As a teaching artist, I have to break down the things that I regularly do as an artist. It’s interesting how much effort it takes to understand the things that one does instinctively within one’s genre or medium. As artist doing art is akin to a fish in an aquarium: it is difficult to describe the water that is just… “there.”
Break things down we must, to phrase it as Yoda. Watching Yoda teach Luke Skywalker “how to Jedi” in The Empire Strikes Back is a great analogy. Luke has a hard time seeing WHY he must do all this “crazy stuff.” It is much the same way when you learn puppetry and the first thing that comes up is BREATHING.
BREATHING. YES. BREATHING.
We do not think about this life-sustaining, autonomic action our body does around 21,000 times per day. But it is something performing artists (and even authors) do when we portray a character, be it as an actor or through a puppet. Odd though it may sound, our puppets must breathe, too. Learning how a puppet breathes helps us focus the movement, solidify the character, and develop an appropriate voice that works for our character.
Is your character an elephant? A mouse? A butterfly? They all breathe differently. Old? Young? Fast? Slow? So many essential questions that determine how we breathe.
Eager, squirming eight-year olds (and even twenty-somethings embarking on a professional career) find this idea perplexing. To be honest, I don’t make eight-year olds do a lot of breathing with their puppets, but it still needs mentioning. Eight-year olds, however, will more willingly participate in such exercises for a longer period than the twenty-somethings who are on a career trajectory – then often just want to really nail their lip-synch technique and practice in front of a camera. Breathing can seem like a waste of, well, breath.
But the puppets – and, by extension the puppeteers – need to breathe first. So, like Yoda, I will take my Puppeteer-Padawans through the basic exercises until they can do it with their eyes closed, feeling the life force of their characters.
This infusion of life force through breath is the foundation for the first Puppetry Superpower: Animation. Pillows, food tongs, pool noodles, and more can be manipulated in a way that transforms them into puppets. Of course, you can also manipulate a puppet, but it’s not the use of a puppet that makes someone a puppeteer. The manipulation of an inanimate object to give it a sense of life is what defines a puppeteer.
Animation is a power utilized by many wizards and sorcerers (and Jedi?) as they control the movements of objects and make them come to life. We see this power wielded magically in Harry Potter during Professor Flitwick’s charms class as teapots are made to dance and when suits of armor are rallied in the defense of Hogwart’s Castle. Animation by means of physical manipulation is the heart of what a puppeteer does.
I am taking a deep breath as I dive into more blogging -- perhaps even with a series of blog posts centered on the superpowers that puppeteers have harnessed to create their work. These are, for the most part 😊, allegorical superpowers, of course. Mostly.