Developing Your Live Puppetry Skills

When you first begin performing with puppets, it’s usually good to begin by performing pre-recorded songs.  It’s easier to get used to proper puppet lip synch when you can follow the rhythm and beat of the music.  From there, you can begin working on pre-recorded skits, and then you can add live skits.  Each of these types of performing build on skills developed in the previous performing style.  The final type of performance is what we often call “one-on-one performing.”  In these performances, the puppeteer will perform a puppet that interacts with a live person, like a teacher or children’s pastor.  Not only does the puppeteer need to provide the puppet’s voice, but the script is usually a bit…well…flexible.  It’s open to some degree of improvisation, which can be fun for the audience and challenging for the performer.  A few weeks ago, we posted a video here of this type of performance featuring Jason Bonilla and Andy Holmes performing his puppet character Gerbert.  Here ‘s the clip again, to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

But just because “improv” is involved doesn’t mean that we just make it all up as we go.  There are some things we can do to prepare for this type of performance.  Over the course of several blog posts, we’re going to take a look at some techniques for fine-tuning your live performances.

Know your Skills

The first key to improving a live performance is to have a solid grasp of good puppetry skills.  Things like excellent lip synch skills and good awareness of the puppet’s height and positioning are essential.  The more they practice the basic skills, the more they will become like second nature to the performers.  In other words, they won’t have to think about doing it the right way…they just do it.

One of the basic skills that you will really need to work on for live performing is your puppet’s eye contact.  If your puppet is speaking with a live person, the puppet needs to be able to give attention to that person with their eyes.  They also need to be able have the puppet’s eyes follow that person if they move around.  Sometimes the puppeteer may be able to see that person, but sometimes not.  Essentially, the puppeteer needs to learn to “see with their ears.”  Usually we recommend rehearsing your puppets without curtains on the stage, but this is one case where it’s good to have those curtains in place.  The puppeteers can hold their puppets up in the stage and attempt to have their puppets focus on a speaker as they move around the room.  It’s actually easier than it sounds if you pay attention.

Having a good foundation of strong puppetry skills will make any performance go better.  In our next post, we’ll talk about getting to know your puppet character better.

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