Where Do Puppeteers Come From

Where do puppeteers come from? Or, from where to puppeteers come . . . from. Well first the mommy puppeteer and the daddy puppeteer get married. Then they have to love each other very much . . . . and that becomes a sick joke and premise for either the 1891 version of “Spring Awakening” or the 2007 musical remake.

On a more serious note, that is the number one reporter interview question. “How did you start being a puppeteer? Why did you want to become a puppeteer?” The number two question is “Do you make your own puppets?” A number of years ago a puppeteer at a national festival who was also a concert pianist said he was always asked “Do you make your own puppets?” But, he had never been asked “Do you make your own pianos?”

But back to point. WHY? Why does anyone chose a hobby or voacation? I asked my barber once “Why did you become a barber?” There are no barber clubs in high school. The reasons people choose their careers and hobbies seem quite varied. The great Russian puppeteer Sergi Obratsov said that he was a stiff actor in opera. The director told him to get a puppet, have the puppet act and singe the part, then mimic the puppet. Fortunately Obratsov gave up being an opera star. George Latshaw made references to it being therapy for him. Some claims it is the tool of the shy actor, however most actors when interviewed alway seem to be shy and introverted, even if they are not puppeteers.

A few years ago Piers Morgan chided a little cheerleader’s mother as being a stage mother pushing a child. It was clear from the routine that the child walked through trick after trick like a trained pony with no flow. Pier’s mistake was to criticize the mother in front of the child. In years of training assistant puppeteers I have seen trainable assistants, and assistants who are natural. The trainable assistant, you give careful direction and explain every move and they perform as directed, while others instinctively add to the instructions to bring their characters to life.

My brother would sometimes help me. He was the instinctive-type puppeteer. But his heart was not in it. He performed to help me and for the money. He never had any desire to go beyond that. So the instinctive puppeteer does not necessarily become the puppeteer.

A small group of American puppeteers were fortunate one summer to go to Germany and take a “master class” with Albrecht Roser, an exceptional German puppeteer. The class came back and demonstrated what they had learned. They all came back and with one exception did the same thing. (For those of you who have seen the “production” the bathtub scene was not the different one.) They came back trained, but largely uninspired to grow, to take it one step further and be the instinctive puppeteer.

Jerry Halliday performed at two national puppet festivals and was quite bad. Then many years later I heard he was coming to Saint Louis to perform. Knowing the caliber of his performances in the past, I planned on missing it. However, he called me and told me he was performing and asked me to come. for some reason, I felt guilty in not going to see him after he had called me. I was pleasantly surprised, he changed format, found a style, and it was one of the best puppet performances I have seen.

That leads to an interesting question; “What is a puppeteer and What is pupppetry.”

next – What is a puppeteer and What is pupppetry

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