TiPs

When you're being a shadow puppet, pretend you're made of cardboard


Just like in all puppetry you cannot take the puppeteer completely out of the picture in shadow puppetry: there will always be a stick or a hand in the shot. And in fact you don't want to take the puppeteer out of the picture - that is a film, not puppetry. So how do exploit the puppet-puppeteer relationship in shadow puppetry? The thrill of shadows for the audience is the confusion of 3d and 2d images: A 2d "cut out" can seem as substantial as a real 3d object, or even a person, in shadow, and vice versa. So for Little Match Girl, our puppeteers acted as if they were cardboard cut outs, and treated the cut outs as if they are real 3d. The result is beguiling and amazing. An in fact we want further. We drew around our own shadows and made cut outs of them so that we could have multiples of ourselves in shadow. Shadows are not direct silhouettes of the image, they distort in a unique way. They eye recognises it but is also confused by it. (MD, Jan 2016)




The key to a good shadow puppet is detail


The magical thing about shadow puppetry is how it cleans up the puppet to make a beguiling sharp image. You can tear something out of an old cornflake packet, sellotape some things onto it, bend it about, poke a hole in it... and when you put it in the light it will form into a completely real shadow of a duck. Or a cat. Or a man or a plane or a rabbit or whatever. An insubstantial two dimensional flimsy contruction can seem as solid as a building as a shadow. And one of the payoffs of that is that details sharpen exquisitely too. Belt loops, laces, the hairs of a moustache, sweat on the brow, eyes blinking, a breathing chest, eyelashes... They acquire such eloquence in shadow. (April 2016, Fiona Clift - Puppeteer)




Rehearsal is a process of endlessly readjusting


(May 2016, MD)




Puppetry is a form of acting - relax about it!


(June 2016, Adam C J Klein - actor)




Always see through the puppet's eyes


If you concentrate your focus on the head (ie look at the head) and allow the puppet to look at whatever it wants to look at, you will find you can "see through the puppet's eyes". There is no need actually to see what the puppet is looking at. Remember performing is make believe. More than likely the puppet is not actually looking at anything at all, it is only pretending to. For example what if the puppet is looking for it's mother who is offstage? The puppet is actually just looking into the wings. How is it going to help your performance by looking into the wings as well? It isn't. It's just going to make you take your eyes off the head of the puppet. As soon as you do that the audience will do that and then it doesn't really matter what you do because noone will be watching. You have lost your audience. The performance is the looking, the seeing, the taking in, the processing by the puppet. It is not the looking into the wings. But, people say, how can they check the eyeline? "How can I be sure of where it is looking?" they ask. Often they want to do this by looking from behind the puppet's head like you would if you were using the sights of a gun. It seems logical but actually it isn't. Why does the eyeline need to be right? So that the audience knows what the puppet is looking at. How do the audience know that the eyeline is right? Well to be absolutely honest I suppose I don't know how they know really, but I can tell you 100% that they do. That when I am in the audience I do. They are not doing it by looking along the eyeline. They are doing it by looking at the puppet's head and seeing what the puppet sees. Seeing through it's eyes. The eyeline only needs to be right for the audience. The audience is the judge. Your judge. Your only judge. No one will come in and look over the puppet's shoulder like a gun. They are all doing it from different seats all over the house. And on the whole they will all agree if the eyeline is right or wrong. I've tested it in theatres with groups of people and they are always sure. So the best way to get it right is to do it the same way the audience is doing it, by looking at the head of the puppet. And seeing through the puppet's eyes. (July 2016, MD)




Always move the puppet's head from your wrist not your shoulder


(Sept 2016, Fiona Clift - puppeteer)




When you're making big puppets, make em light!


(December 15 - Oliver Hymans, Puppeteer)




If the knee joint buckles backwards, play the pain!


(Nov 15, Tom Espiner - Puppeteer)




Something has to happen in every scene


(Oct 15, (Daz Mayhew - Puppet Director)




Puppets say what's at the back of your mind


(September 15, MD)




Do everything a month earlier than you think you need to


(August 15, Stephanie Wickes - Exec Producer)




Follow your nose - a puppet always looks with its nose


(Sam Dutton - Puppeteer)




You don't make the puppets speak, they make you speak


(July 15, MD)




A puppet is like a lens, so you need to do your performance upside down


(June 15, MD)




Puppetry is scifi in the theatre


(May 15, MD)




Why the character speaks is more important than how the character speaks


(April 15, MD)




Only make necessary movements


(March 15, MD)




We don't really make the puppet alive, the audience makes the puppet alive


(Feb 15, MD)




Keep the hands still when you're talking and keep quiet whilst the hands are moving


(Jan 15, MD)




Always ask where do the puppets come from?


(Jan 13, MD)




Creativity requires a collaboration of instinct and experience


(Nov 13, MD)




Puppet's breath is the actor's twinkle in the eye


(October 13, MD)




Every part of the body has a mind of its own


(August 13, MD)




Watching critically is as important as doing to learn puppetry


(July 13, MD)




Over prepare and be happy to look stupid


(June 13, MD)




The puppet's performance bigger than the puppeteers'


(April 13, MD)




Plot moves horizontally, character is vertical


(February 13, MD)




When applying for roles in theatre don't forget that every job is relevant enough for your CV


(January 13 , SH)




Do not lead I may not follow, do not follow I may not lead, walk beside me and be the friend I always need


(December 12 - MD)




Always bring a portfolio to a design meeting


(November 12 - MD)




There is a difference between looking and seeing, listening and hearing


(September 12 - MD)




Sometimes you just have to do it first, and work out what you did after


(August 12 - MD)




Go into battle prepared to die


(June 12 - the Samurai Spirit)




Think more, feel more, be more


(May 12 -MD)




Black reads as invisible, white reads as visible - even on a white background


(April 12 - MD)




A puppet is a thing with a joint


(March 12 - MD)




Movement is the results from three things: gravity, rhythm and character


(Feb 12 - MD)




Engage the back when you are puppeting


(Jan 12 - MD)




the feet are the puppet’s “tell”


(Jan 12 - MD)




Puppetry is about finding out what reality is, not making stuff up


(July 11 - MD)




In, suspend, out, suspend


Breath has four parts - you breathe in, short pause, then breathe out, pause. Think of the breathing machines in hospital drama scenes. At rest we take about 12 breaths a minute. Most action occurs on the suspended in-breath, or if you prefer in the controlled exhale: speaking, signalling, starting to walk. The in-breath is literally the inspiration for action, or the intention. The exhale acts as brakes for the movement, and the suspended out-breath is when we assess the action and the results.

When the breath pauses, the action is suspended. The scene pauses, but it does not stop.

(MD)




The most important thing for the head to do is to look at things


(June 11 -MD)




Always bend your knees a little and throw yourself into the work


(June 11 -MD)




Puppetry is like synaesthesia - it is the ability to feel what you see


(May 11 -MD)




Fast, agile, feet and slow, lazy hands


(April 11 -MD)




Don't glue until the very last minute


(Feb 11 -NB)




Be excellent to one another


(Jan 11 - Bill and Ted)




Gravity is your friend - Get to know her well


(Dec 10 - MD)




If you're doing it right it feels like doing nothing at all.


(Nov 10 -MD)




The most important part of recreating a movement accurately is imagining it in detail


(MD)




The beginning of a movement is a response to many things - a thought, a sense, a feeling, music, geography, a desire, gravity, breath and many more


(MD)




When cutting out Lycra, use a cutting wheel to give you a crisper edge


(BJ)




Prepare for a movement early as possible, do it as late as you dare


(MD)




When sculpting puppets, think gravity….


(NB)




When cutting cardboard, change your scalpel regularly


(2009, NB)




Do it badly. Get the Laugh.


This is about devising and improvising. Improvisations always have a certain magic quality that makes them seem better than they actually are. There is a charge of excitement that comes from genuinely not knowing what will happen next. When you come to repeat it you have to recapture that magic and often you find yourself chasing it down and it keeps getting away from you. Do it badly and see what is left there. If something works when you do it badly then it probably is something - if it needs to be done well to work at all then it may well not be.

Laughter is involuntary and you can rely on it as a marker of truth. It is not the be all and end all, but it is truthful.

Once you know that some thing works when it is done badly you can concentrate on making it better.

(Sep 09 - MD)




Don’t swap hands on a puppet during a performance – it is like replacing the star with their understudy. (oops - repeat, but very important!)


(Jul 09 - MD)




Doing the feet on a Bunraku puppet is like being the one at the bottom of three people standing on each others' shoulders to look over a wall. They are thinking, "What's going on? What can you see...?"


Each part of the puppet is a "character" and a "role". The feet obviously can see or hear or taste. They get information from two places - from sensory receptors in the feet themselves and from commands from the brain. Sensory receptors in the feet include proprioception (joint position), touch, pain, heat/cold, pressure sensation. These may result in a reflex arc that only goes to the spinal column and back but also send some information up the brain. The brain sends commands to stop the feet doing things and to make them do things. These impulses result from what the brain is sensing from it's own experience. So the feet is bathed in sensations that are coming, sort of second hand, from the scene, mixed with it's own experience, the experience of being between the body and the ground and bearing the load.

(Jun 09 - MD)




Money Saving Tip # 1: Always question, haggle and barter. Where there is a bill, there’s a way!


(May 09 - HH)




Always have a slice of cake before starting a rehearsal…


(Apr 09 - SA, Performer)




Don't change hands during a performance: your hands are very different: it would be like bringing on an understudy.


Even if you are ambidextrous the audience reads the continuity, so think about what you want to say. Contrawise changing hands gives the character a break and allows the audience to relax a bit. Like a character going offstage. Keeping a continuous unchanging hold will build intensity, keeps the character alive, and connects the puppet character to the performers. A particular bugbear of mine is when performers change hands out of convenience - to suit a closer handhold or to untwist their arms. For me the twist in the arms, the contortions in the performers are interesting. They are the result of the narrative and they record a cumulation of the events so far. How they get untangled is part of the story and I want to see it done beautifully. It helps me to understand why the puppeteers go where they go.

In A Dog's Heart we swapped a three man puppet between four puppeteers throughout the performance partly so the audience could see the puppet, but it also supported the idea of a deconstructed narrative. In Butterfly on the other hand we kept the same configuration on the puppet throughout to create a silent character that could hold it's own amidst the intensity of the sung characters.

(Mar 09 - MD)




Always add a few extra drops of catalyst to your resin in cold weather – it will prevent it from getting tacky.


(Jan 09 - NB)




The answer to "how?", is "why?"


How does the puppet walk? How does a puppet sit down? How does it kneel? How do you know where to make it look? How do you make it look real? Look as if it's really looking? Really thinking? There is no simple answer to these questions posed in that way. A puppet can walk in many ways - fast, slow, quietly, on tiptoe, nervously, badly, strutting etc. A puppet can sit upright, slouchily, comfortably etc. It can kneel on one knee, on both knees, up, down, yoga style, Suzuki style. It can look where it's going, or in the opposite direction, or at the person it's speaking to, or at their feet, or in their eyes, or at their mouth. You get the idea. It can look at something and not see it, it can look at something and see something else, it might be looking at something but listening to something else. It might be thinking about something else, it might be thinking about what it's looking at. It might look at what it's thinking about. So how to do it? The answer to "how" is "why": Why is it doing whatever it's doing? Why is it sitting? Because it's tired, because it's on best behaviour, in order to concentrate on something, in order to have an eyeline with someone else who's sitting, to comfort someone, to wait for something, because it's been walking around all day etc Now you know "how" to do it don't you? The puppet isn't sitting, it's sitting to "have a rest". The same is true for everything the puppet does. It kneels to pray, or to stretch, or to engage with some children... It looks at something because it hasn't noticed it before, or because it isn't sure what it is, because it is trying to make a connection, for example with the audience, because it finds someone attractive, because it is actually looking away from something else and so on. Why is it thinking about whatever it is thinking about - because it heard a noise, because it's partner left him/ her this morning etc. It isn't complicated or magical. Keep it simple. It doesn't all need to relate to childhood trauma (although it might do!). Why is the puppet thinking about oranges? Because it saw an orange. (Sept 2017, MD)




Download the ETC Nomad lighting programmer so you can make changes in between tech


(Aug2015, Fergus Waldron, lighting and sound design)




Make the first thing you do in the morning the task you are least looking forward to


(Oct 15, Stephanie Wickes, Exec Producer)




Ask what it is that you are pretending


(Dec 2017, MD)




The better a puppeteer does their job, the more invisible they are


(Nov 2017, MD)




Enjoy the work rather than trying to get it done


(July 2017, MD)




"Have a plan and a back up plan, and don't be afraid to rip them both up"


(June 2017, Ed Elbourne, Lighting Design)




Get comfortable with being reactive - things change quickly


(May 2017, Stephanie Wickes Exec Producer in her final month at Blind Summit!!)




The most important thing is to make something


(April 2017, MD)




Maintain suspense by finding the problems, no the solutions


(Mar 2017, Johana Vavrinova, Drak Puppeteer)




Puppetry is a metaphor for oppression


(Feb 2017, Joseph Krofta, Czech Puppet Legend)




Puppetry is taking a metaphor for a walk


(Jan 2017, MD, after Klee)




Recycle your used Christmas cards to make a puppet head


(Dec 2106, SW)




Stay focussed: the smallest movements really count


(Nov 2016, Humanish)




Breath is the engine of emotion


Should probably be the "furnace" of emotion. Throw more coal on and light that damn thing up. Burn them emotions, power that body. (Oct 2106, MD)




The most important joint in a puppet is the neck


I'm not sure if this is literally physically true, but what I think I am refering to is that the relationship between the body and the head, tells you the most about what a character is thinking. In simple terms the body tells what the character feels, and head what it thinks. They are alwyas slightly out of alignment: if the head is looking at someone but the body is facing away it means probably that the character wants to get away but thinks it should stay. On the other hand if the body is facing the person and the head is looking away, then the character wants to stay but thinks it ought to go. And all variations in between... But don't take my word for it, try it and see what you think. (Aug 2016, MD)




Puppetry is like riding a horse: it could go out of control at any moment. You have to hang on and enjoy the ride.


(Jan 2018 - Tom Espiner, puppeteer)




A problem is an opportunity to build a relationship


Write a nice email, pick up the phone, apologise, offer a solution, get creative. People will take your call when there's a problem. You have their attention. It's a good excuse to talk to them and get to know them better. It's a chance to show off what you can do. And to show that you care. That you are serious. To demonstrate resourcefulness. Even something simple like making an appointment to meet someone. And if you solve the problem together they will look forward to dealing with anothe problem with you again. (Feb 2018, MD)




The secret of puppet is pulling not pushing


Allow the puppet to pull you, and be pulled by you. Go before it and make a space for it to move into. When you push the puppet the performance can seem unnatural and forced. Pushing looks like pushing, and feels "pushy". Pulling the puppet (and allowing yourself to be pulled by it) looks fluid, and feels alive, independent, free. Pulling is invisible because it is counterintuitive to the audience. We imagine that the puppet, being smaller, will be pushed around by the puppeteer. That seems obvious. We think that is what puppeteers do. The idea that it is pulling you seems very unlikely, so when we see it it surprises us. And surprise is our main weapon.




Pretend you don't know what's happening


There is another part to this of course and it is "know what is happening... and pretend you don't." That might be all there is to performing really. Pretending not to know what you know perfectly well. Pretend that you are improvising. Pretend you aren't improvising. Pretend that you don't know that you are performing. Pretend that you don't know how to be the character you are being - none of know how we are ourselves. Pretend noone is watching you. Pretend you're pretending noone is watching you etc etc etc. At the same time you need to pretend you do know what is happening when you really don't. The only way the audience knows if something has gone wrong is if you tell them by looking like something has gone wrong. They only see the show once and don't know the lines, the blocking, anything, so it you behave as if it is right, even when it is wrong, they may think there are some odd choices, but they won't think it is wrong. At least they won't think you have got it wrong. As long as you behave as if whatever happens, was supposed to happen, then they will believe you. Why would they not? (MD, August 2018)




Irony gives you subtext


Put most simply subtext is when someone says one thing but means another. In other words lying. Lying to oneself, or literally lying. We do it all the time and it is the driving force of drama. Without subtext there is sort of nothing. The text is flat. There is what is going on in the scene, and there is what is really going in the scene. Subtext is what is really going on in the scene. Subtext is what actors are talking about when they talk about their motivation. The scene might be a tutorial, but the subtext might be flirtation in for example Oleanna by David Mamet. Actors are able to do it because they are make us feel like they are making up the lines even though we know they are written. There is a separation between the writer and the actor that admits doubt. They might be doing what they are told, they probably are, but they might not be. It is at it's best when they are doing lines that we know are written for example Shakespeare. When an actor looks like they are making it up in Shakespeare it is truly exhilarating. Puppets however cannot lie. They may be able to pretend to do subtext, to look like they are pretending to lie, but they can't really do subtext. Because they cannot tell the truth. They can only do what they are made to do. The puppet can only do what puppeteer makes them to do. The puppeteer is seen by the audience sort of as the writer. So there is no separation. So you have to look for it somewhere else to create subtext. One way you can create subtext is through irony. Irony introduces doubt as to whether the performer means what they say. Maybe the puppeteer isn't serious. Irony introduces doubt. Maybe what the puppet is saying isn't meant to be true. And so there is subtext.




Always have swimwear in your suitcase on tour


You leave Enlgand in the rain and fly off and then sometimes there's a pool at the hotel. Or hot springs in the town. Or a sauna. I've had to buy so many emergency swimming costumes on tour. Now I keep a pair of trunks pre-packed in my case. MD, July 2019




Being funny isn’t about doing something funny - it’s about letting people laugh at you


Audiences want to laugh, that's why they go to comedy. And you want to give them that - that's why you're about to go on stage. But when you get up in front of them it feels like its the last thing they want to do. And they don't think you're funny. So what's going on? What happens is that you are tackling the problem head on. Quite often literally: performers go on stage and look at the audience directly. To begin with perhaps you look at them hopefully, then friendly, then desparately begging, then defiantly, then furious and red eyed with hatred... Why aren't they laughing? The audience on the other hand is wondering why you aren't any good. They only wanted to laugh. They only wanted you to be good. But well, it's too much. They feel raped. It's like they're supposed to fake an orgasm. The performer is too needy. Actually audiences often will try faking a few laughes to try and get you going. Give you confidence. They know that they are part of the solution. But if the performer continues to go after them they soon get tired. They don't want to be made to laugh. Enough already. They want the performer a good time but not at their expense. They want to have a good time too. Now they are confused. Why is this guy trying so hard? It's exhausting and slightly disgusting experience. Somehow like being molested, being harrassed, dry humped by a dog. Now they just want to shake you off their leg. It is very controlling. Trying to make people laugh and failing very quickly becomes creepy and wierd. So what do you do? Try doing the opposite. Look away from the audience and do something silly. Give them permission to laugh at you. Trip over. And when they do start laughing don't whatever you do let on that that's what you wanted or expected. Don't looked pleased. Look upset. Look pissed off. Pretend you weren't expecting it. Pretend to object to it. Get cross even. They may laugh more. Let them laugh. Just let them. MD, Dec 2018









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