Thursday, November 8, 2007

More About Puppets: Choosing a Puppet

Kids love my dragon puppet, but he's not ideal--his head is top-heavy, his mouth is too big for little hands, and his mouth is too stiff to operate properly. In this photo, you can see the problems the young girl is having trying to hold him properly. However, he works all right for the story, since he makes only a brief appearance "scaring" me--and he's very eye-catching. The story we're telling is from Margaret Read MacDonald's Three-Minute Tales, and is called "The Man Who Loved Dragons". It's a fun tale to tell!

Puppet selection is critical to successful storytelling with a puppet. All puppets are not suitable to this type of storytelling, just as all stories are not suitable for telling with a puppet.

Choose a puppet:

1. With a lovable, appealing character: who wants to watch a boring puppet?

2. With whom you can identify: what attracts you to the puppet? The same characteristics will attract audience members.

3. That you can give an appropriate voice: you might find it difficult to give a shark a voice that feels comfortable to you.

4. That fits your hand snugly but comfortably enough to manipulate easily and does not constrict your hand movements. A puppet that is too small or too large for your hand will have awkward movements, or could slide off your hand in performance. (As we see with the dragon above, he's just too big for the girl holding him.)

5. That you can develop a personality for. This goes back to needing to be able to identify with the puppet. I do not feel comfortable using “cartoon-y” puppets, those with features that are not characteristic of the animal in nature. (Okay, the dragon? Well, have you ever seen one? They might look like mine!) Some puppeteers do not like to use any type of animal puppet. Personal preferences like this are important to puppet selection.

6. That has eyes and other features that can be easily seen by your audience. The puppet’s eye contact with the audience is an important aspect of its interaction with them just as it is with you as a storyteller. Be sure the audience can see the puppet’s eyes, or modify the eyes as needed.

7. That is large enough to be seen by the largest audience you intend to use the puppet for. Audiences will quickly become bored and squirmy trying to see a puppet that is too small for its movements to be easily watched. (The dragon is great with large audiences, so that can sometimes overweigh his deficiencies.)

8. With a mouth that is easily manipulated (if it has a mouth). Some puppets have “hard” mouths that are difficult to work (like my dragon). Some of my favorite puppets have no mouths at all. But if the puppet has a mouth that you intend to use, it is important for the mouth to move naturally and easily.

Some wise words from a puppet master:

“On sensitive hands, puppets can live, but they demand more than your hands—you must give them your heart.”—Tom Tichenor

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