Puppets appeal both to the craftsman and the theater man. They give an opportunity to design and build and to put on a play. Because a puppet may be constructed very simply out of almost any sort of material, one need never be stopped for lack of something so long as one uses ingenuity. A puppet may also be made with endless pains to give it the highest degree of finish; it can be a work of art. But no matter how simple or how finished it is, it will come to life and become an actor in the hands of a manipulator with a sense of the theater. An elaborate stage is not necessary for it. It can be made to act over the back of a chair or on a table. But if a full stage presentation with special lights and scenery is possible, it can give the illusion of the full-scale theater with a fraction of the space and expense demanded by that theater.
For informal entertainment a puppet can be improvised of a ball or small potato stuck on the end of the index finger over a cloth which covers the hand. The thumb and second finger working under the cloth suggest arms. Or the first two fingers can serve as legs for a small figure supported on the hand. Such puppets as these depend upon the skill of the manipulator more than anything else for their effect (fig. 128).
For skits, dances, and plays more formally worked out, more highly developed puppets are desirable. Among the types most often used are shadow figures, string-puppets, rod-puppets, and hand-puppets. Each has its own virtues and limitations. Shadow figures arc flat, made of cardboard or other opaque material, casting a silhouette, or of celluloid or other translucent material, casting a colored shadow. They maye be jointed, and are generally worked from below by rods and strings. As they move only in the plane of the cloth or paper screen on which their shadows are cast, they are best for processional movement such as parades. In plays with long dialogue their action is apt to become monotous (fig. 129).
String-puppets are jointed, three-dimensional figures, ranging from one-quarter to one-third human size for audiences of up to 500, made of wood, cloth, wire, and a variety of other materials, and worked from above by strings attached to a controller. Their workability depends in a large measure upon the smooth construction of their joints, the balance of the parts of their body, and the automatic movements imparted by the stringing and controller.
A well made string-puppet can be worked with almost no trouble by a person with a sense of theatrical movement. But to assure good joints, balance, and stringing, many hours of trial and error work are necessary. String-puppets have been one of the most popular types in the United States in recent years (fig. 130).
Rod-puppets are also jointed and three-dimensional. They may be worked by a suspending rod from above, which gives more responsive action than a string, though it makes for stiff head movement, or by a supporting rod and supplementary animating rods from below. While it too requires good articulation, it need not have the precision of balance in jts parts of a string-puppet because it is more rigidly supported. It is easy to work because each impulse of the operator's hand is transferred directly to one of its parts by a rod. There is never the hazard of tangled strings. Rod-puppets are an increasingly popular type (fig. 131).
Hand-puppets are hollow figures that fit over the hand and forearm. They may be made very easily because they consist of little more than a bag, head, and hands. But they are of the most difficult types to work well. Since movements of the head and arms depend upon the deft action of the operator's separate fingers he requires something of the coordination of a pianist. Since hand-puppets are held above the puppeteer's head, he must have practice in keeping his arms straight up for the duration of a scene. Hand-puppets are excellent for rapid, slapstick action. They are easy to pack away and to transport. But unless they are worked skillfully, they may seem wooden and undramatic (fig. 132).
Sketch the outline of the character to be made. Exaggerated noses, hats, paunches, or other details may be used, as in caricature, for comic effect. Determine which parts arc to move. Mark the spots where these parts will pivot. Transfer the figure, part by part, to cardboard, sheet metal, or transparent sheet plastic such as celluloid or vinylite. Cut the parts out with a knife or scissors. Cardboard or metal may be painted if the pupet is to appear as itself rather than a shadow. Plastic may be given a rough surface with sandpaper, tinted with water color, and lacquered. Or quick-drying lacquer may be applied directly to it for color. The pivot spots arc punched with a blunt instrument or nail, and the parts are fastened together with grommets, metal staples, or cord knotted against the surface on both sides. Wires or umbrella ribs are attached with loops of wire to the moving parts. As a rule it is sufficient to have one supporting rod, attached near the center of gravity of the figure, or above it, and rods to the hands to work the arms. The legs may be swung by the motion of the whole figure imparted by the supporting rod (fig. 133).
Shadow figures 18 inches tall will need a screen about 1 yard high by 2 yards long. Make a frame of 1- by 3-inch clear soft wood, inhering the corners. Stretch a sheet or other piece of white seamless cloth over it tightly. Pull the cloth over the frame and tack it against the back temporarily with just a few upholstery tacks or thumb tacks. While it is held in place, begin at the center and stretch the cloth as taut as possible toward two sides of the frame, tacking it permanently against the back and removing the temporary tacks while working along toward the ends. Thus the cloth should be stretched without wrinkles (fig. 134).