What is a Puppet?

FROM…THE PUPPET STUDIO…BY JON CONLON

What Is A Puppet?

The term “puppet” often confuses people who are interested in learning about this branch of entertainment art. A dictionary explanation defines it as “a small human or animal figure animated by strings, wires, or by hand in a hollow body and head, or a toy like a person — a doll.” Misunderstanding starts with this simple description. The true meaning is far more complicated.

The first principle is that all puppets are dolls in one strange way or another, but not all dolls are puppets. Next, a puppet may be almost anything– a dancing rock, bunch of grapes, sweeping broom, a talking tin bucket, or swaying flower.. but not just merely a human or animal. It basically must be an articulated, moving, not alive object that takes on , no matter how limited, the illusion of life. Should it, necessarily, be controlled directly or remotely moved?

A modern master of American puppetry, Bill Baird, tells us that a puppet is “an inanimate figure that is made to move by human effort before an audience.” Although, he gives us a great working idea of current thinking about puppets, these are much more than that. History, sorry to say, does not offer much additional information.

Perhaps about fifteen thousand years ago a mystic made an animal skull move its jaw and speak to the people about important truths. Ancient Greeks, five thousands years ago, used puppets and animated figures for religious and entertainment effects. But much of this history is murky.

Today, we recognize approximately what this strange thing is. We remember it from the movies staring King Kong, Godzilla, Carrot Top (Lily), Pinocchio, ET, RtoDto; from TV: Ollie, Kukla, Senior Winces and his head in a box, Jerry Mahoney, Alf, Kermit, Elmo, Lamb Chop–all puppets.

Despite this difficulty of exactly defining the term, the concept may be identified and classified in order to help an understand of the word:

1. Hand/clove, fist puppet…2. Rod puppet…3. String puppet or marronette…4. Shadow puppet…5. Water puppet…6. Ventriloquist /dummy puppet…7. Finger puppet…8.Body puppet. See the pictures that illustrate each.

 

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