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

Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Intermediate): Weeks 1, 2, 3, 4

Ah, procrastination. This time, I waited till the entire course was over to write about it.

Originally, I thought this would be the most useless class in the entire series, and boy, was I wrong!

I was thinking: in the Beginning class we would learn all the basics; in the Advanced class we would learn about actually rehearsing for a show. In the Intermediate class? I saw it just as a transition since you would just be doing basically the same thing you did in the Beginning class, except you would be sharing the stage with other people. Not too different. But wow, was I wrong. I actually learned a lot from this class. You know what made all the difference?

The nitpicking.

Yup, nitpicking. The best thing about this class was that the instructor, Christian, was really nitpicking in this class. Though he kept apologizing for doing it, I really thought the nitpicking was great. I mean, I paid for the class, so please call out all my mistakes and help me fix them!

How this class was different from the beginning class was that, instead of having all these different exercises and choreography taught to you, you would come up with your own choreography. And then you kept refining it and fixing all the mistakes along the way.

What he nitpicked on was really nothing we didn’t know. Nitpicking reminds me of nose-picking, so let’s use that as an example. We all know (I think) that you shouldn’t pick your nose in public. But some of us will still do it unconsciously. It’s not until someone points out to you, “Dude! Gross! Stop picking your nose!” that you can be aware of it. After this habit is corrected, even if you had a relapse sometime down the line, it’s also more likely that you will catch yourself when your finger is about to violate the restraining order.

It was pointed out to me that there was something a little odd about my lip-sync. It wasn’t very precise and was a little stiff. I tried different things in class and I worked on it at home in front of a mirror. I realized that I probably picked up some bad habits while practicing with a puppet with a thumb-hold that I’ve been procrastinating on fixing, so my hand ended up having to be stiff and stuck in a certain position to grab onto the mouth plate. So I loosened up my wrist and the lip-sync was much cleaner and more natural in the next class.

It was also pointed out to me that I needed to be more specific in the breathing and gestures. As a human, taking a breath, whether through the nose or mouth, is relatively silent for the most part. And then when you talk, you move your mouth and make sounds. The primary thing you do with the puppet’s mouth is, of course, talking or singing. But if you remember to also do a breathing motion before the words, it makes the puppet look so much more alive, even though the addition is really subtle. I still don’t remember to take those breaths every time (and you probably don’t need to if you just have a short sentence), but I am a lot more conscious of it now.

Compared to TV puppetry, where you have a monitor and you are watching your own performance at all times, it’s harder to correct these things in theatre. The puppet is right next to you, so you can’t really see it. You can either use the mirror (which is eventually take away) to correct yourself, or you have to rely on the instructor. This means you have to be a lot more aware of what you are doing, because you don’t have a monitor you can watch to realize that you are doing something wrong.

Another cool thing about this class was that we got to work on those glove-hand puppets (like Cookie Monster, Ernie, and Trekkie Monster). The puppet would take two people to operate. One person would be doing the head and left hand, while the other person got just the right hand. My partner all these four weeks was Andrew. We started out with him on the right hand, but we ended up switching back and forth. It was very interesting to see, because the character seemed to take on a slightly different personality depending on who was on the left and who was on the right, even though we were doing the exact same choreography.

At the end of the last class, we filmed what we were doing. We did one wide shot with all the characters, and we did one close-up for each character. When we watched the clips on TV, I thought, “wow, that actually looked really good!” Things really came together and that was definitely quite a rewarding experience.

Related posts:
Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Beginning): Weeks 1, 2
Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Beginning): Week 3
Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Beginning): Weeks 4, 5, 6


  1. March 29th, 2011 | 8:41 am

    Hey Kelvin, do you have access to those videos you made at the end of class? It’ll be interesting to see them. It is amazing all the little details that takes to make a realistic work with puppets. Before reading your posts I had the wrong idea about puppet works; now I have a lot more respect and admiration for the art, thank you!


    Alien Ghost’s last blog post..Friends

  2. March 29th, 2011 | 9:39 am


    I am so pleased that you got so much out of these classes!!! I’m also glad you shared how much you appreciated the instructor for “nitpicking” you about things you need to correct. I think sometimes these are the instructors that help us the most, even if they also drive us a bit batty.

    I’ve been working on my creative writing and putting it out for constructive feedback via an online writing site, meaning some of the feedback comes from other creative writers. It’s not easy for me to accept their feedback at times, especially when I really liked a story. On the “other hand,” I can see how it’s helping to be a better writer. Like your instructor, the people who help me the most are the ones who are very specific about their feedback.

    Thanks for this post. It reminded me to recognize feedback that seems “nitpicking” is instead often the most valuable and helpful feedback:~)

    Sara’s last blog post..Story Photo: Walled Garden

  3. March 29th, 2011 | 2:22 pm

    I’m glad you feel like you’re getting something out of these classes! That’s important!! I’m also glad you have a healthy attitude about “nitpicking”. A lot of people (myself included) have trouble handling criticism, even if its presented in the best possible light! Rock on!

    Katrina’s last blog post..The Date With The Geek, Thank Yous, and My Boobs Are Fabulous

  4. March 30th, 2011 | 12:59 am

    @Raul: I am not sure when we’ll get the videos. Maybe soon!

    @Sara: I think we just need to keep our minds open for criticisms. We just need to be able to process them, and decide if those criticisms are indeed right (they aren’t always right). If they are, then it can be quite helpful.

    @Katrina: I admit that in some areas of my life I will probably get more defensive when someone picks on something I do. However, in this case, my intention is pretty clear. Nobody is requiring me to take the class. I am not here to get it over with. Instead I am voluntarily shelling out money for someone to nitpick on me, so I am glad to get what I am paying for! 😀

  5. March 31st, 2011 | 10:35 pm

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