, new programs and updated equipment will be brought in and the tech needs to understand anything new being brought in.
Has to be willing to jump in where needed. If extra puppets are needed to fill a scene, if there needs to be someone as a runner for the director, if there is a situation that needs an extra hand, the tech needs to be able to fill that spot.
Must follow directions without adlibs or creative liberty unless discussed with director. I had a friend who was a great videographer, but he had a tendency to interject his own “ideations” to the project and it caused friction and wasted time when we had to go back and re-shoot scenes because we knew nothing of the changes until we were in final production.
Must be willing to teach others. Often times, techs take on a “job security” mentality, where they are fearful in teaching others their positions due to a feeling that the other person is there to take the job from them. It is important that multiple people know and understand the basics of how every aspect of the team works so that if one link in the chain is missing, that link can be temporarily replaced by another link so that the program can still run smoothly.
Must be able to relate information. If there is a situation, the director will only be able to assist in rectifying the situation if it is properly relayed.
If your puppeteers are the backbone, then your technicians are your cerebral cortex. They are the ones that keep things running. Do not forget to give these people the respect and notoriety that they deserve.
Emcee- your emcee is the one who will work as your announcer during programs, will play off stage voice roles (such as God, and so forth) as well as an improv person in between skits and when things don’t go as planned.
The emcee will generally be the one to set the initial mood of the performance and be the last to give closing responses, so the emcee is real important to the performance and keeping up the appearance of uniformity and structure, so that it doesn’t look like a bunch of skits randomly put together to fill time.
Be able to speak clearly. Whether on a microphone or not, the emcee must be heard clearly and understood by the entire audience.
The Emcee must:
Not be afraid of getting up in front of people. An emcee trying to introduce a skit and can’t get to it because he or she is about to faint from fear will not work.
Have the ability to improvise as well as go from a script.
Needs to have the ability to read without sounding like he or she is reading. If this is not possible, they need to be able to memorize script so that they do not come off as reading.
A good emcee is hard to find, a great emcee is even harder, so once you find a good emcee, keep them happy and the performance will be happy. If you have a bad emcee, it is better to find a new one as soon as possible so that future performances do not suffer.
accountant:- whether this is an actual accountant, a church treasurer, or the director with a shoebox full of receipts, you need to have someone in charge of keeping the books. From the beginning, make sure to have a budget in place. Stewardship is important.
Knowing where your money is going and what kind of investments you are making can help you in the future.
Qualities of a good accountant:
Your accountant needs to be mathematically literate. If he or she cannot add or subtract then it’s probably not a good idea to put them in charge of your money.
They must be organized. Keeping track of all of your receipts can almost be a full time job.
When starting out, you may have a small budget and if you are in a church group, it may be best to have the church treasurer keep the records for you, but as you grow, you may go as far as to create your own outside account that is used solely for the group and nothing else. Now with this, it is important to hold yourself accountable.
Volunteer-These are the people who help from the sidelines. Generally, they are parents, family members, friends and church associates who assist you financially and physically on your endeavors. This is the pool of people that you will get your bus drivers from, your costume designers, your prayer partners, financiers and sometimes, extra stage hands.
Though they are volunteers, they still need to abide by some basic rules that will keep the team running smoothly.
It doesn’t matter how big or how small the team, there is inevitably someone who will come along thinking that they can do the director job better than the director.
This becomes especially more of an issue if the person is an elder to the director and/or is a pastor, associate minister, board member or a major donation base for the team. This is why it is vitally important for the team to have set guidelines from the beginning.
Volunteer guidelines are:
They must be willing to help where needed if they are volunteering physically; not necessarily where they want to help.
If they are going to be working in a performance, they must follow the same schedule and rules that the puppeteers do.
If there is a problem with the director, a team member, or another volunteer, they must follow the Matthew standard for handling a situation. In the book of Matthew, Jesus gives us clear direction on how to handle a situation with a brother (or sister).
Any grievances need to be handled subtly. In my early years of traveling performance, I had a situation happen with me that led me to make this rule for any group that I am in charge of.
Not trying to sound as if I am mulling over sour grapes, but to give an example of a situation that could take place and to watch out for, here you go.
We had just spent all day traveling and finally made it to a hotel. While unpacking, some of the boys turned on the television and was watching some late night standup show.
There was apparently some language in it. Long story short, one of the volunteers, rather than asking them to turn it off, waited for me to walk in and proceeded to brow beat me in front of the team members as to the fact that I should be ashamed of myself for letting them watch that, etc. Mind you, I just walked in the room and had no idea of what was being viewed.
Not being the head director of this group, I went to the director, who was already being yelled to by this individual about how I was allowing this to go on. Did I mention that this conversation went on in front of a second group of team members? This time, the volunteer bus driver was quoting some of the “words” that were being spoken on the television show (in front of the aforementioned group consisting of a few puppeteers as young as 10). Neither the director nor I knew exactly how to handle this because this person was a volunteer as well as a major contributor to the church. I was humiliated and almost called a cab that night to get to the nearest bus station.
So, to this day I will not allow any team member or volunteer to treat anyone else on a team I am in charge of with disrespect. I also have a thing against nepotism. Just because someone is a big contributor, that doesn’t give them any reason to demean or demoralize another person. All of my rules and guidelines are biblically and professionally based in order to keep everyone on the team in the team.
If they are financial donors, this does not automatically give them a say in how their donation is spent, although, I highly encourage communication between the team leadership and the donors, so that they are aware of what their funding is going towards.
Volunteers are the driving force. They are the cheerleaders that keep the team motivated and with a vision. They are just as much a part of the team as the puppeteers and should be treated as such.
These are the core people who will make up a team. As you grow, these positions can be further broken down into more positions. For example, you may want someone to just be in charge of the lights and someone else in charge of sound. You can have someone in charge of stage assembly and striking, or even another position for someone just there to properly pack and unpack puppets and props.
Change things up occasionally also. Don’t allow any team member to fall into a niche and stay there. You want every member of the team to have a basic understanding of every element of the team. With new members coming in, once you are established, it is a good idea for them to train in every position before actually putting a puppet to use in a performance.