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Can Anybody Be Puppeteer?

Discussion in 'Puppet News' started by Buck-Beaver, Oct 6, 2008.

  1. Teenager's

    Teenager's Member

    Ok, yea. I see that. Good Point.

    I also sort of wonder if......without having it taught places are we not pushing puppetry far enough?---Ex...because most of us are self taught are we just circling around with the same ideas and techniques instead of innovating? like innovation is pushed in arts like dance/acting etc..
  2. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    Indeed, it does.
    It's true. I self taught myself puppetry, and look where it's got me? Even PROFESSIONALS have trouble critiquing my work because they see little-to-no flaws with it.
  3. dwmckim

    dwmckim Well-Known Member

    Quite a few things to respond to in this thread so far...

    First off a shout out to Kids on the Block - i was involved with them in my pre-teens back in the early 80's, nice to hear they're still around and doing what they are!

    Early in the thread, an analogy came up to singing - being a puppeteer and a singer, i like that analogy and would like to extend it just a little further..."anyone" (and even then probably with limits) can sing or puppeteer, in the sense that they can pick up a puppet and have fun with it or sing in their shower or enjoy a fave song by belting along with it - they're both creative forms of expression and a form of fun and catharsis. However, the answer of "Can anyone do it" takes on a different tone when you take it away from personal enjoyment to whether one can/should do it for a paying audience. Obviously the answer would be no. Not everyone who has the desire would be able to attain that level.

    But if one has the drive and sheer will, that's not to say that they may eventually get to an acceptable level after a LOT of training and hard work...though perhaps years more than what many people may be willing to undertake.

    For the person who asked if they can be a puppeteer without voices, of course! Being Muppet fans, it's so easy for us to think as Muppetry as the be-all and end-all of puppetry, but think of all the different forms of puppetry/puppet theatre that has come from other cultures or troupes - there's an awful lot of puppetry performances that don't involve a speaking puppeteer - where the craft is totally focused on the movement. Also think of the more modern forms of puppetry as they pertain to special effects for film - again, lots of opportunity to be involved with the movement of a character where voicing it is not involved. Even if you do wish to think of terms of more traditional Muppetry, if one was to get a job with the Muppets, it's almost a given you would start as a background/"right-hander" where you wouldn't have to worry about voices at that point anyway.

    As per the question of how much can be self-taught and learned through trainers...again having experience in the fields of singing and puppetry, i have some definate perspectives on this that parallel each other. A lot can be self-taught and in fact most people who have the desire to be a professional singer or puppeteer started off because they've already on some level "self-taught" themselves since they were a kid. A lot of stuff you will learn will come from that initial intuitive spirit in which you've developed your own style and basics. However, one should never underestimate the importance of a good teacher either - singing and puppetry both are essentially physical acts, and much like any sport or physical activity, a teacher can help with technique and also cure you of some "bad habits" you may have developed by learning something yourself! Looking at the modern protocol of Muppeteers, just about any new Muppeteer will go through extensive training and workshops with veterans (who have in the past/present included Richard Hunt, Kevin Clash, Victor Yerrid). Much can be learned from not only a certified educator but also a working professional with years of experience - someone who knows all about what it's like working with a monitor...having to work in pits on platformed sets...the experiences of working with green-screen, digital puppetry, full-body Muppets, bunraku bits, manipulating small more naturalistic bird/insect puppets meant to provide atmosphere to a scene.

    On the singer side of things, i can say i've largely been self-taught througout my childhood/teens and picked up bits and pieces of valuable knowledge from every director i worked with in a choir or show...but when i took my first vocal music course in college and had my first real "training" experience, i can't even begin to place a value on the kind of stuff i learned - not only in terms of technique but in terms of aiding me find my individual style.

    It's a personal philosophy of mine that the highest from of art (no matter what type, be it puppetry, singing, visual, writing, etc) is when one finds the perfect balance between the technical ("technique", the actual "how-to"/method) and the emotional (the "heart" "individualism" "expression") To be the best, one needs both parts of the equation - and again, in order to acheive the more technical aspects, you need the training. If it does nothing else, it will give you a second pair of ears/eyes - someone outside of yourself who can see/hear you from an audience perspective and can let you know strengths and weeknesses and how to be better as well as ways of doing things you probably would not have otherwise picked up on your own. But always remember what you're doing is art and if there's not an alement of yourself (ie humanity) in what you're doing, than what you're attempting could easily be duplicated by computers or robots/inhuman technology.

    The Muppets fulfill my personal standards/definition of art perfectly - they not only are masters of the craft...all carried down from the true innovator of merging puppetry with the motion picture forms of media, but there's always that certain "spark" that seperates them from other puppet troups that make what they do "Muppet-y" more than any specific trademark. Something that even if its weaker projects, gives them that something "more" than others. You instinctively recognize it as "Muppets" as opposed to puppets. Combine this with the fact that behind the performers are writers, puppet builders, etc etc all devoted to creating something that speaks to people on many levels and you have something really extraordinary which is why we're here.

    So there you have it - one of my long convoluted essays on something i get passionate about, but for those who prefer the Cliff Notes version - i refer you to the Fraggle Rock episode "Mokey and the Minstrels" - any Fraggle can (and given the nature of Fraggles SHOULD) sing. But only a particular breed, even among the most gifted, can/should really be a Minstrel.
  4. Oscarfan

    Oscarfan Well-Known Member

    I think I heard somewhere that the people who perform in Avenue Q went to some kind of puppetry lesson. I mean, I had no idea Christy Carlson Romano was a puppeteer, and she was a pretty good one when I saw it.
  5. MGCJerry

    MGCJerry New Member

    The extent of my puppeteering was in elementary school when I was in the 5th grade. Because I was one of the few "artsy" ones in 5th grade I managed to get the role of drawing and painting a backdrop for a school play that was going to be performed by the 1st graders on mothers day. I was also asked to create a puppet which I just used a normal sock, some furry tendrils for hands an eye, and a lot of glue. I became so attached to the creation that I asked to perform the puppet. Which I did to some degree of success I think. The 1st graders loved it, and because that was my last year at that school, I gave the puppet to the art teacher which is one of the people who organized the show. Wish I would have kept it. :(

    Later on in the day, I ran into the art teacher and she told me I should get into puppeteering. That was about 16 years ago and I haven't done any puppeteering since. In a way I wish I would have perused that a bit more as a hobby, but electronics caught my attention at that time so I was soooo stuck on that.

    From what I remembered building the puppet, and performing with it. It was a lot of fun, but it was a school production.
  6. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    You know, Kids on The Block were actually interested in me puppeteering for them... or at least I THOUGHT they were... they told me they could use me, but they would have to call me back and set up an interview/demo before they could give me a definite answer.

    Never heard from them.
  7. Whispers

    Whispers New Member

    I think its true that anyone can be a puppeteer, however whether or not they're a GREAT puppeteer is the difference. Its the passion and love that set those who improve and become excellent apart from the regulars who try to puppeteer.
  8. ChickyBoy37

    ChickyBoy37 Well-Known Member

    I think it would take many training and practice but I'm sure someone has posted that already.
  9. muppetfan89

    muppetfan89 Member

    It's a good question. I don't know if anyone can be a puppeteer, because it's not as easy as people think, but I believe one can be taught to hone the craft, I'm not sure, if they'll do it well, but you could put them in the right direction.
  10. bazooka_beak

    bazooka_beak Active Member

    It's rather discouraging to read all this - I've loved puppets my whole life and have always wanted to do something about it. But I give up easily and I don't know if I even have the skill - it would be heartbreaking if I didn't :/
  11. Pork

    Pork Active Member

    I know what you mean. Like I really want to keep trying harder. And I know I will never stop making puppets...because I just love it so much. But I have like...a severe lack of confidence that is a nusance...not only with puppetry but with everything. However, I WILL try to overcome it.
  12. muppetfan89

    muppetfan89 Member

    I know exactly what you mean, I've been doing puppetry for a year now, and throughout the past year, I've learned so much, and I'm proud to say that I've improved alot, particurally with building puppets. I still need to improve a little with moving the mouth of a puppet and writing for puppetry, but I'm sure after another year or two, I could confidently say that I am a puppeteer, but doesn't mean I'll be an expert or anything, because I'll still be learning. I believe that in anything you do, you always learn as you go, because no one knows everything there is to know about anything. You could be an expert in something and still be learning.

    For example, I know a puppeteer, who's been doing puppetry for over 30 years and he told me, he's still learning and will continue to learn, because he doesn't know everything there is to know.

    Another good example, I once e-mailed Rick Lazzarini, who provided the animatronic puppets, and special effects for many films, including Alien and Spaceballs. So, after many years of experience, he told me he was still learning.

    So, just keep at it and you'll get somewhere. I'm sure even Jim Henson, Bil Baird, Burr Thomson, or any other famous puppeteer, felt the same way you did, but it took them a couple of years. Just keep at it and hang in there.

    Hope this helps!
  13. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    Somebody is probably going to get mad at me for pointing this out, but it's very interesting to read and compare these two quotes, they represent two very different approaches to learning puppetry:

    The best puppeteers I have met are intensely self-critical; they don't beat themselves up, but they do understand that mastering something like puppetry is a never-ending process that requires constant self-improvement. As Muppetfan said, there are puppeteers who keep learning new things and improving even after decades of work.

    Bazooka, while I don't think you can learn anything if you give up too easily, if you're just getting started in puppetry and you're able to acknowledge that puppetry is a difficult, skilled art form you can probably learn a lot more than someone who learns a bit and decides they have mastered it. I think it does take a long time to become a really good puppeteer, but the key thing is to just go out there and do it. The more you "just do it" the better you will be.

    All of us have egos and we all like to think we're talented, but show me a puppeteer who thinks their work is beyond critique and I'll show you one who is not nearly as good as they think they are.
  14. bazooka_beak

    bazooka_beak Active Member

    Thank you for the comments, guys. I haven't actually gotten into working with puppets yet. I've never owned anything beyond a handpuppet you give to kids, sadly, because of lack of money. But, I'm hoping to save up for that new F.A.O. deal and get one of those as a "starter" puppet (assuming they're fully functional), which is exciting to me.
  15. staceyrebecca

    staceyrebecca Active Member

    Anytime I think of mastering something, I look to Phillip Huber as an example. The man takes up to four years to build and rehearse with a puppet before he performs it for an audience. Can you imagine? It takes and incredible amount of patience to be an incredible artist.

    How amazing would the world think all puppeteers were if we took one or two years, let alone up to 4, to rehearse a performance before they saw our work? The dreamer in me says to push for it, but the impatient procrastinator says "I have a slam in 3 weeks...I wonder what I'll do..."

    Also, Buck, I adore Alan! I'm fortunate that we have a portion of his collection in the museum at our theater, so I get to not only be exposed to & help set up these amazingly wonderful puppets, but I get to hear the stories as well. Where did you find that quote from him?
  16. Vic Romano

    Vic Romano Active Member

    I believe it's like any art form. You can learn a lot, but actual natural talent is really important and not everyone has it. I guess puppetry seems like a much more accessible form of art because you can buy a hand puppet practically anywhere. It's really hard to be a decent puppeteer. I've tried it for years but know that I just won't ever be as good as professionals, but like any form of art, I think it's important to encourage others to try, if for no other reason then to help people appreciate and respect how difficult and beautiful it really is.
  17. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    I love Alan too, he's the best. That quote came off the Puptcrit mailing list, where Alan frequently posts.
  18. staceyrebecca

    staceyrebecca Active Member

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