Do you speak puppetry

Puppetry as an alternative form of communication

Farryl Hadari has been an educator in the field of puppetry for more than 30 years. She has initiated many puppetry projects... read more.

Components of the Language of Puppetry

The Puppet

The language of puppetry is a rich one, indeed! It integrates the visual arts, the dramatic arts, music, pantomime, and storytelling into a universal language for people of all ages and of all backgrounds. When exploring this language, it is necessary to begin with it's basic element: the puppet.

Bil Baird, in his book, The Art Of The Puppet (1973,page 13), defined the puppet as ".an inanimate figure that is made to move by human effort for an audience." This definition pinpoints the three elements essential to puppetry: the puppet, the puppeteer, and the audience. The puppeteer communicates with the audience through the medium of the puppet.

A puppet is a thing, which is pliable enough to be manipulated. It represents a live being, and it should be the essence and emphasis of its live counterpart. Because it is "just a puppet", it can get away with more than its human operator. The traditional, English Punch and Judy puppet show clearly exemplifies this. It originated in England and is still playing to English audiences today. One puppeteer in a small booth stage operates all of the hand puppets. The following plot line has stayed the same for over two hundred years; it tells the story of Punch and Judy who are husband and wife.

When the puppet show begins, the audience is introduced to Mr. Punch, who complains about being unbearably bored. He calls Judy and tells her to bring him their baby so that he can play with it. Judy replies that the baby is sleeping; Punch demands that she bring the baby as allaying his boredom is much more important than allowing the baby to sleep! Judy brings the baby; however, a sleeping baby is no fun for Punch! He throws it up in the air until it wakes up and starts screaming. Well, Punch can't have this! The screaming annoys him, so he throws the baby out the window. The puppet shows continues with Punch's violent behavior aimed at whoever gets in his way. Audiences have been laughing at this show for over two hundred years.

If human actors would perform this same scenario, the audience would probably be shocked and offended by the violence. On the other hand, it would be safe to assume that most people, at some time, have been so angry or frustrated with some one else that they would have liked to throw that person "out the window". but only in their imagination. The puppet can do that because he is only pretend; people cannot because they are real. The puppet, thus, gives people an access to visualize and vicariously experience a fantasy world. Puppets can allow pent up emotions to be released in the realm of a play world. They provide a safe form for communicating thoughts, attitudes, and emotions. They take the responsibility for what they do and say away from the puppeteer. This enables the puppeteer to create a miniature world where he is in total control. His puppets can do or say whatever he wills them to with no concern for outward consequences, as any such reaction will be aimed at the puppet. The puppeteer has a freedom here that he may not have in the real world.

Puppets may be able to express ideas and feelings that the puppeteer may not be able to express himself. I worked in a kindergarten class with Ricky, a five-year-old child who had suddenly stopped speaking. After two weeks of silence, I invited him to play with me with my puppet theatre. Ricky selected a puppet and went behind the puppet stage. Lo and behold, the puppet could speak! I asked the puppet if it knew Ricky, and the puppet said, "yes". I then asked the puppet if it knew why Ricky had stopped speaking. The puppet explained that Ricky's mother had just given birth to a baby, who slept in Ricky's room and cried all of the time. His mother was constantly telling Ricky that he must more quiet, and she was grumpy all of the time. Ricky wanted his mother to be like she was before the baby came. He had decided not to talk to anyone so that maybe his mother would take that baby back to where ever it had come from! Ricky finished with the puppet, came out from behind the stage, and was silent. It was the puppet, not he, who had just spoken. He was not able to say those words himself. If he had been able, he certainly would not have liked the sound. What kind of boy wants to send a baby away? This feeling was a burden on Ricky. The puppet helped to bring it out so it did not need to weigh so heavy within.

The puppet is a symbol. It suggests aspects of human nature and invites the audience members to internalize these suggestions and respond to them. Repressed feelings and thoughts in the unconscious mind can be opened up through identification with a puppet. I have several puppets, which I call "no face" puppets. These are simple hand puppets sewn from a velour fabric. Each one is a different color, but they all have the same shape; the only decorations on them are two big google eyes. I like to bring them to people that I work with and let them pick a puppet and put it on their hand. I then ask the puppets questions about who they are and how they feel. The same puppets have played a large repertoire of characters. I worked in a "small class" in an elementary school in Israel. This was a class for fourth grade children with learning difficulties. In one of my sessions with them, I was working individually with the students with the "no face" puppets. I invited Sivan to play with me and the puppets after three other children had already had a turn. She was almost nonverbal in class and rarely participated in classroom activities. She put a puppet on and it immediately informed me that it was very sad and angry. It was angry because I didn't invite Sivan to be first. It also told me that it was sad to come to school because everyone at school beats it up. The puppet she selected was green. It had no visual attributes that could establish whether it was male or female, human or nonhuman, or fancy or simple. The puppet didn't resemble anyone or anything, so it could be anyone the puppeteer needed it to be. Because the puppet was visually neutral, Sivan could project her subconscious feelings onto it. This symbolic characteristic opens possibilities for identification and interpretation by the puppeteer and by the audience. This trait allows the puppet to see, know and portray life experiences of its puppeteer and of it's audience concurrently, producing identification with the puppet and it's story.

When a person creates a puppet, he can only create a character about which he knows something. This may be inner knowledge, emotional knowledge, knowledge about another character from a book or a movie or other media, or knowledge gathered from life experiences. He cannot create a character about which he knows nothing, for then, there would be nothing to create. This statement means only exactly what it says: the creator knows something about the puppet that he has created. Furthermore, he has chosen to bring this exact puppet character to the specific audience that will see it. The puppet will convey the puppeteer's statement or message to the audience through its visual and metaphorical character.

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