String-Puppet Show

While a complete miniature stage with scenery can be built in scale with the puppets (an elevated bridge for the puppeteers keeps their hands out of sight above the proscenium frame) it is necessary only for extended productions that require scenic illusion. String-puppets which enact skits, dance, or do tricks, can perform on the same floor where the puppeteer stands, emphasized by a spotlight while the puppeteer is in semidarkness, or separated from him by a background. A good musical accompaniment from a recording or "live" band helps to make a dancing or trick string-puppet lively. A rack on which to hang the puppets as they finish their turn or an assistant to take them, is necessary.

The puppeteer should consider himself as background to the puppet while he is working. Anything bright or gleaming on his uniform will tend to catch the light and be distracting.

Among the popular string-puppet turns which have been seen on the stage or in night clubs in recent years are Latin-American rhumba or samba dancers, tap dancers (often in darkey costume), jitterbugs, ice skaters, strip teasers (their costumes held on with pins pulled out by strings), comic pianists and opera singers, clowns which do acrobatics, balancing, or trapeze work, and other established features of circus, vaudeville, and floor show. A series of such turns may be worked by a solo puppeteer.

String Puppet Show

Figure 135.

Rod Puppet ShowMaking A Rod Puppet

Figure 139.

Making A Rod-Puppet

Proceed as with a string-puppet, drawing a diagram to the desired size. Like string-puppets, rod-puppets can be one-quarter or one-third life size, depending upon the size of the audience which is to see them. They are subject to the same principles of proportion. They are supported from below by a rod, a stick or dowel (a 1/2-inch thick one will serve, but if nothing else is handy a broom handle may substitute), and this is built up through the body. The body may be no more than a shoulder block and a hip block hung together with a heavy spring; the supporting rod is attached to the hip block. Arms and head are attached to the shoulder block, legs to the hip block, and the costume covers the spring. Paint the supporting rod black if the costume does not cover it. Use umbrella ribs for hand rods (fig. 140).

Rod-Puppet Show

Again as with string-puppets, rod-puppets may be manipulated in full view, the operator disappearing into shadow when the puppet is spotlighted. But they gain in effect for being shown above a screen, as do hand-puppets. Their legs usually have no rods. Rotating the supporting rod gives them a swing for walking or dancing. Full control over heads and hands is maintained by the rods attached at the wrists and the back of the head. The puppeteer holds the supporting rod in one hand, securing with that hand the head rod when the head is not moving; in the other he moves the hand rods or the head rod. While it is possible to manage the three rods of head and hands together in one hand, in most action the hand rods can be secured in the hand holding the supporting rod while the other hand moves the head.

Use Umbrella Ribs

Figure 140.

Making A Hand-Puppet

Again a diagram is the best starting point. Do not draw a figure of human proportion. Put your hand on a piece of paper with the thumb, forefinger, and second finger spread as they would be in working the puppet, and mark a line around them. Use this outline as the basis for the puppet, placing its head over the index finger and its arms over the other two. The neck opening should come at the first joint of the index finger; if it is lower, head action will be impeded. Whittle, cast, or build up the head and hands, leaving sockets in the neck and wrists to receive the operator's fingers. Make the costume as a bag to fit over the hand and tack, glue, or tie the head and hands to it. Sleeves that are too long will make arm control difficult. At the hem of the skirt of the costume sew a ring or loop with which to hang the puppet up. Puppets hang upside down so that the operator can thrust his hand into them and lift them from their peg in one movement. The skirt of the puppet must come well up the forearm almost to the elbow. Both men and women puppets wear skirts of necessity. But if trousers legs must be shown, they can be sewed on at the front of a dark-colored skirt, with feet to weight them. The movement of the whole body will swing the puppet's legs (fig. 141).

Hand-Puppet Show

The puppeteer may squat on a stool or rolling platform or stand up, but the proscenium opening must be just above the tip of his head. He holds his arms overhead and must not allow them to sag while the puppet is on stage. If there is scenery, puppets can enter through doors or from behind wings, but if there is none, they enter by popping up and exit by dropping. Their action can be brusque and rapid. The operator's wrist is their waist, which allows them to bow and bend realistically. They can grasp properties between their arms. While they nod their heads (to say "yes") they do not shake them (to say "no") without turning the entire body.

Hand Puppet Show

Figure 141.

Choice Of Plays

Puppets can perform serious drama. It has been written for them by writers of the stature of Goethe and Maeterlinck. American puppeteers have staged full-length productions of Shakespeare. But for the beginner short pieces are less taxing. There can be improvised dialogue, with the puppets speaking directly to the audience as well as among themselves. Or special plays can be written to suit their capacities. Collections of published plays exist.