My name is Donna Mihovilovich, but I am known as “Mrs. M.” here at the Elk Grove Village Public Library (Elk Grove Village, IL). I was a professional puppeteer for several years, but currently conduct “Ready to Read” classes and story times. I use puppets a lot in my classes. I also do puppetry workshops for librarians and teachers and am about to begin writing a book on puppetry. Its working title is “Hybrid Puppets".
When I was trained as a puppeteer, the man training me sternly said, “Puppetry is more than just putting a puppet on your hand and waving it around!” I know I have repeated that statement in workshops, but I will tell you if you are just starting out, and that is all you can do, just put the puppet on your hand and wave it around!”
After you are comfortable and want to begin to work on your puppetry technique, I will first suggest you work on your puppet’s posture. It is very easy to let the puppet’s head drift, looking up or down. The puppet should be looking at the audience. Bear in mind, your audience might be sitting on the floor, so you would have your puppet focused down. If you are using a hand puppet with your hand opening its mouth, a good rule of thumb is to check where your fingers “point.” They should be pointing at the audience.
The puppet can simply say hello or goodbye to the children, talk to them, etc. If the puppeteer is not behind a stage, but simply behind the puppet, the puppeteer can join in the conversation, or not, but the puppeteer should always be looking at the puppet when the puppet is talking. When the puppeteer is talking to the audience and the puppet is listening, the puppeteer should look at the audience, and the puppet should be looking at the puppeteer. This helps the child focus on the magic of the puppet.
This is the same technique when two puppets are going to speak. When two puppets are about to have a conversation, the puppets are first looking at each other. But when one puppet begins to speak, it then turns to face the audience. As it finishes speaking the last word or two, it resumes looking at the other puppet. The listening puppet does not look at the audience, but at the speaking puppet.
If a child says, “Hey, the puppet isn’t real! I see your hand in the puppet! “ simply have the puppet say proudly, “Yes, I am a real puppet!”
And of course, the best place to get puppets is to check them out from your local library!
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindsayshaver/3326808458/