These basic techniques are important to all levels of puppetry. The beginner must become proficient enough in these 5 basic techniques to the point where they become second nature. It is important to know that all 5 basics can be practiced with or without a puppet, but you must also know the correct way to handle a puppet. First insert your hand through the body of the puppet and into the mouth. Your fingers should extend into the roof of the mouth with your thumb in the jaw below. Your hand should be comfortable, with your fingers and your thumb touching the cloth-covered mouth. Practice raising your hand with puppet above your head. You will need to build your arm muscles over time. This takes a lot of practice! Our goal is to make the puppet look as life-like as possible.
Synchronization is the opening and closing of the puppets mouth with the spoken word. Think of syllables. If a word has two syllables, the mouth will open twice. Avoid moving the mouth at random during the sentence. Do not open the mouth all the way with each word. Save the wide mouth openings for exaggerated or loud expressions. Be careful not to “bite” your words. This is when the mouth should be opening, but you are closing it instead. This is the most common mistake for Lip Synchronization.
This is necessary in good puppetry to make your puppet look life-like. Practice opening the puppet’s mouth by moving your thumb downward without moving your fingers up. A slight forward thrust of the wrist can help prevent this, but remember to much thrust, and your puppet is “head banging”. Most newer puppets come with a ball on the inside of the roof of the mouth. Puppetsinc.com calls this their “handie-spheres” This helps improve mouth action. If your puppet does not have this, try crossing your middle two fingers before inserting your hand into the puppets mouth.
Your audience is there to see you, your puppet should want to see them. If your stage is elevated, you will want your puppets to look down a little more than usual, rather than over the audiences head. Remember, if you point your fingers where you want the puppet to look, it will look there every time. This will ensure more effective eye contact. Avoid staring… this makes everyone fell awkward.
Don’t forget our goal is to make our puppet look life-like. One way to achieve this is to form the illusion of the puppet having legs. To achieve this, the puppeteers arm must be held at a right angle to the floor and the hand kept level. Do not allow puppets to lean from side to side nor should a puppet ever lean on the stage. The puppet should always try to stay belly button height to the stage.
Entrances and Exits:
Again, this is keeping the illusion of having legs. While there are many ways to enter and exit the stage, the one we recommend using most often is to make your puppet appear as if it is walking up and down stairs or a ramp. This movement uses the entire arm and requires the puppeteer to keep his forearm straight up and down while the wrist remains relaxed. Using a fluid motion, the puppeteer moves forward as he “bounces” the puppet onto the stage. With each arm bounce, the puppet come more fully into view. When the puppet leaves the stage, this process is reversed. Remember, as the puppet moves, so must the puppeteer.
Many of these ideas are taken from “The Complete Puppeteer” with permission.