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Puppetry, Part II

Puppet-Making ChecklistHere are two simple types of hand puppets children can make and use. The first is made with a styrofoam ball and cloth, the second from a sock.

For the first, use a three-inch styrofoam ball (about 25 cents, your only expense), scrap fabric, felt bits and yarn. Make a pattern from newspaper about ten inches long and eight wide across the arms. You may have to help young children with this part. Now cut two of these from fabric and sew them together except at the bottom. Make a hole in the styrofoam ball wide and deep enough for your forefinger and some fabric. Thrust your finger into the neck of the costume and into the ball.

Now make the puppet's face from the felt bits and hair from yarn using both glue and pins. For an effective "skin tone," you might want to cover the ball with some shade of nylon stocking material (before attaching the costume) drawing the nylon tightly and securing it with a rubber band. Snip off the excess nylon close to the band and cover the "bump" with the puppet's hair.

The sock puppet may be made thus: At the toe of the sock make two small punctures about an inch and a half apart. Through the punctures run a piece of thin elastic and tie it in a circle about two inches in diameter. Insert your hand into the toe of the sock and ease the elastic back over your knuckles (you will need your other hand to help). This draws the toe back into a "mouth." Add button eyes and yarn hair.

The puppet stage need not be elaborate. A screen is fine; a refrigerator carton is excellent. The stage can be three-sided, with a window cut into it and a curtain added. Or, even better, simply play over the top, arena style. Whatever the stage, make sure it has a "playing" board: a shelf across the top about six inches wide on which the show can be presented.

Try to light your stage. Lights lend irresistible glamour and instantly focus the audience's attention. A simple method is to fasten one or two clip-lamps to a chair so they may be trained on the playingboard.

With the play chosen and the puppets taking shape, the children's enthusiasm will be high. Take advantage of it. Don't drag the process out. Set a deadline, complete the puppets, rehearse, and present your show as quickly as you can.

The following suggestions will smooth the way.

Bring your puppets "in" rather than "up."
Have them enter and exit from the sides of the stage. Never allow a puppet to simply drop from sight.

When there is more than one puppet on stage, only one should move: the speaker.
The others should face the speaker. Make each movement count. Don't just jiggle puppets aimlessly.

Keep the puppets high.
Arms get tired and puppets tend to "sink." Play up and forward, otherwise your audience, which is often sitting on the floor, will see only the tops of the puppets' heads.

Don't attempt elaborate scenery.
A plain backdrop and simple props are quite satisfactory. A free-standing prop like a tree or table should be slipped on stage from below and removed the same way. An audience loves to see props come and go in plain sight. It's fun and attention-holding.

Have a dress rehearsal before a performance.
This means going through the entire show without stopping - no matter what happens. Make a list of everything you need in the show and check it carefully before you start. One missing prop can be troublesome.

On the day of the performance start with a little music if possible. Have someone introduce the show and afterwards be sure that the puppeteers take a bow. All these touches will enhance both the delight and respect of your audience.

Indeed, respect, which is a large part of enjoyment, is the touchstone of the entire project. Hereafter, you and your children will look at good puppetry with the old wonder - but with new respect. You and they will become critical and discerning, more appreciative of all theater - especially appreciative, I hope, of the little stage with the limitless possibilities.

Puppet Products to Expand the Experience ...

About the Author
A professional puppeteer, Eleanor Boylan's children's book HOW TO BE A PUPPETEER (check your library for availability), illustrated by Tomie de Paola, went into three printings. Ms. Boylan, an accomplished mystery writer, is the author of the Clara Gamadge suspense novels.

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