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Any Tips for Arm Fatigue?

Discussion in 'Puppet Building and Performing' started by crazy chris, Sep 6, 2010.

  1. spcglider

    spcglider Well-Known Member

    Arm fatigue: We aren't the greatest at rehearsing, so we rely quite a bit on breaks and yoga-like stretching before we start filming. One of our puppeteers is a yoga instructor, so its very handy!

    I'm not one for doing live shows, so that's outside of my knowledge base.

  2. crazy chris

    crazy chris Well-Known Member

    very cool tips spc!

    that chair is epic! lol

  3. Dearth

    Dearth Well-Known Member

    I've merely dabbled as a puppeteer, but I do a lot of acting and directing and improv. The first play I was ever in was Little Shop, and I've voiced Audrey II three times since 1989.

    I just finished a stage production of Disney's Aladdin Jr., where I played the Genie. For the first time I pop out of the lamp, we did a hide-in-plain-sight effect that tested the limits of my ability to withstand arm fatigue.

    As soon as the set was changed to the cave scene, I got in place within a tube of black fabric attached to a hula hoop, which was hidden among the set design. This tubular 'shower curtain' was kept upright by one thing only... me holding both arms above my head.

    Once Aladdin rubbed the lamp, a smoke effect billowed upward, obscuring the part where I was standing. I would let the hula hoop drop, the black tube would fall around my feet, and I would be suddenly visible against an identical black backdrop, seeming to 'materialize' within the smoke.

    I had to act, sing, dance, do stage magic, and even brought my improv comedy skills into play with this part... and yet holding the tube up while standing perfectly still for three minutes was the hardest part of the role.

    I finally saw what the effect looked like from the audience's point of view after the run was over, when one of the stage Dads gave me a copy of a dress rehearsal. I have to say, it looked amazing. Even better than I had hoped.

    It was actually my own suggestion, something I'd long wanted to try. Wouldn't you know, it came from a puppet show? I had read in college about a production of Faust that Orson Welles did, using puppets for little demonic characters. There was no set, just black velvet everywhere, and the puppeteers would enter within the black tubes with a puppet on their arms, hidden from view. Welles would summon a demon, and the tube would drop, and suddenly a demon would appear, hovering in mid-air. Blew the audiences' minds.

    Actually, a few years ago, when Tolkien stories were extremely popular, I wanted to direct a production of the Hobbit, using puppets and a black velvet set. Unfortunately, someone had already pitched the Hobbit using kid actors and been selected for the children's theatre season.

    One idea that I had, and the suggestion below about the identical puppets triggered this memory, was to trick the audience into thinking Smaug the dragon was even larger by swapping the Bilbo puppet with a half-size duplicate before he sees the dragon. If Bilbo was the only thing they could see, with everything else black, he would begin moving upstage and there would be a brief blackout. When the lights return, a smaller Bilbo is closer to them, and he continues moving upstage. This would double the perceived depth of the stage, as well as the perceived size of Smaug.

    Sigh. That would have been such a fun show. Too bad I couldn't afford to bankroll it myself.

    Oh, one more thing about Aladdin. I was telling one of the veteran local actors who's on the theatre board that my biggest challenge was holding up the tube for that amount of time, but I kept telling myself, "If you ever wanted to be a Muppeteer, you'd have to endure worse!"

    To my surprise, as soon as I said Muppets, he said, "I wonder if we could do a production of Avenue Q around here?" This was just hours after the college-age kid playing Aladdin had told me that was his dream show. Keep your fingers crossed!

  4. Hobble&Snitch

    Hobble&Snitch Member

  5. Pig's Laundry

    Pig's Laundry Well-Known Member

    My major problem is, I suffer from hand fatigue whenever I puppeteer. My hand almost always starts cramping up after just a few seconds of puppeteering. Does anyone have any tips on this?
  6. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    You should make sure that you stretch properly...if your hand is cramping up within seconds that could be part of the problem.

    In terms of exercises, you could try hand grip strengtheners (you can find these ebay for $10 or less), but probably the best thing to do is just puppeteer often. The more you do, the more strength and endurance you will develop. Puppetry usually requires strengthening a lot of the muscles in your hand and forearm that usually do not get much exercise on a day-to-day basis, so when most people start puppeteering those muscles are usually fairly weak.

    If you practice every day, see how much you can do comfortably. Even if it is just 2-3 minutes, do that. Each day you can try to do a minute or two more.
    Pig's Laundry likes this.
  7. Pig's Laundry

    Pig's Laundry Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the advice!
  8. Hobblesnitch

    Hobblesnitch Member

    Like Buck-Beaver suggested keep practicing.
    With practice and exercise you should be able to keep your arm up almost without noticing for at least 15min. I can comfortable puppeteer for about 45min.

    The trick is to relax and breathe correctly. If you tense, your hand and shoulder will cramp up.

    First work out exactly where you are feeling cramped. If it’s below the elbow then it is your shoulder/back muscles. You could try using some sort of support at first. Have your elbow lean on a puppet stage, just long enough to regain your energy
    or you could try building a support harness out of pipes (similar to the muppeteer’s harness that they wear). This way you can have something around ear height to lean your arm on when needed.

    If you are getting sore around the wrist and under your thumb, then you are too tense while puppeteering. Practice keeping your arm up while your wrist and fingers are completely floppy. Then shake it out. Keep doing this until you can puppeteer with your hand still completely relaxed.
    If you are still cramping it may have to do with the comfort of your puppet. Perhaps try gluing a foam curve inside the top mouth plate. This way your fingers are slightly curved when puppeteering.

    I can not stress this enough keep your body RELAXED. Visualize your arm is floating.
  9. ashkent

    ashkent Well-Known Member

    I've had both arm fatigue and very bad cramping in my hand many times.

    I've done a puppet video service for almost 4 years now, ranging from around 30 seconds up to 10 minutes. Sometimes there can be angle changes, sometimes not. For the first year, business was slow (although the building side kept me busy) and I didn't really notice much fatigue or cramp-wise.

    About a year and a half ago, it had taken off and I found myself with around 20 orders a week, and i suddenly started to have problems. Even with stretching, weights etc, I still had problems. There are a couple of puppets that have mouths built in a way that I have to have my hand a certain way. These were the ones that caused the most problems. I couldn't work one of them for more than 30 seconds without my hand starting to lock. If i kept going for another 30 seconds, i would lose use of my hand entirely - couldn't grip even a pen for about 15 minutes after.

    Over time things changed.

    I had more and more orders, so now I do up to 40 videos a week, which in turn means I don't have a day that i don't use at least one puppet for a minimum of 5-10 minutes. This helped with both the fatigue and cramps. When my hand locked up, I would do some extreme stretching of my hand, even using the floor to put weight against my wrist both ways to relieve the pain enough to get through. Also I found there was a minor change in position i could do that stopped it happening so quickly.

    I the last few months, I have't really had problems bad enough to stop me in the middle of a performance, and even when i start to feel it, I've grown so used to it that for me it is like a pain you live with in your knee that is there all the time but you stop noticing as much.

    I guess a lot of it is long term constant, repetitive use of puppets whenever the opportunity comes. If there is a chance to use something in the scenery as a rest for your arm then use it (i recently did a video in a kitchen and while I was squashed in a corner against a cupboard, I realised by elbow was at exactly the right height to rest on the oven door handle which meant i could take the weight off my shoulder for most of the recording).

    But like i say, i think the best remedy is definitely continued use over time - with plenty of stretching of course. :)

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