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Creating fun puppets from everyday objects!
Want to have some fun creating puppets?
Making your own puppets and putting together a little show doesn't have to be hard, and anyone can do it. Professional puppets aren't necessary - just a willingness to learn and be creative!
As a professional puppeteer who has done a variety of shows, I've learned that very often the most fun and simple puppets also have the greatest crowd appeal - for audiences of all ages!
So...let's begin by thinking about what a puppet actually is. One of my favorite, simple definitions, is this:
"A puppet is any inanimate object that takes on human characteristics." (Ev Robertson, The Dramatic Arts in Ministry)
Sure, we've all seen the wonderful hand puppets on television shows and in movies, but puppetry includes so much more than just one style. Some of the most popular elements in my performances for children's groups feature puppets made from everyday objects - with a little twist of fun!
Kids and adults alike can take found objects and turn them into a fun puppet. This is a great educational experience all around. You (and the kids) are learning about arts (materials, glues, supplies), theatre (character creation, props and stagecraft), design, theme, and much more. The teaching points throughout the creation process are endless - even before you start to put on a show!
Fun ideas and themes
So, what can you make? I'll share a few of my ideas and creations with you in this article, and then turn you loose to design your own - either for your own shows, as a classroom or home school project, or just for fun!
It's easiest to start with a theme in mind, whether it's a storyline, product type, or special occasion. I often start with a particular group of objects that are naturally used together, such as cleaning supplies, garden tools, or kitchen accessories. The cleaning and household supplies have been the most fun to date, as kids enjoy recognizing the objects while I can incorporate lessons of the importance (and even fun!) of picking up after yourself and cleaning in general.
During a Christmas show about a toy factory, one fun moment was when the 'tools' in the factory did a little dance of their own while the humans were away. A mixture of toy tools and real items worked great. Small plastic pliers and screwdrivers danced around while a real T-square made special appearances. All had some fun character features, of course - eyes, noses, glasses, hats - whatever unique attributes or accessories seemed appropriate each object.
If you're doing a lesson or show on cooking, a natural 'cast' might consist of potholders, wooden spoons, mixing bowls, or even plastic fruits and vegetables! When you're working from a lesson or topic, take some time to write down any object you can think of that relates to that theme. Whether you use all of the items or not, this type of list is a great start in the creative process, as the list will naturally grow once you begin a little focused brainstorming.
Materials and methods
Once you've collected the objects that will eventually become your puppets, you'll want to add some personality!
For facial features, small pieces of foam - a variety of shapes and sizes - are great to keep on hand. These can be easily glued to many surfaces. I often use a glue gun, but the surface will determine the best type of adhesive in each situation. Also, bits of felt, styrofoam balls, beads, and even bits of paper make great character faces. Keep the colors bright and vivid. Black and white are natural for eyes, but play with a variety of colors and placements when building your character. Sometimes, you don't even need eyes at all - wire glasses frames add just as much character whether you have actual 'eyes' behind them or not!
Puppeteers, teachers and crafters are known to hang on to all types of materials that others might throw away - almost anything can be used to accessorize your puppet! Bits of material can add just the right scarf...or mustache! When kids are involved with the creation process, you might be surprised how resourceful they can be with a box of cast off materials. Often, not much is actually needed to transform the object into a character with plenty of personality!
A few things to keep in mind
When you're working with a variety of materials, it's important to use them safely. Be sure to read any warning labels on adhesives, be careful when using any cutting tools, and supervise young children during the entire process.
Determine the durability needed. If this is a one-time creation for a quick show or lesson, the source materials can be less sturdy. If you plan to tour with your new puppets, take some time to get durable materials, use strong adhesives, and take care of your final product. Consider how you will store (or display) your puppets, remembering that they might not be as durable as fabric or wood puppets. Clear containers are great for storage as well as transport, and come in a variety of sizes.
Weight of each object is important, especially if you are going to put on a little show or if small children will be manipulating the puppets. Therefore, avoid heavy objects, and use lightweight toys if you find them. This is especially helpful with items such as garden and workshop tools. Kitchen and household items are generally light enough to use the real object, but take care that the objects are safe to hold overhead in a show - no knives or other sharp objects, obviously.
Size of the puppet will be a consideration depending on your plans for performance. If you're doing a classroom or library show, or producing a video, small objects are okay. If you have a larger audience, you will want to create puppets that can easily be seen from a distance.
Think of the end result when planning the puppet size, weight, and durability. And, always work safely with materials and tools.
Enjoy your creation!
When putting together a performance, begin simple by picking some music that fits your theme or object grouping, and let the puppets dance away! Or, add one of your creations to an existing show as a special character.
The applications are many...The possibilities are endless!
For more fun and inspiration, this book also has some great ideas:
The Muppets Make Puppets (by Cheryl Henson and the Muppet Workshop)