Kids love hand puppet shows, though all to often they seem to not be done very well. Why? Performing hand puppetry is hard. Honestly, though it is regarded as a simple form of childs entertainment bringing hand puppets to life in a believable and cohesive way is surprisingly tricky. I have discovered this recently after spending a huge amount of time over the last few months building a nice big (2.5 metres wide) traditionalish puppet booth and a large variety of hand puppets based on some of the characters from Greek Mythology. I thought the difficult bit was done… I was wrong!
Once inside the puppet stage and trying to bring the stories to life the puppeteer has to transform a hand covered in fabric with a lump of something (in my case carved polystyrene) representing a head on the on the end of their fingers into a living breathing, possibly speaking character. Ok so this takes focus but it is possible. It gets harder because in a solo show the puppeteer often has a puppet on each hand, both needing to be given life and possibly voice. The focus of the performer is split. It is all too easy to let one hand droop or move incorrectly while concentrating on the other there by spoiling the illusion. If each puppet speaks and has a different voice these need to be instantaneously switched between. Starting to see what I mean?
Well then comes bringing a character off stage and introducing another. Now the puppeteer has to move at lightning speed to get the puppet off and another one on while still keeping the audience entertained with the other. So much to think about and do all at the same time. It’s puppet pandemonium! No wonder hand puppet shows could often do with more development.
This week I started filming my rehearsals (check out the video clip). It has been incredibly useful and I would recommend it to anyone putting a show together of any sort, but particularly a solo puppet show in a booth. Watch the videos back straight away and do it again untill you correct those mistakes. If something is too difficult to animate well, work out a way around it. Whether its building different props, changing movement, telling the story in a different way or even rebuilding the stage. Make those adaptions, The professionalism of the hand puppet require it and the audience deserve it.