My journey creating and producing puppetry... trials, tribulations, inspiration and contemplation.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Magic of Puppetry


At a recent presentation of my anti-bullying puppet show Helping Drew, during our Q&A, a little girl, maybe 7 or 8, asked "is it magic?!".. referring to the puppetry. I thought for a second and answered "mmmm.. it is a certain kind of magic, yes" and she just had this big, satisfied grin on her face. I love creating magic with puppets and have been in love with this magic since I was a child. The simple magic that's in the imagination of a child is a treasure that we all employ from time to time. When we see a movie with characters made or enhanced by high-quality special effects, we suspend our disbelief and get drawn in to the fantasy. In puppetry, the effect is in the mind of our audience which creates this kind of magic. We present any number of inanimate objects or characters, obviously made from basic materials, and we all agree, through the performance of the puppeteer, that this object now has life. It's no wonder it's been said that many young puppeteers start with traditional magic kits in their youth.

Even while I'm visible, a grown man with a shaved head, I put on the puppet of a little girl and the audience believes in this creation. It is youthful play with our imagination as we enter into this agreement that this character is real. I can become a fuzzy monster, a bunny or a pink-haired school principal among others. Fellow puppeteer Amy Rush talked with me on this phenomenon and how, in it's simplest form, is used in improv when a performer claims to be an animal or an object and we play along with this belief for our entertainment. Simply magical, indeed.

Puppeteer Fred Thompson related an experience he had with puppet magic as well. "We were touring in the Washington, DC area with the Rufus and Margo Rose production of 'Pinocchio' on loan to us.  In the show, Pinoke  was overcome with donkey fever, sprouted ears and got down all four and brayed his way off stage. He returned as a full-blown donkey. After the show, a kid - maybe 6 or 7 asked me how did Pinocchio turn into a donkey. So I explained that we had several versions of Pinoke, one a regular puppet, one with ears and one that looked like a donkey.  The kid smiled and said OK. But HOW did he change into a donkey? I explained the whole deal again and again the kid smiled and said OK. But HOW did he turn into a donkey? I thought for a second and blurted out, Well. He got donkey fever. The kid thought for a second - smiled - and walked away.  True."

There is a youthful exuberance to the many puppeteers I've had the pleasure of meeting and it's becoming quite clear why this is a common trait. Our job is to engage in the kind of play and magic that we've all been enchanted with since childhood.

4 comments:

Naceur Boujja said...

Wells said, especially loved this part " It is youthful play with our imagination as we enter into this agreement that this character is real".

Thanks for sharing

David said...

Thank you Naceur!

Dr T said...

Thanks for sharing, David, and saying it so well. Bil Baird used to give a little lecture on puppetry at the end of his shows at the Barrow Street theater in NY. He would bring out an antelope skull and trace the origins of puppetry to a cave man picking up an animal skull and making it come to life. Primitive magic that still lives in all of our minds.

David said...

Thanks Dr. T!