Developing Your Live Puppetry Skills: Voice

Get to Know your Character’s Voice

A good voice can be one of the most important aspects of creating a good character.  Just think about famous characters like Bugs Bunny or Popeye the Sailor, or what about puppets like Kermit the Frog or Elmo, we recognize those voices the second we hear them.  Here in Denver, there is a series of TV ads for Frontier airlines that feature the animals that are painted on the tails of their airplanes talking to each other.  Everyone loves the commercials and the voices of the animals have become so recognizable that they even do radio commercials.  The radio ads don’t say, “Hi, this is Grizz the Grizzly Bear for Frontier Airlines,” we just hear the voice and we know it’s Grizz.

Having a well established voice for your puppet characters will make all the difference in your live performances.  The last thing you want to have is a character whose  voice seems to change throughout your presentation.  You will want to do a lot of experimentation to discover what voice will work for your puppet.  Have the puppet on hand (literally) and check to see how the puppet looks with different types of voices coming out.  There are many different styles of voices; not everyone can do them all.  But you may want to look into some resources, such as the “ with Character Voices” DVD, to help you learn about the different types of voices.  One of the biggest tips when it comes to trying different voices is that you shouldn’t do a voice if it hurts your throat to perform it.  That’s your body’s way of saying, “don’t do that!”

As you start to find a voice that might work, try experimenting with subtle changes in pronunciation, inflection and diction.  Sometimes the smallest change in a voice can make all the difference.

Of course, the final thing is to practice and then practice some more.  We want the voice to be able to stay consistent throughout the entire performance.  It’s ok if the voice evolves gradually over time as you use it several performances.  Even the most famous voices have changed over the years.  If you watch some of the early episodes of “The Muppet Show,” you’ll notice that Gonzo’s voice changed a bit from the first season to the second.  That’s ok.  What we don’t want is a voice that changes in the middle of a performance.  If you have trouble keeping a voice consistent, try to come up with a catch phrase that puts you back into the right voice.  When I used to do our drill Sergeant character, Sergeant Street, I would use the phrase “Hut, 2, 3, 4” to reset my voice if it started to slip away.

When your puppet’s voice is strong you’ll be able to focus your attention on other puppetry techniques.  The result will be a stronger all-around live performance.

In our next blog post we’ll look at knowing your script.  Yes, even when there’s improv, we still have a script.


One Response to “Developing Your Live Puppetry Skills: Voice”

  1. larryk12309 Says:

    Then there’s trying to do two characters at the same time.


    But it can be done

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