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Advanced Puppetry

You Thought You Learned It All?

You are probably asking why this is popping up now and why I didn’t add it to the earlier post on Puppetry Basics or; the reason is because if you master the basics, you have the foundation for starting a good puppet team. Plus, if you haven’t mastered the basics, this portion will only confuse the puppeteer. Start with cooking Raman and then move up to General Tso’s.

Back to Basics

Not really, this is going to show you some advanced modifications of the basics already learned. Remember that I have stated a few times now that any movement, be it an entrance, exit or on-stage gesture, if it is intentional and has believability within the skit, then it works and is not wrong. It is possible to go too far though and cause a gesture to detract from the story because the audience gets too hung up on the gesture and loses its focus on the story being presented.

Entrances and Exits

Let’s look at some modifications that generally would be considered wrong to do, but in the right context could add to the performance, as well as how they can be done without going too far overboard with them.

The Escalator- This has to be the number one no-no when bringing a puppet on stage. However, if the skit takes place at a mall or an airport, the puppet could logically enter the scene by riding up an escalator.

To have this look intentional and projected as a professionally thought out movement and not just a lazy way to introduce the puppet, there is a proper way of doing it.

The movement is from bottom to top and so your puppet can come up from any direction; the most common way being a side view from bottom stage left to upper stage center or bottom stage right to upper stage center. I personally like the visual effect given when starting off lower back of stage center and ending in proper view stage front, but this one requires some space, so if space is limited you will be forced to stick with the first two options.

From bottom to top, you need to have a steady 30-degree to 45-degree incline as you rise, making sure that when you end your incline, you are at belly button level on stage. Escalators are designed to give a smooth elevated ride with no jerks, bounces, or stops, so this must be projected in your movement. Something that I find also helps with the illusion is to give the puppet a child-like response as he or she is on the escalator.

Have you ever seen a child on an escalator? As they are going up, they have a fixed gaze just higher than the top of the escalator as if watching in expectation of a magic trick to occur or something. Another observation that can be made is that their mouths will slowly come open as they reach the top. Can’t explain it, it is a kid thing, but if you add these two subtle nuances to the movement, it will make the movement more intentional and enjoyable to watch. The audience will see a level of excitement on the puppet’s face as he or she is having fun on this ride and will actually feel a level of excitement in getting to watch this as if watching a child riding an escalator for the first time.

Another thing that will help add time to the scene as well as solidify this movement as a purposeful move, is to have the puppet come up the escalator, run a couple of steps (as if getting on another escalator) and have the puppet go down. Wait a few seconds, and have the puppet come back up the first escalator. Maybe throw in a “WEEEEEEE” and have another puppet, or narrator scold the puppet for playing on the escalator.

Note: Obviously, the escalator exit is exactly the same, just going down. Make sure that you match the angle no matter which direction you are going. You rarely will see an escalator going up at one angle and an escalator going down at a different pitch (angle).

The Lift (Elevator)- This is exactly the same as the escalator, but simply goes up and down. The important parts of this move is to make sure that you have a steady timed motion going up or down. Also, when you are in an elevator and it comes to a stop, you will notice a slight sudden jerk as the brake lock kicks in. A common mistake with this move that makes it look unpolished and unintentional is puppeteers forgetting to take their puppet of the lift.

Remember to always take one to two steps forward as if to get off of the lift before doing anything else. The same holds true for exiting; make sure that you actually step on the lift before going down. Go as far as to push the button, wait for it to open, walk on and turn to face the audience, Something I always tell puppeteers to do when coming up or down on a lift is to have the lift at the back of the stage so you will be forced to walk the puppet to the front of the stage. Another way is to have the lift on stage left or right so that the puppet comes into view with side profile to the audience.

Ice Skating- This is a combination of the traditional walk with some enhancements. With a walk, you lean on each step. As the left foot goes forward, the puppet slightly leans on the left then the next step has the puppet moving slightly forward and to the right as the weight shifts to the right foot; the same holds true for the skate, however, there is going to be an escalator type movement between steps, going a little farther than you would with a step. Always start each step by directing the head in that direction. In short, the puppet’s head will tilt to the left, move forward for about a three count and as you are moving forward, slowly straighten your head so that at the end of the three count your head is straight. Then you do the same for the other side, starting with your head leaning to the right. As you get more proficient in your skating routine, you will be able to work in some turns, twirls, falls, and jumps.

Pogo Stick- The puppet will use the staircase entrance and exit on this unless your stage has side curtains. Imagine yourself on a spring and visualize how it works as you bounce on it. As you go up, make sure not to go so high that you expose your arm and as you go down, don’t go down so far that it looks like you have fallen off of the pogo stick. Also remember to have a set top and bottom point so that you hit that point with each jump and land so it doesn’t look as if the puppet is going across hills and valleys. Like with the lift, make sure that if you are going to stop jumping that you get off of the pogo stick. Don’t just stop bouncing because there is no realistic way to do this without falling over.

Flying In- Now, bird puppets are going to be different, so don’t use this with them. This is for a puppet that might be a superhero or a wannabe superhero. The puppeteer will combine actions from the skate while having the arms out in front. Instead of the head leading the direction as in the skate, the arms will do the lead directing.

There are more that I could go over, but you get the idea and if you can master these as well as the basics, the others will come naturally to you. Just remember that every action needs to be intentional and play a functional role in the skit and not just done out of laziness or time filler.

In my next post I will cover advanced gestures, so keep an eye out. Until then, kee on Puppeteering.


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