Puppetry is the act of bringing an inanimate object to life. This can be an object, a material or something sculpted in a more figurative way. The puppeteer can be visible or invisible. The show can be pure puppetry or puppetry integrated into dance or theatre performances. Puppetry has existed for hundreds of years.
Many early religious rituals used objects in symbolic ways. There are many types of different puppets including finger, glove, rod, string, table-top, giant, shadow and object. They range from traditional British Punch and Judy or trick marionettes, to the cultural puppets of Japanese Bunraku, Javanese rod puppets, Turkish shadow puppets, Vietnamese water puppets, American muppets and British war horses, to name just a few. You see puppets nearly every day in adverts, television shows and film using a fast-developing process of animatronics.
Sandra Bullock floating through space in the film Gravity was manipulated by puppeteers. The robots in Interstellar had puppeteers inside them. Many adverts use puppeteers and then ‘green-screen’ them out of the image, such as the Argos aliens.
On the West End stage, we have seen the delights of Handspring’s puppets in War Horse and a whole array of animals in Julie Taymor’s The Lion King as well as muppet-type figures in Avenue Q. Puppetry regularly crops up in Christmas productions ranging from lions in Narnia, crocodiles in Peter Pan and giants in pantomime.
However, there are also types of puppets that celebrate their transformative nature; they are made out of materials that have an inherent ability to change or transform in some way. There have been puppet shows made with clay, paper, metal or foam and we made a show called Rubbish using only waste materials or discarded objects to create a whole array of characters. The joy of these shows is not so much the character that is created but the way a puppeteer brings the materials to life and transforms them in front of your eyes.
Puppets can be very political. Spitting Image was one of the most successful satires on British television. We see huge effigies of political figures being promenaded down the street and sometimes even burnt to make political comment. Puppets can often express what a person cannot and therefore can be very anarchic. By their very nature, they illuminate the power struggle that lies behind so many of our relationships with each other or the Governments who rule us.
Puppetry can be beautiful, transformative, educational, therapeutic, entertaining, political and playful.
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