Handmade by Computers

Terrible Comfort updates and thinks

So I’ve been thinking…

If you’re reading this post, feel free to answer any of these questions via the comments section…

I’ve been thinking about puppets out in the world. Who makes puppets? Who uses puppets? Where do they appear in the real world?

If you do a search on google images, you’ll get a bunch of photographs of teenage girls bent over in awkward positions with badly photoshoped strings coning from their wrists and ankles. Clearly puppets are a popular idea and being manipulated from outside resonates with artistic youth. But what else will you find? There’s tiny felt finger puppets with big stitching and at the other end there’s photos of beautifully created professional hand and mouth puppets. Who are the people making them? The puppets that you can find seem to fall into three categories – made for children by parents/ friends of their parents, puppet companies making their own guys and people claiming to be professional and offering to sell you their hand and mouth puppets.

Are these the only types of people that make puppets? And since type 2 and 3 can make their own puppets to use, is the only people buying puppets people who are buying gifts for children?

The 2 other types of puppet that appear over and over in a google search is a hand puppet of Angel from Buffy (and, erm, Angel) and Christian Ministry puppets. I haven’t seen the episode where Angel turns into a puppet but it was a great merchandising moment for Joss Wheadon, but I can’t help wondering that if the puppet hadn’t appeared in the show, would all those people out there simply buy puppets of Buffy, Angel, Spike and the rest of them? I have my doubts that they would have been so popular as the Angel one. The Christian Ministry puppets is an interesting one, although I can find lots of Christian Puppet Ministry sites out there, most of which include great resources to make your own puppets as well as buy ones premade, I can’t find anywhere a place that talks about WHY puppets are used in Christian Ministry.

I know that kids love puppets, I’ve seen that in my classroom as well as on tv. What I want to know is WHY children love puppets so much. For that matter, why do adults love puppetry as much as they seem to do? What is it about puppets that capture people’s imaginations and hearts?

That’s my current quest. To try and find these things out. Who is out there making puppets, apart from puppet companies and parents. Does anyone else make them? Who owns puppets? Again, is it just the companies and the families? A friend of mine went to Bali and bought me back some beautifully painted shadow puppets and another friend went to China and bought me back a dragon marionette, so people must be out there buying them, for decoration? For interior design? Does the general public have a use for puppets? And if so, what is it?

Lots and lots of questions to hunt out the answers for…

(S)

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3 Comments»

  Na wrote @

So many things to reflect on… This sums up my experience on the net in terms of puppetry. Particularly selling puppets and tutorials on puppetry. (I have a whole post on myths of free patterns because most people who are looking for info on puppetry are just one-hit wonders looking for freebies)

Predominantly, people on the net interested in puppets are those who: fall for the myth that puppetry is just ‘craft’ or ‘just for kids’; teens/young adults who want a Muppet or have seen Avenue Q; or the pros who are selling their own stuff.

As for Christian ministry, I suspect it has something to do with a) blacklight and b) children. Puppets keep kids entertained far more than hymns and sermons would. Part of it would also be the interactive thing: most ministry groups are run by or include the people attending the church. So it allows them to feel like they’re participating in the community experience. (My best guess anyway. I went to a Korean ministry performance once. It would have helped if I could understand the language! 🙂 )

As for the real question: why? … I’d say it’s multiple factors. Puppets can do fun things. Puppets can be pretty. Puppets can educate. Puppets can be used as an easy classroom activity. Etc. etc.

The real question is: why are there so many people out there into puppetry on the net, but so few of them who are actually willing to put in the effort to learn it? I call it the ‘replica’ syndrome. There’s a huge faction of people out there who don’t really care about puppetry, they just want the replica of the puppet they saw in a TV show so they can show off to friends.

  terrible COMFORT wrote @

I’m not sure I agree with your last paragraph Na… It seems like you’re saying that it’s a bad thing that some people are superfluously interested in puppets. I’m not sure that’s true.

Surely people who are even vaguely interested in puppetry, even if it’s simply buying their favourite tv character as a puppet, is better than no one being interested in puppets?

One of the things I love about puppets is that they appeal to such a wide range of people. I think that it speaks about the vibrancy of our chosen artform that teachers, parents, kids, teenagers and every other age can identify with puppets. Surely the fact that there are aunts out there making finger puppets of Star Wars for their 3 year old nephews and early 20s something fans of Buffy buying Angel puppets means that puppets are embraced in the wider community. Instead of puppetry being restricted to, say, professional theatre companies using marionettes only, the fact that people out in the wide world are all keen to make and own all sorts of puppets shows that their appeal is wide ranging and continuing.

And I’m not sure that we as puppeteers should condemn others for having only a passing interest in our field, I think that really, the fact that people are interested in puppets at all shows the wide ranging appeal that these little (and sometimes not so little) guys have. In an era that most theatre shows are struggling to get audience (especially in Australia), we should embrace anyone who even a passing interest in that which we hold dear.

S

  Na wrote @

Sorry, I think I may have confused my text. There’s a difference between being an admirer of a creative work and wanting to share in it by buying merchandise (I’m one of those people myself) … and the other: the person who wants a replica Kermit for $5 and doesn’t care if it’s illegally made and bought, especially when told that it *is* illegal. The latter are the people you find in any industry, willing to be unethical for their own ends. You’d be surprised at how many of these people are out there on the net.

For the former: they exist in the plenty too. At http://www.puppetsandstuff.com, a lot of new members turn up wanting to learn puppetry merely because they love Kermit and want to make their own. This leads them to making their own characters, which further leads them to puppetry over all

I guess what I’m saying is that there are two types: the people who are willing to put in a little bit of effort and are actually curious; and the people who aren’t all that curious and don’t want to spend 2 seconds learning how to make or use something.

I will also add that after four years of having to restate things that people actually view on my site (where do you buy a ventriloquist dummy? … Reply: read my post on it. Addendum: oh I just checked my web stats and it looks like you emailed me from that very page where I answered your question!) has jaded me quite a bit to the levels of sincerity of online interest in puppetry.

And actually that’s the point: if more people read more of what was there, they’d realise what you and I do. That puppetry is far more interesting and nuanced and fun than it appears to be. I’m not condemning people for having a passing interest, I’m condemning them for lack of comprehension skills online. And for stealing artwork. I’m very much against that one.

Heck, I’ll go out of my way to provide as much help as I can to others who inquire about puppetry; but at the end of the day, I know I’ll spend far more time helping the person who’s polite than a person who rudely requests “make me a puppet. Now” (I kid you not, I get very weird and rude emails from the very people who say they’re interested in puppetry)


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