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I'm a Maker... a Puppet Builder! by Anna Goolsby, Marketing Assistant

“It's time to play the music
It's time to light the lights…”

If there were a soundtrack to my childhood, The Muppets theme song would definitely be the most-played track on the list. Even as an adult, my heart lifts when I hear the first few notes of “Rainbow Connection.” Most kids’ heroes wore capes on their backs, but mine wore puppets on their hands. Jim Henson, Mr. Fred Rogers and Shari Lewis were my superheroes and I wanted nothing more than to be just like them.

Fast forward to today and I'm doing just that!

I work with Wishing Chair Productions, a local puppet troupe that is part of the Nashville Public Library Foundation. More than 80 years ago, this globally-renowned troupe got its start when a man named Tom Tichenor, then 15 years old, began walking to the library after school to perform free puppet shows for local children. Like Tom, we don't simply see ourselves as performers - we're historians picking up the mantle from centuries of tradition and storytelling, dedicated to entertaining and educating the children of Nashville. Making and performing with puppets has become more than just a hobby - it's my passion. 

As a puppeteer, I take the mundane and make it into something new; I take stories and characters and bring them to life on stage. Just as there are many mediums to paint with or draw with, there are also numerous ways to build puppets for unique and engaging shows for viewers of every age.

Step behind the curtain with me and explore a few of my favorite puppet styles:

Hand and Rod

Just as you can imagine, these puppets are typically simple to construct and can be as inexpensive or pricey as you’d like. You’ve probably seen this style on some of your kid’s favorite television shows. Jim Henson’s puppets (The Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and so much more) are the most well known in this style. (I consider them the pinnacle of their kind!)

It’s all in the name – this style of puppet is manipulated with one hand inside the puppet, typically inside a mouthpiece, leaving the other hand free to move appendages with a metal rod. By having a rod to move the puppet’s hands or feet about, you can make them extremely expressive without much effort, making your story even more engaging to an audience. Learn how to build your own here!

Marionette

Possibly the most recognized style of puppet, marionettes can be seen everywhere from on stage to on the big screen. The overall design of these puppets range from the incredibly simple to the breathtakingly intricate, pulling from cultures all over the world.

Marionette is a French word meaning “little Mary.” They earned this name far back in the European Middle Ages when the Catholic Church used these puppets to tell Bible stories to those in the community who were not educated enough to read the Latin Bible.

Today, these string puppets are used to tell every story imaginable, furthering their purpose of bringing stories to life. Do you want to learn how to build a marionette of your own? I recommend checking out this book from your local library!

Bunraku

Also known as Ningyō jōruri, this style of puppetry was first developed in the 16th century in Osaka, Japan. Unlike other styles of puppetry, the puppeteer is a visible part of the performance, often acting as part of the puppet’s body or as a set piece on stage.

Some great examples of bunraku are showcased in Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway. In this musical, Timon the meerkat is a fully wearable bunraku puppet that weighs over 15 pounds. The puppeteer supports the puppet’s body from head to feet, using his hand to work the facial movements and feet to move him about the stage. Learn more about the other amazing puppets in this production here.

You can also see Bunraku puppetry in person for FREE at our friends from Wishing Chair Productions Puppet Troupe performances of Ellingtown - a puppet show honoring the Duke of Jazz, Duke Ellington.

I've only covered three styles, but there are SO many more to explore. I hope learning a bit about these puppets has ignited some curiosity to learn more about this ancient style of entertainment. Now, go put on your maker hat and start crafting your own puppet friends!

- Anna Goolsby, Marketing Assistant

 
Posted by Anna Leigh Goolsby at 9:36 AM
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