A puppet can be made of many materials and can be in different forms. A puppet can be a small figure that may look like a person, which is controlled by a puppeteer. A puppet can be as simple as a sock and as sophisticated as a giant life-sized, movable figure.
What do you think a puppet is?
String puppets or marionettes, are wooden puppets that are operated by strings or threads which are attached to parts of their body. Marionettes are manoeuvred from above by a skilled puppeteer. The simplest marionettes have nine strings attached. To make the puppets moves more precisely puppeteers add more strings in different places.
Marionettes are one of the hardest styles of puppetry to master. Puppeteers that learn the art of marionettes, learn to use gravity to their advantage and to make the marionettes moves look more realistic.
All the strings that are attached to the puppets joints are also attached to a piece or a few pieces of wood securely. In marionette plays the marionettes jaws are often hinged and have strings to control when they talk.
There are many marionettes that are unique. Some of these are Pinocchio from Italy and some perform operas, like the Salzburg Marionette Theatre. Some puppeteers have set the marionettes to operas like ‘The Magic Flute’ and even ballets like, ‘The Nutcracker’. Some of these marionettes are aimed at adult entertainment but children find them fascinating as well.
String puppets appeal to many people, probably because they can look like humans. As we have found when researching our topic of ‘Puppets’, everyone loves a puppet. It helps their inner child to come out!
Wooden puppets have come in lots of different forms throughout history and across cultures. This is probably because wood has been available for many years around the world and was readily available.
Javanese rod puppets are made with wood. The puppet’s head is on a wooden rod which goes through its wooden body. The jointed arms are connected to the shoulders with strings, and moved by thin rods attached to the hands, the rod is hidden by a long robe.
Although only the puppets’ heads and arms move, they can be very expressive and dramatic.
Another kind of Javanese puppet is a shadow puppet, which is also made of wood. The shadow puppets are very similar to the rod puppets, but instead of being three dimensional they are flat. Also instead of the puppets having robes, the makers cut very fine holes in the thin wood to make detailed patterns.
Very close to Java is Malaysia which also has puppet traditions, as well as China and Turkey, who have traditions and similar styles.
Of course there are also famous wooden puppets, which include Pinocchio from Italy, Punch and Judy from the U.K. We have mentioned them in detail in our ‘Famous puppets from around the world’ section.
Cloth puppetry encompasses a vast array of types of puppetry. These puppets are generally quite simple to make at home and to manipulate. Some of these types include:
- Hand puppets/Glove puppets
- Finger puppets
- Sock puppets
Hand and glove puppets are predominantly controlled by your hand and fingers, which remain inside the puppet and acts as its back bone. It is from there that the puppeteer controls the puppets every move. Inside hand and glove puppets, the puppeteer’s pointer finger supports the head of the puppet, and their thumb and middle finger form the arms. The most basic types of hand puppets like have few or no operating parts other than the mouth. Although these puppets cannot move their mouths, they are able to pick up objects with ease.
Finger puppets are made to fit only your fingers, and although they do not have movable arms or mouths, you can have more than one operating at a time! These puppets can be made from cloth, and are usually just a head, but can be an entire body shape.
The simplest example of a cloth puppet is a sock puppet. These puppets are very versatile as the can serve as any type of creature the puppeteer wishes. These are controlled with your hand that is inserted into the sock (where your foot would usually go), with the rest of it going down your forearm. The section of the sock where the foot would go, serves as the head, which is the part where most action occurs!
Cloth puppets are easy and fun to make at home. You can make your own using any old pieces of felt, fleece, or other pieces of material you may have lying around. See our Fun and Games Page for more details on how to make your very own cloth puppets!
Photos by kneeHIGH
Larger than Life Puppets
Larger than life puppets are some of the most amazing puppets to watch. As the name suggests they can be metres taller than an average sized person. Some of these puppets don’t do a show as such; they walk through the crowd doing all sorts of things to entertain the people. Some of the puppets are controlled by five rods, they are attached to their arms, legs and head. There are also some puppets where there is a person inside the puppet controlling it.
They even seem to have personalities being like friendly but mischievous children; they might try and take your handbag, your shopping bag or maybe even your hat. Sometimes they will try to take hats off of people like the police. The puppets can be made of many things. Puppeteers can make them out of wire and metal then put cloth over the top for clothes. There are others that are completely made out of metal.
The puppets are used for all sorts of things, they can entertain at weddings, children’s parties and other events. They come in all shapes and sizes, their sizes can vary from around six feet up to three or four metres.
Our team had a fantastic visit from Juniper – an exceptionally talented designer of life-sized puppets and a talented puppeteer. Check out the information on her in “Puppets in action”
Even simple a sock can be transformed into a marvellous hand puppet (also known as a glove puppet), just by adding buttons and sewing on some felt.
Some glove puppets have cloth bodies and heads, or soft bodies and heads made from papier-mâché or plastic. You make your hand puppet move by putting your thumb in one arm, forefinger and middle finger inside the head and the last two fingers inside the remaining arm
Some glove puppets like a ventriloquist’s dummy have extra controls inside of it so the puppeteer can make the dummies’ mouth open and close and so that it can blink.
Glove puppets were rather popular in Europe in the 17th century. They were cheaper to make than marionettes and definitely easier to control. Puppeteers performed these new shows at street fairs, at the backs of wagons or in booths especially for glove puppet shows.
Most of the shows were slapstick comedies like Punch and Judy, this meant that there was a lot of beating of the other characters or hitting them on the head. Although this sounds brutal, most of the violence was done off stage with sound effects. These kinds of shows were popular in England, France and other surrounding countries.
Nowadays, most glove puppets are children’s toys which give them great enjoyment; however, hand puppets, like all puppets, can be enjoyed, by people of any age.