My newest puppet is a six foot tall dog that can actually bounce around while chasing a mouse. Funny thing is how this huge puppet reminds me of a funny little puppet I made long ago, made from a paper cup.
Imagine that the paper cup is upside down. Put a hole in the end of the cup and insert a rod, with a puppet head on the other end. The paper cup can wear a body made of fabric with arms that hang limply at their sides. With your hand inside the cup, you can twist the stick and make the head turn. If you turn your wrist you can make the body turn, and the arms will flop about in a funny way. These were some of my first puppets, and audiences seemed to really enjoy how silly they were. Audiences enjoyed these puppets so much I decided to make a series of 7 of these puppets for my next show. That next show was a flop.
You see, the first puppets I made were made from smaller cups and were too small for larger audiences. So I doubled the size of the cup, and increased the size of the head to match. But the hands and arms now were too heavy, and now they did not flop about. Without movement of the arms the puppets seemed un-lifelike and did not resonate with audiences as much as their smaller cousins. This made me really think seriously about the size of the puppets I was making.
Most people just assume that all puppets are small, but this isn’t true . It’s true that smaller puppets move in different ways, but puppets can be huge. The largest puppet I ever made was only 9 feet tall, but I have seen a number of much larger puppets, even as tall as 17 feet. The problem is that those bigger puppets don’t move around much and it takes a lot of puppeteers to use them.
My latest puppet is only 6 feet tall, but I find it remarkable how much it can move around. It actually bounces around not unlike that old little paper cup puppet I made long ago, and it requires only one puppeteer. The secret to getting such good action is a pool noodle armature inside the arms. Pool noodles are easily replaceable, lightweight and naturally bouncy. This puppet is a dog that will be able to chase after a Mouse, or even my son dressed up as a cat. The mouse is a hand puppet.
If I want to operate two puppets at the same time I find I am limited to something about the size of a hand puppet. That means about 2 feet tall. But I am always looking for new ways to push the envelope, and allow puppets of different sizes to interact.
I am a Touring Performer with the Missouri Arts Council. Click here for more information.