Politics, Puppets, and Protesting

 

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I am no stranger to political puppetry.

I remember the first puppet show I saw as an adult, almost 18 years ago.  It was the Lorax, and it was probably the best political puppet show I have ever seen.

Back then I was in Minneapolis, and I was involved with a fair amount of political puppetry.  One of my mentors, Christopher Lutter, was famous for making his “big heads” of Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld.  Those were enormous masks that made the wearer look like a giant bobble head.  9 years later those bobble heads were a direct inspiration for me.   I worked with children in two after school programs to build my giant Barack Obama puppet, which is 10 feet tall.  The children in that program then wrote Obama letters, and sent pictures of themselves with the puppet.

I was in a few political protests while I was in Minneapolis.  I remember one time I got dressed up as zombie Ronald Macdonald.  There were a whole lot of police on the streets that day, and I remember walking past all those police officers waving at them and then rubbing my belly like I had a really nasty bellyache.  I loved watching their faces go from deadly serious, to cracking up with laughter.

Another time I made a puppet that resembled a local reporter in Minneapolis, and confronted her with it while she was interviewing me in the street.  Suddenly the reporter was face to face with a smaller version of herself and asking herself the same stupid question she asked me the previous occasion.  I still remember how the camera man was cracking up.   My puppet did end up on TV that night, although only in the background as the reporters ‘explained’ what the protest was about.

I moved back to St Louis 16 years ago, and since then I have found myself only going to one protest a year; the Martin Luther King day March.  Often at that march I see kids from the schools where I work,  and they are always excited to see the big Obama puppet.

I have always liked doing street theater.  Busking is fun, but is a lot of work for a small amount of money. I think protesting with your puppet is pretty much the same thing as busking.  You say the same basic thing over and over again to people as they walk past.  It is a lot of fun really, and I definitely feel that I am ready to start doing it again.

Anyway, what I have been trying to say is that I have made a new puppet.  I hope you like it.  I hope you think it is tremendous.

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Size Matters

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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.

Puppets in Performance