It's quite simple really, when you breath, the puppet breathes.
This Saturday I went a Puppeteering crash course, meaning it was a one day experience, at the Home of British Puppeteering, The Little Angel Theatre.
The day started at 10am and like all events/courses like these, all the attendees introduced themselves. A group of roughly 16 people from all different backgrounds and interests all there to learn how to be a puppeteer.
We were then treated to various performances by our New Zealander puppeteer workshop leader, Ollie. He showed us all his puppets made from everyday items, including a Mexican hat rod operated puppet, an acrobatic potato sack and an Italian glove tightrope walker. Then we were shown the different types of puppets, concentrating on glove puppets, think Punch and Judy and rod puppets, think the Muppets. One of the group actually had brought a Muppet she bought in New York with her. It was fantastic! Made me want to go out and get my own puppet to play with.
The main focus of the day was not on creating a puppet but learning how to work with puppets. The important lessons of learning how to be independent of your puppet and how to make it breath.
We were all given a black bin bag (its sounds strange but actually it was very effective) and had to create a shape that could resemble a puppet. We did several exercises where we made our puppets breath and become a real live puppet, then we had to interact with other by doing a following and stalking game. Highly amusing. Controlling a puppet made me think back to when I was younger when I played with puppets and toys, making them come alive.
Ollie did say, never underestimate the power of play.
After Lunch we practiced more with our plastic bags and then we moved onto sticks where we learnt the same disciplines as the bag. Only this time we learnt to smoothly change hands and pass on the sticks to others. Most of these exercises may sound odd to you but believe me, it all made sense.
The last few hours of the day was so much fun. We finally got to use actual crafted puppets. Starting off with glove puppets. My character was a gloomy one, his mouth resembled a fish's mouth and the voice I gave him was a stuffed up pompous fool. Once we had got to know our puppets we got to join in with everyone else. Some very amusing conversations with a bald puppet wearing elaborate clothing who was confused about his life and even stranger conversations with Mr Punch himself. It turned out that my puppet had murdered his wife, and dog. In another scenario, Mr Punch had kissed my puppet's wife thinking it was someone else.
We moved onto rod puppets, mine was an old man, who I think was used in The Tempest when it was performed at the theatre. We got to perform in front of the group in pairs. My puppet partener and I decided to perform with The Albino and The Old Man. The conversation was about a velvet cloak and compliments. We got quite a few laughs and I was complimented on my puppetery skills.
Such a brilliant day and I would definitely recommend the course to anyone who loves puppets, theatre and having fun. Look on the theatre's website for more information.