Top 5 Reactions to the Word ‘Puppet’

Puppets are not for the faint of heart.

Puppets are not for the faint of heart.                Photo by Patricia Germann.

We discovered over the course of Malevolent Creatures rehearsals that we’ve all gotten pretty similar reactions when the word ‘puppet’ comes up in ordinary conversation. Here are the top five comments we’re used to hearing. Have you made one or more of them when meeting a puppeteer?

1. “Oh like the Muppets!” Well, um, not always. In fact, we’ve never created a show with hand-and-rod style puppets before, although we’re in the planning stages for one with GALA Hispanic Theatre.

2. “So you do stuff like on Sesame Street!” No, not really. Not too much counting or alphabet songs in our shows. Not all puppets are intended for children, despite the ubiquity of Big Bird and Bert and Ernie in our culture.

3. “Um…like Pinnochio?” Aside from Jim Henson, this is probably the only other named puppet character that most people can come up with.

4. “How cute!” Yes, very….until the puppet starts to go on a rampage and eat the audience. Wait, what? Oh right. NOT ALL PUPPETS ARE FOR CHILDREN. OR SQUEAMISH ADULTS.

5. “Is that a real job?” As a matter of fact, it is! Aren’t we lucky?

Workshop Photos

Puppets are not for the faint of heart. Photo by Patricia Germann.

Puppets are not for the faint of heart. Photo by Patricia Germann.

We had a fantastic two showings of Malevolent Creatures a few weeks ago. If you were unable to join us, here are some photos of the puppets and the process. Check back soon for more information about the next development stage of this show!

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Puppets Like Football Too!

Rehearsal puppet put together and strung on a control!

Rehearsal puppet put together and strung on a control!

I created this rehearsal puppet for Malevolent Creatures about a month ago, with no idea that he would become such a fun tool for improvisation. Throughout our rehearsals, whenever there was a break, someone would pick him up, give him a funny voice and start a conversation. Eventually we decided that (outside of the world of the play) he was French. And since the World Cup is in full swing, it was inevitable that the puppet would get pulled into our many arguments about who was going to win the day’s games. Clearly, puppets love football just as much as people. Here is a short video of our puppet explaining his views, as performed by Elizabeth Dapo.

June Grab Bag

A roundup of articles, videos and more that we highlighted on Twitter this month. 

A new book from Ashley Bryan. See #3.

A new book from Ashley Bryan.     See #2.

1. Paul McCartney. And a robot puppet. Dancing together in this video. Need I say more?

2. Children’s author Ashley Bryan makes puppets from found objects washed up on the beach near his home on Little Cranberry Island, Maine. Read this interview from Publisher’s Weekly about his new book of puppets coming out this summer.

3. ADORABLE tabletop puppetry is featured in the production Moominsummer Madness from Polka Theatre in London. Based on the stories of legendary author Tove Jansson, you should definitely check this out if you are in the UK.

4. A gallery of Drabbits from the fabulous Imaginarium Galleries in Pennsylvania.

5. I think it’s safe to say that Julie Taymor’s work on Disney’s The Lion King was the first glimpse many people had of non-Sesame Street puppets. It’s coming back to the Kennedy Center this summer.

Not-So-Malevolent Rehearsals

Since we are devising this show rather than working from an existing script, rehearsals are a mix of discussion, improvisation and lots and lots of laughter.  A reminder that our work-in-progress showings are June 26/27 at 7pm at GALA Hispanic Theatre! Tickets are free and you can reserve your spot here. A few photos of the team in action:

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Improvising a set with items in the room.

Carol reacts to a rehearsal puppet.

Carol reacts to a rehearsal puppet.

Sometimes you think better when everyone is on the floor.

Sometimes you think better when everyone is on the floor.

Rehearsal puppet in pieces.

Rehearsal puppet in pieces.

Rehearsal puppet put together and strung on a control!

Rehearsal puppet put together and strung on a control!

A Quick Guide to Puppets

Curious about puppets? Looking for some basic information about how to tell what kind of a puppet you might be looking at? You’ve come to the right place. Puppets are quickly gaining exposure in our popular culture, but they belong to a very old tradition, and are just as diverse as many other art forms. Here are some basics to know:

The definition of ‘puppet’ can be slightly different depending on who you talk to. Most people picture the fabric toy puppets they might have had as children, or the Muppet characters created by Jim Henson for Sesame Street. We often say that a puppet is any object brought to life by an operator, a definition which includes both realistic and abstract characters.

A hand puppet created by a student.

A hand puppet created by a student.

Hand puppets are puppets operated by the puppeteers hand inside the puppet’s body, usually making the head and hands move. Punch and Judy are good examples of traditional hand puppets. Sometimes a hand puppet is operated by two people, such as Telly Monster from Sesame Street.

Rod puppets are puppets with a rod holding up the body and usually two rods controlling the hands or arms. This allows the puppeteer to put some distance between themselves and the puppet. They are traditionally found in southeast Asia, primarily Indonesia.

Czech style marionette.

Czech style marionette.

Marionettes are puppets controlled by strings or wires. A good example of marionettes are the puppets in the movie The Sound of Music. Some marionettes can have up to a dozen strings controlling all the different parts of the body. Marionettes are usually human figures but can also be animals or abstract figures.

Over-life-size puppets is the term used by puppet historian John Bell to describe puppets that are larger than human size or enclose the puppeteer inside the puppet. Big Bird, from Sesame Street is an example of this kind of puppet.

Shadow puppets that we created for Fabulas Mayas at GALA Hispanic Theatre.

Shadow puppets that we created for Fabulas Mayas at GALA Hispanic Theatre.

Shadow puppets are flat cutout figures traditionally seen in silhouette, behind a screen. They can be made of paper, plastic, or leather and are sometimes opaque and sometimes translucent.

Object puppet is a term we sometimes use to describe characters that are created from found objects. All puppets can be classified as ‘object theater’ but these are characters made from a single object such as a hairbrush, fork or pair of binoculars.

Bunraku is a style of puppet originally from Japan. They are usually half or three quarters of human size and are operated by three puppeteers at once.

May Grab Bag

A roundup of articles and more that we highlighted on Twitter this month

Czech style marionette carved by Cecilia in one of Mirek's classes.

Czech style marionette carved by Cecilia in one of Mirek’s classes. See #1

1. A great article with even more awesome photos about our friend Mirek Trejtnar who runs the Puppets in Prague marionette-building workshops. Read it if you’ve ever been curious about how to make a marionette.

2. Some advice from Jim Henson, rendered in brilliant comic form by Gavin Aung Than. Read it for inspiration–we keep it handy in the studio for when motivation is needed!

3. Genna discovered this article about an artist performing with puppets in the New York subway. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone perform with a puppet in the DC metro–have you?

4. An article and video from Sandglass Theater of Vermont about their recent experiences performing in Cuba. Their work is a huge inspiration to us and well worth a look.

5. NPR has a weekly podcast called Pop Culture Happy Hour and recently one of the discussion topics was fairy tales. It’s not exactly the kind of stories we’re working with for Malevolent Creatures but still interesting and fun to listen to.