24 March 2008

Marionettes vs. Hand Puppets

Saturday I performed with a certain children's marionette show (whose name I omit only because this blog is sometimes loose and free with profanity [not to mention links to disgusting videos made by Eli Roth,] and I don't want kids to Google the name and wind up here.) This was the official "coming out party" for the "TTs", and we performed a 15 minute, high energy, all singing-all dancing set. It was very well received! And I believe it will lead to further gigs.

I am by no means an expert marionette manipulator. My co-puppeteers, Mirna and Jonathan, they are really top-notch. I've learned a lot from working with them and watching them. I have discovered that many of the same principles involved in manipulating hand puppets translates to marionettes. But there are some major differences.

First and foremost is the puppeteer's relationship to the puppet. This almost goes without saying, but the implications are quite interesting in practice. With a hand puppet, you are almost always positioned below the puppet. With a marionette, you are always positioned above.

For a tall guy like me, marionettes are instantly easier to manipulate, if only because I don't have to keep my big, stupid head down. How many times has my big, stupid head bobbed up into frame or over the top edge of a screen? Too many to count.

Also, with hand puppets your hand is elevated for extended periods. The blood rushes from your fingertips, your arm gets strained ... it's painful after a while. With marionettes, you're holding them up. Yes, there is still a considerable amount of strain on your arms, but most of the muscular strain seems to center on the upper back, around the shoulders. And you can easily shift a marionette from hand to hand during performance, something you just can't do with a hand puppet.

I find it easier to keep an eye on my puppet and my performance with the marionette. I don't know why, but looking down is easier than looking up for me. Maybe it's because the looking up is oftentimes accompanied by contorting myself to fit under a piece of furniture. Hmm.

The principles of eye-focus and lip-sync are the same. The best bit of advice ever passed my way on eye-focus came from Disney's master puppeteer Jeff Conover who told me and a crew of new recruits to the House of Mouse to drop the downstage ear when looking to the side. This principle applies to marionettes, and is quite effective.

There are some things a hand puppet can do better than a marionette. The big thing is with a hand puppet you have instant control over what your puppet is doing. You don't have to work with (and against) gravity to manipulate the puppet. I can move an arm rod and know exactly where my puppet's hand is going. With the marionette, it's a more delicate operation. I don't know quite how to describe it ... it's like there's more physics involved in the action of moving the marionette's arm.

Although the marionette is far more mechanical than your run-of-the-mill hand puppet(i.e. more moving parts), marionettes have a sublime gracefulness. It's a beautiful artform, and I'm happy to have the opportunity to work in it.

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