So, it’s back to Puppet School I go. This time for a different kind of puppet – marionette.
If you don’t know what a marionette is, it’s a puppet controlled using strings. Think Pinocchio, except it doesn’t come to life until a puppeteer makes it.
The class is taught by puppeteer Adrian Rose Leonard. We spent the first class connecting the wooden pieces into a puppet. The pieces were cut in ways that mimic the human anatomy and the joints were designed in ways to make sure that the neck, the elbows, the knees, etc. have the right range of movement. Since I’ve already read about basic marionette designs before, I didn’t gain a lot of head knowledge. However, putting one together did help the ideas sink in much more, and it’s good to be aware of the mechanics when we are working with the puppet.
The second week was where all the actual puppeteering fun starts. As with any kind of puppetry, you start with gravity. This is especially important for marionettes because using strings is a relatively indirect way to manipulate the puppet, compared to rods or gloves. We are pulling the strings to guide the movements and gravity is doing the rest of the work. The puppet might or might not be able to do a certain movement as a result of how it’s built and how the weight is distributed throughout. And then we talked about breath, yet another important topic for any kind of puppetry.
And we got to the emotions, where we were all trying to come up with different things (happy, sad, inpatient, etc.) and walking. Oh yes, it’s always tricky to make a marionette walk. What I found really interesting was that we were taught something that was the exact opposite of what I’ve heard elsewhere before. Here, Adrian kept the control bar relatively still, and kept the foot bar perpendicular to it and alternating moving the two sides up and down. However, I’ve heard another puppeteer talk about how he did it, which is to swing the foot bars out sideways, and the feet will go up and down because it’s being tucked by strings in sort of a circular motion, and the control bars are also being tilted in the opposite direction of the legs to compensate for that rotation. Both methods can work well, so I guess it depends on what feels right to you.
It is very likely that you did not understand that last paragraph. I am not sure if I would be able to understand it if I didn’t write it. Describing it with words is simply confusing, but it’s not difficult to understand if you’ve seen it done.
Now, actually doing it, is another story.
Marionettes take a lot of muscle memory, so really, the only way to get good at it is doing it over and over and over. I should find some time to do that.
Looking forward to week 3!