On Monday, I attended a puppetry workshop taught by puppeteer Allan Trautman (Muppets from Space, Puppet Up!, etc.) in association with ARTreach. The website did not say too much beyond that it’s four hours long and about puppetry, so I didn’t really know what to expect. It turned out to be a really good workshop though, and I am glad I went.
First we started out with an exercise where we all wore masks. We were asked to observe ourselves in the mirrors and then convey a series of emotions with just our body language and eye focus. We could actually say quite a lot without using words or facial expressions. And being able to observe, recognize, and act out these emotions that way can help us puppeteer better.
And then we started actually using puppets on camera. One character would start in the middle and then react to two other characters that came in later. The attitude and dynamic of the interactions were assigned by the teacher. For example, the main character would be playful with one character, but not so much the other character because he owed him money. We were encouraged to first do these scenes without dialog. Once we had the dynamic and body language established, the words added later had a lot more power.
After that, we were given time to pair up and rehearse a joke of our choosing. This was an exercise for blocking out a short scene. We took turns presenting the jokes in front of the camera. I’ve actually already heard of some of the jokes but guess what, they were even funnier with puppets! My partner Josh and I couldn’t really think of a particular joke we liked, so we just went with a classic knock-knock joke. We ended up adding quite a bunch of things to it though, so it actually worked out pretty well. I will write more about this later in another post.
Since I took Michael Earl’s TV Puppetry Workshop, I would consciously and unconsciously compare them. (It appeared to me that several of the classmates had taken classes from Michael as well.) Michael’s class is several weeks long (six for beginner, and another four for intermediate) and is called a TV puppetry workshop, so he has more time and reason to teach camera techniques. This workshop, on the other hand, is only four hours long, so Allan didn’t really have time for those details. Instead, Allan’s workshop (this one anyway) is focused more on body language and reactions to different characters. I find both classes to be quite beneficial, each in their own way.
The class was attended by ten students, which I think was a good size. The executive assistant for the ARTreach program, who was there to run the logistic of the workshop, ended up doing the exercises with us too. She seemed a little tentative at first, but at the end she was really enjoying it. And you know it was a good workshop if the person that was there not because she was interested in the topic was having fun.
There were people that already had training in puppeteering, while some others had never held up a puppet in front of a camera. Despite the different levels of proficiency, Allan did a good job giving pointers and tips to us so everybody is learning something. I liked how he could always point out little simple things that could drastically improve a scene. Now that’s what a good director does.
And it was good to finally meet Gaston Morineau, a San Diego-based puppeteer for the first time. We’ve been Facebook friends for a while now so it’s nice to finally meet him in person. (Check out this video of the puppets he built. They are quite awesome.) I also got to meet April Warren, whom I had a few email exchanges with because of an online puppet-building course that we were both enrolled in at one point. So this class sort of turned into an internet friend meet-up for me. That was amusing.
Will I Recommend This?
Yes, definitely. I think whether you are completely new to puppetry, or you are someone that already works as a puppeteer, there will be new things that you can pick up from the workshop. If he is to run the workshop again some day, I will recommend it to anyone that is interested in learning about puppetry. (I recommend Michael Earl’s classes too. They are both great teachers.)