5 tips to improve your puppeteering

Performing with a puppet combines the skill of actor and musician: you need all the training in intention, action, focus, pace, timing and often voice that acting requires. You also need to be a virtuoso with a beautifully hand made instrument created by an artist designed to do one or two things incredibly well, creating visual poetry subsuming yourself to the instrument. Here are some tips to keep in mind in this incredibly demanding profession.
1. Less is more
Slow down. Audiences have to work hard to interpret a puppet. Give them space and use stillness as a tool. A small perfectly placed movement can be very effective if given the space. Expert manipulation can be impressive but it’s the stop that people will remember. It’s surprising how long you can hold a good stop.
2. Puppets do one or two things well
When you start exploring the performance potential of your puppet, really pay attention to it’s physical capabilities – even if you made it yourself. It has been designed to do certain things, but your job is to understand and work with what you have in your hands. Find out what it does well, what it can’t do, accept them and play well within those parameters. Remember, puppets get to do things human performers would find impossible, but puppets don’t have their versatility.
3. Work with an outside eye 👁
Unless you’re playing to camera and have a live feed, you can never see your puppet onstage from the perspective of the audience. However good you are, you need someone with a good eye to let you know if what your puppet is doing is coming across the way you hope it is. Don’t trust directors. Very few can direct a puppet. Get a puppeteer or specialist puppetry director in even if it’s only for a few hours. That outside eye feedback is essential. Don’t use mirrors.
4. Be strong, fit and flexible
It’s a physically demanding profession, hard on the shoulders and neck, even harder on the back. Train your core every day. Get some contemporary dance, physical theatre/mime, mask and contact juggling training in if you can. Postural training will help you preserve your body, and physical discipline will help you keep your body and face relaxed and neutral.
5. Study physics
You need to know Newton’s rules of movement, the precise acceleration of gravity. How weight and inertia play against each other. The calculations of friction and centre of gravity. Bodies and materials behave in different ways in different mediums. It’s good to know these things. Puppets can break the laws of physics too easily and we need to work hard to create the illusion of everyday reality.

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5 tips to improve your puppeteering

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