subscribe to rss feed
subscribe by email

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

Marionette Workshop (Advanced): Weeks 1, 2

We took a break for a few weeks between the intermediate class and the advanced class, but now we are back!

In Week 1, we reviewed what we worked on in the previous classes. We ran through both the song and dance piece (Pinocchio) and the dialog piece (Batman). And man, we were rusty! Sure, we still remembered that we needed to walk to this spot, do something, dance to another spot, etc. but the timings were sometimes off. For example, we would forget that a walk from the starting position to our first mark was 12 counts in the music, so the puppets stopped on their marks at slightly different times, so the movements didn’t look as crisp. Of course, all the memories came back after we ran it a few times. I said that it was like “presenting… the understudies!” where everything would be mostly good but could be a little off. (Of course, there had been shows where the understudies were actually better than the stars.) But anyway, good review.

In Week 2, we got to work with a puppet that had moving eyes and mouth! If you’ve seen the video we did, you would’ve noticed that those puppets had no faces. Well, one of the main focus of the advanced class was that we would be using a different head that enabled us to do lip-sync and basic facial expressions. This was very exciting to all of us.

Now there was a new string connected to the mouth. When you pulled it, the mouth would open. And there was another string attached to the eyes. When you pulled it, the eyes closed. What was tricky was, the mouth string was close to the shoulder strings, and the eye string was next to the hand strings. So if you were not careful, you could very well pull the wrong one (and we all did from time to time), and hilarity ensued. And the other thing was, they were all tied to the same control bar. So now moving the control bar would cause more strings to move at once, so there were more to be aware of.

We got to try lip-sync for the first time on a marionette. I thought we all did pretty well (for people doing it for the first time, that is). I think the fact that we’ve all been previously trained in Muppet style puppets helped a lot. The basic idea of when to open and when to close the mouth was the same. There were syllables that you should hit, and there were syllables that you could fudge a little bit, especially when the speech was fast. The ideas were the same, although the mechanics were different, since they were different kinds of puppets.

That was pretty fun. We lip-synced to the song we were all going to practice as a class. And then we discussed our individual pieces. In this class, we were all going to each pick a piece, whether a song or a monologue. We would work on it over the course of the course and have some finished piece at the end.

I am really looking forward to the rest of the course!


  1. August 14th, 2013 | 8:32 am


    YOU AMAZE ME! It must be so challenging to get everything in motion all together. I’d have my fingers tangled in the strings without a doubt. The lip-sync stuff sounded interesting, given you’re also pulling strings and using the control bar. I bet you win hands downs at the “pat your head; rub your tummy at the same time” game:~)

    Please do videotape the final from this course. I love watching them and have fun with this…as I imagine you do!
    Sara recently posted..SPC: Penny for your thoughtsMy Profile

  2. August 14th, 2013 | 12:16 pm

    Of course, there’s a system to it of which string goes where, so if you know why things are where they are, it’s not that confusing. (And just like sports, there’s physics involved if you really want to scrutinize it.) Still takes practice, though. When I am operating the puppet, I am not really looking at the strings. It’s just like a fast typer doesn’t look at the keyboard and advanced pianist not look at the piano. You just develop a feel for it (which, of course, needs to be modified when the puppet is modified.)
    Kelvin Kao recently posted..Marionette Workshop (Advanced): Weeks 1, 2My Profile

  3. August 22nd, 2013 | 9:40 pm

    Do we get a Les Miserables video with singing puppets? Or the Batman Begins interrogation scene featuring puppets with moving mouths? The mind boggles and I’m looking forward to it, whatever it is!
    Chris Edgar recently posted..Un-Kinking The Hose Of LoveMy Profile

  4. August 23rd, 2013 | 1:28 am

    Hehe, probably not. But there will definitely be something else!
    Kelvin Kao recently posted..Marionette Workshop (Advanced): Weeks 1, 2My Profile

  5. September 4th, 2013 | 9:29 am

    Hi Kelvin,

    And I thought so far it was too complicated! Then you guys add more and more elements to make it even more complicated. LOL

    Even though is something completely different, I wonder if your background in computers helps you in some way when it comes to control all the strings of a puppet in a synchronized way.

    Alien Ghost recently posted..EnclosureMy Profile

  6. September 4th, 2013 | 4:27 pm

    You know, I tend to be more analytical than my peer, especially when it comes to the theater crowd. It has its pros and cons. I am probably better at taking apart certain things, while other people are better at feeling it.

    Here’s one good example: I was struggling with a move where a puppet does a lunge forward and ends in a kneel. So the knee of the leg in front is up, while the knee of the leg in the back is down on the floor. The teacher said I need to visualize it and become one with the puppet. And really make sure that I land on that move. While she was demonstrating, what I noticed was that she had her foot bar out and up. That held the knee in place, so the puppet didn’t topple over in that stance. Then I did it, and it was better than I had done before. I took some of her suggestion, and got the rest through observation. That was how an analytical mind worked.

    I think you are in this camp. :-)
    Kelvin Kao recently posted..Marionette Workshop (Advanced): Weeks 1, 2My Profile

  7. September 17th, 2013 | 10:06 am


    I love that teacher told you to “become one with the puppet.” I bet with marionettes this is quite a juggling experience. I also liked how you filtered her comment to you and then watched so you could use it in your analytical way:~) Kudos goes to you.

    I hope soon they’ll be some more videos? I imagine this challenging given your work schedule and the marionette practices.

    Happy day to you.
    Sara recently posted..Trifecta Challenge: Maisy’s MaskMy Profile

  8. September 22nd, 2013 | 1:32 am

    Juggling is actually a good analogy, since I also know some basic juggling. There is a system, and what looks complicated is actually a sequence of steps that are not all that complicated. (They are just difficult to do quickly and with the correct power.) For example, in juggling, there is really just throwing and catching. The details are in which way your hand is facing, how you grab an object and how hard you toss it. And of course, the timing is important or you would drop things. With marionettes, there really is just grabbing and tilting control bars and pulling strings. But the details are in how you grab the string (it affects how jerky the movement is), how hard you pull it, and what angle you do certain things. The timing is also important, because the movements must in in such a sequence that your hands can reach for one after another. Once you know what you are doing, you can break a routine into a bunch of little steps, and perform them one by one. Just like juggling though, doing it fast and precise takes a lot of practice.
    Kelvin Kao recently posted..Marionette Workshop (Advanced): Weeks 1, 2My Profile

  9. Naomi
    February 17th, 2014 | 3:54 am

    I am confused about the mouth – usually ‘default’ is the mouth being open, and then the trigger pulls the mouth closed. I am sure there is some sensible marionette-specific reason for doing it the opposite, but I can’t think of it. Is it because with marionettes it’s easier to pull the string to ‘open’, than to let it go for ‘open’?

  10. February 17th, 2014 | 8:50 pm

    If open were the default position, then even when the puppet isn’t speaking, the puppeteer cannot free up that finger to do something else. You only have so many fingers so you don’t want to occupy one with something unnecessary. It’s just like for any puppet, eyes open is usually the default position and you would not pull the mechanism to close it unless the story calls for it.
    Kelvin Kao recently posted..Merry Christmas! Deck the Halls!My Profile

  11. Naomi
    February 20th, 2014 | 5:16 am

    Ah, yeah that makes so much sense now. Less stuff for your fingers/hands to do also means less tension on your muscles, so it would also be more ergonomic that way.

  12. February 20th, 2014 | 11:44 pm

    When there are so many strings, it just wouldn’t work unless you have a system that makes sense. After playing with one for a little, you really come to appreciate why the marionette is strung a certain way.
    Kelvin Kao recently posted..Merry Christmas! Deck the Halls!My Profile

  13. Naomi
    February 26th, 2014 | 11:53 pm

    Yes, that makes total sense. I guess I just haven’t played with enough marionettes to truly get the concept of the strings clear in my head.

  14. March 18th, 2014 | 10:50 pm

    I really like puppets! They’re fun and produce your imagination. Certainly one of my personal favorite puppets is cookie monster of sesame street. I have been with it as lengthy when i remember! I have entertained my siblings many occasions with puppets. :)
    Marjorie Turner recently posted..7 Tips for Busy Bloggers on Finding Time to BlogMy Profile

Leave a reply

CommentLuv badge