A Brief Introduction to the Art of Puppetry, by Larry Engler

Probably everyone reading this has either made a puppet, worked a puppet, or at least seen puppets in a school, theatre, or in a film or on TV.

For most of us, puppets have come to mean the type of furry and fuzzy creatures with moving mouths that we see on television.

Actually, puppetry is and ancient and universal art form that is part of many diverse cultures around the world. There are also many types of puppets; hand puppets, shadow puppets, marionettes (or string puppets), rod puppets, finger puppets, moving-mouth puppets, and even remote controlled, giant, and foot puppets!

Puppets can also be made out of hundreds of different types of materials; wood, plastic, fabric, foam rubber, paper, cardboard, leather, and Styrofoam, to name just a few.

We often think of puppets as entertainment for children. However, in many countries around the world, the puppets also perform for adults. Puppets are an important part of many religious ceremonies around the world, and are also adept at performing operas, dramas, ballets, and in theatres, on ships, in churches, outdoors, and in hundreds of other venues.

So what is the common thread that unites all of these diverse creations , which are made from many types of materials, worked in many different ways and performed in many different kinds of places?
Put another way: “What is a puppet”?

Bil Baird, one of America’s most famous puppeteers wrote, “A puppet is an inanimate figure that is made to move by human effort before an audience.”

That definition covers a lot bases. The materials that the puppet is made of are not alive.
A human moves the puppet to bring it to life in front of an audience.
Similar to a doll, often both in construction and appearance, the puppet is used to communicate something to an audience. A doll usually comes to life for only the person playing with it.

The giant balloons that are a part of the Annual New York Thanksgiving Day Parade were originally created by another famous American puppeteer named Tony Sarg.
He conceived them as giant marionettes worked from underneath rather than from above. How about a 20 foot long dragon in a Chinese New Year’s celebration? Are the robotic figures, and the life size masked “walk-around” characters in theme parks also puppets?

Perhaps this brief introduction to the art of puppetry will inspire you to find out more about the many different types of puppets that exist all over the world.

[Editorial note: there is only one “l” in “Bil Baird” that it is a typo.]

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