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Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Beginning): Weeks 1, 2

Once again, I am back to Puppet School to learn more about puppetry. So you will once again see a bunch of notes here like when I took the TV puppetry classes back in 2009.

The class is taught by Michael Earl, who worked on Sesame Street and various Muppet projects and Christian Anderson, who was on the original US tour of Avenue Q. As far as I know, we all took the TV puppetry classes from Michael so we all knew him already. As for Christian, after looking at the cast list for the tour he was on, I think I probably saw him perform when Avenue Q came to LA.

Week 1

When I walked into the classroom, the first person I saw was Paddy, and we exchanged the “hey, good to see you again”. I said hi to Michael the teacher. And we went around introducing ourselves. I actually recognized many of these people from the It’s a Monster World show. And then Allison walked in, and I thought “cool, another person I know”. It’s getting to the point that I’ll usually run into someone I know at these things nowadays.

Like the TV puppetry class, we discussed and did some exercises about weight, gravity, breath, and eye focus. This is a review for, I think, all of us, but then the biggest difference is that we are no longer performing for a camera. This has very important implications.

First of all, the feedback is different. In TV, we are always looking at the monitor, so we know exactly what we are performing. In theater, we don’t get to watch ourselves perform. Sure, we can use a mirror. But that can only be used during practice and isn’t completely useful when we are not facing the front. And it’s totally useless if you are facing your audience instead of facing the wall, where the mirror is. (There is also an unintended use for the mirrors: since my posture isn’t always good, it serves as a good reminder to avoid slouching.)

Also, the space is different. In TV, the character is always in a rectangular frame. We lift the puppets over hour heads and keep our heads out of the shot. In theatre, we are doing it the Avenue Q style, where the puppet and the puppeteer are at the same eye level. The entire stage space is utilized, and the movements of the puppeteer and puppet shall be perfectly in sync.

This is actually one major challenge. I have performed on stage numerous time, and I have trained for TV puppetry where I just make sure the puppet looks right on camera while ignoring whatever that’s not in frame. I can do them separately, but I really haven’t done both at the same time. For TV puppetry, I am often only moving my arm, while the rest of my body stays relatively still – not for theatre puppetry though, where you want to have your whole body move in sync with the puppet. It takes some getting used to.

We also did some specifics exercises, story-telling and improv scenes.

Week 2

We reviewed and practiced more of what was taught last week, but this week, we also got to play with shadow puppets! We had a dinosaur manipulated by two people and a butterfly controlled by another person. We took turns and had three people behind the screen at a time. We were just goofing around with it, but then Michael started narrating stories and we were acting it out and adding our own twists to it. It was a lot of fun.

I also found it interesting that we all had the instinct to work with one another to make the scene look good. Though none of the pairs manipulating the dinosaur talked about who should do what beforehand, it felt like the pair had been practicing together. They totally know who should lead and who should follow at a certain moment, and when they worked together flawlessly as one to bring a dinosaur to life, that was a beautiful thing to watch, and certainly amusing too.

The first two classes had been fun. We will be playing with other kinds of puppets as well in the next few weeks. Looking forward to it.


  1. January 18th, 2011 | 6:48 am

    Hi Kelvin, There is always loads of enthusiasm that comes from being with like minded people. Hope you get what you want from the classes, it sounds like you are with a great bunch of people all with a similar aim.

    Enjoy the journey.


    Mandy Allen’s last blog post..A New Year Begins

  2. January 19th, 2011 | 12:58 am

    Haha, yes, you are right. There is indeed always lots of enthusiasm when like-minded people meet at the same place. Fun fun.

  3. January 20th, 2011 | 12:33 pm

    Hi Kelvin — I’m so pleased you are back in puppet school:~) It sounds like this will challenging to have to make your body be in sync with the puppet! I liked that everyone seemed to be happy to be there and are already working together. That makes it so much easier, I would think.

    Keep us posted and when you start performing, let us know if there’s a video. I love watching you with the puppets:~)

    Have a great day, Kelvin!

    Sara’s last blog post..Children of the Holocaust

  4. January 20th, 2011 | 1:03 pm

    I shall start filming again – after I clean my room, which will happen God knows when. 😀

  5. January 23rd, 2011 | 10:51 pm

    Yay Puppet School! Will you make me a puppet? I like puppets.

    Katrina’s last blog post..#@%& The Bearded Wonder Says, Volume II

  6. January 24th, 2011 | 3:40 am

    You know what? One day I just might.

  7. January 24th, 2011 | 4:28 pm

    Wow. You are totally into this! Cool!

    I’ve always had a great respect for the art and discipline of puppetry. I fell in love with it all when I first saw Labyrinth. Remember that?

    Tony Single’s last blog post..Away From Here

  8. January 24th, 2011 | 8:44 pm

    Hi Kelvin,

    Thank you for describing how it works “behind curtains”. When watching a puppet show we tend to just enjoy it, without considering how complex it is, and all the synchronicity that must be between all the people working in the show.

    It is a very complex art that requires all the love and dedication from the puppeteers, no doubt!


    Alien Ghost’s last blog post..We Are Cars!

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  12. January 1st, 2012 | 6:10 am

    […] 2011, I took Christian Anderson’s Theatre Puppetry class. His teaching style was very hyper and energetic, compared to Michael’s more mellow style, […]

  13. Naomi
    March 24th, 2014 | 5:50 am

    I wonder if the shadow puppets has to do with one or both things: prior experience working together; or good puppet design. I think when it comes to shadow puppets if it’s well designed then individual movements of one part reflexively cause a fluid response from the others. Maybe that’s just me…

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