A puppet is a representational figure manipulated by a puppeteer. It is usually (but by no means always) a depiction of a human character, and is used in puppetry, a play or a presentation that is a very ancient form of theatre. The puppet undergoes a process of transformation through being animated, and is normally manipulated by at least one puppeteer.
There are many different varieties of puppets, and they are made of a wide range of materials, depending on their form and intended use. They can be extremely complex or very simple in their construction. They may even be found objects. As Oscar Wilde wrote, "There are many advantages in puppets. They never argue. They have no crude views about art. They have no private lives". David Currell has said "A puppet is not an actor and a puppet theatre is not human theatre in miniature, because when an actor 'represents', a puppet 'is'". .
Types of puppet
Puppetry by its nature is a flexible and inventive medium, and many puppet companies work with combinations of puppet forms, and incorporate real objects into their performances. So an bought corkscrew
can become a dancer puppet; or they incorporate 'performing objects' such as torn paper for snow
, or a sign board with words as narrative devices within a production. The following are, alphabetically, the basic and conventional forms of puppet:
- Black light puppet - A form of puppetizing where the puppets are operated on a stage lit only with ultraviolet lighting, which both hides the puppeteer and accentuates the colours of the puppet. The puppeteers perform dressed in black against a black background, with the background and costume normally made of black velvet. The puppeteers manipulate the puppets into the light, while they position themselves unseen against the black unlit background. Puppets of all sizes and types are able to be used, and glow in a powerful and magical way. The original concept of this form of puppetry can be traced to Bunraku puppetry.
- Bunraku puppet – Bunraku puppets are a type of wood-carved puppet originally made to stand out through torch illumination. Developed in Japan over a thousand years ago, the puppeteers dress to remain neutral against a black background, although their presence as kind of 'shadow' figures adds a mysterious power to the puppet. Bunraku traditionally uses three puppeteers to operate a puppet that is close to half life-size.
- Carnival or Body puppet - usually designed to be part of a large spectacle. These are often used in parades (such as the Minneapolis, USA May Day Parade) and demonstrations, and are at least the size of a human and often much larger. One or more performers are required to move the body and limbs. In parades the appearance and personality of the person inside is not relevant to the spectator. These puppets are particularly associated with large scale entertainment, such as the nightly parades at various Disney complexes around the world. Similar puppets were designed by Julie Taymor for The Lion King, derived in part from the parade tradition.
Big Bird from Sesame Street is a classic example of a Body puppet. The puppeteer is enclosed within the costume, and will extend their right hand over the head to operate the head and neck of the puppet. The puppeteer's left hand serves as the Bird's left hand, while the right hand is stuffed and hangs loosely from a fishing line (which can occasionally be seen in closeup shots) that runs through a loop under the neck and attaches to the wrist of the left hand. The right hand thus does the opposite of the left hand: as the left hand goes down, the right hand is pulled up by the fishing line.
- Chinface puppet - A type of puppet in which the puppet features are drawn on, and otherwise attached to, the face.
- Finger puppet - An extremely simple puppet variant which fits onto a single finger. Finger puppets normally have no moving parts, and consist primarily of a hollow cylinder shape to cover the finger. This form of puppet has limited application, and is used mainly in pre-schools or kindergartens for storytelling with young children.
- Hand or glove puppet - These are puppets controlled by one hand which occupies the interior of the puppet. Punch and Judy puppets are familiar examples of hand puppets. Larger varieties of hand puppets place the puppeteer's hand in just the puppet's head, controlling the mouth and head, and the puppet's body then hangs over the entire arm. Other parts of the puppet (mainly arms, but special variants exist with manipulatable eyelids; the mouth may also open and close) are usually not much larger than the hand itself. A sock puppet is a particularly simple type of hand puppet made from a sock.
- Human-arm puppet - Also called a two-man puppet; it is similar to a hand puppet but is larger and requires two puppeteers. One puppeteer places a hand inside the puppet's head and operates its head and mouth, while the other puppeteer wears gloves and special sleeves attached to the puppet in order to become the puppet's arms, so that the puppet can perform arbitrary hand gestures. This is a form of glove or hand puppetry and rod puppetry.
- Light Curtain puppet presentations use specifically focused light to highlight small areas of a performance. The puppets stand on a stage divided into a unlit background and a well lit foreground, meeting to form a "curtain" of light. The puppeteer dresses in black and remains hidded in the unlit background of the stage while the puppet is held across the light curtain in the lit foreground of the stage. "Light curtain puppet" is an umbrella term, and any puppet which is extended into a well-lit area where its handler remains separated from the puppet by a division of light may be called a light curtain puppet.
- Marionette or string puppet - These puppets are suspended and controlled by a number of strings, plus sometimes a central rod attached to a control bar held from above by the puppeteer. The control bar can be either a horizontal or vertical one. Basic strings for operation are usually attached to the head, back, hands (to control the arms) and just above the knee (to control the legs). This form of puppetry is complex and sophisticated to operate, requiring greater manipulative control than a finger, glove or rod puppet. The puppet play performed by the Von Trapp children with Maria in The Sound of Music is a marionette show.
- Marotte - A simplified rod puppet that is just a head and/or body on a stick. In a marotte à main prenante, the puppeteer's other arm emerges from the body (which is just a cloth drape) to act as the puppet's arm. Some marottes have a small string running through the stick attached to a handle at the bottom. When the handle is squeezed, the mouth opens.
- Muppet - A term referring to some of the puppets constructed by the Jim Henson Company. Often erroneously used to refer to puppets that resemble those of The Muppet Show or built by the Henson Company. The main puppet forms used were glove or hand puppets and rod puppets.
- Push puppet - A push puppet consists of a segmented character on a base which is kept under tension until the button on the bottom is pressed. The puppet wiggles, slumps and then collapses, and is usually used as a novelty toy.
- Push-in or Paper puppet - A puppet cut out of paper and stuck onto card. It is fixed at its base to a stick and operated by pushing it in from the side of the puppet theatre. Sheets were produced for puppets and scenery from the 19th century for children's use.
- Rod puppet - A puppet constructed around a central rod secured to the head. A large glove covers the rod and is attached to the neck of the puppet. A rod puppet is controlled by the puppeteer moving the metal rods attached to the hands of the puppet and by turning the central rod secured to the head.
- Señor Wences - A Señor Wences is a type of hand puppet created from a human hand, where the puppet features are drawn on and attached to the hand itself, and the thumb and forefinger are used as a mouth.
- Shadow puppet - A cut-out figure held between a source of light and a translucent screen. Untypical, as it is two-dimensional in form, shadow puppets can form solid silhouettes, or be decorated with various amounts of cut-out details.. Colour can be introduced into the cut-out shapes to provide a different dimension. and different effects can be achieved by moving the puppet (or light source) out of focus. Javanese shadow puppets (Wayang Kulit) are the classic example of this.
- Supermarionation - A method invented by Gerry Anderson which assisted in his television series Thunderbirds in electronically moving the mouths of marionettes to allow for lip-synchronised speech. The marionettes were still controlled by human manipulators with strings.
- Ticklebug - A ticklebug is a type of hand puppet created from a human hand to have four legs, where the puppet features are drawn on the hand itself. The middle finger is lifted as a head, and the thumb and forefinger serve as a first set of two legs on one side, while the ring finger and little finger serve as a second set of two legs on the opposite side.
- Ventriloquist dummy - A puppet operated by a ventriloquist performer to focus the audience's attention from the performer's activities and heighten the illusions. They are called dummies because they do not speak on their own. The ventriloquist dummy is controlled by the one hand of the ventriloquist.
- Water Puppet - a Vietnamese puppet form, the Múa rối nước. Múa rối nước literally means "puppets that dance on water", an ancient tradition that dates back to the tenth century. The puppets are built out of wood and the shows are performed in a waist-deep pool. A large rod supports the puppet under the water and is used by the puppeteers to control them. The appearance is of the puppets moving over the water. When the rice fields would flood, the villagers would entertain each other using this puppet form.
- Animation or digital puppet. Animation is a related but essentially different process from puppetry. Animating puppets in time-based media such as film or video is a simulation of movement created by displaying a series of pictures, or frames, whereas puppetry is the live manipulation of figures. Puppet animation, or "puppetoon", can refer either to Stop motion filming, where the movements of the puppets are created frame-by-frame; or "Supermarionation (see above).
Non-puppetry related usages of the word
The word puppet
can mean a political leader installed, supported and controlled by more powerful forces, without legitimacy in the country itself. In modern times, this usually implies no democratic
mandate from the country's electorate; in earlier times, it could have meant a monarch imposed from outside, who was not a member of a country's established ruling dynasty, and/or unrecognised by its nobility. "Puppet government", "puppet regime" and "puppet state
" are derogatory terms for a government
which is in charge of a region or country, but only through being installed, supported and controlled by a more powerful outside government (see Quisling
In a more general sense, a puppet is any person who is controlled by another by reasons of (for instance) undue influence, intellectual deficiency, or lack of character or charisma. Thus, drawing from the above meaning, it could be a political leader, who is a facade for more powerful forces working behind him or her, or it could be any person who is similarly doing what he is told to do.
Poppet, a word sounding similar to puppet, can also be a term of endearment, similar to "love", "pet" or "dear". The word also came to have magical connotations, referring in folk-magic and witchcraft to a doll made to represent a person, for casting healing, fertility, or binding spells on that person.
Science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote The Puppet Masters, a novel depicting alien parasites who are capable of attaching themselves to a human being and completely controlling him or her.
- Ghosh, S.; Massey, Reginald, and Banerjee, Utpal Kumar (2006). Indian Puppets: Past, Present and Future. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 817017435X.
- Bell, John (2000). Strings, Hands, Shadows: A Modern Puppet History. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0895581566.
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