Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Puppet Improv... Puppets & Improv

Puppets... Tonight I went to the Wednesday Puppet Workshop, hosted by Trouble Puppet Theater, and worked on puppet building. I thought I'd finish off one I'd started, but I had forgotten that I'd left it with my Dad, who I've recruited to help me build puppets. Instead, I started a new one. It was great getting to work in a room of people thinking about puppets, even if we weren't working on the same thing.

After the crowd thinned out, Connor and I talked about hand puppet construction and I got some good ideas for getting a better "grip" on building puppets. Literally. Connor had been to a puppet workshop with Marty Robinson ("Telly" from Sesame Street) and he showed them how to build a rigid grip on the mouth plate so you can let your thumb do the talking -- I.E. drop the thumb so the chin drops when the mouth opens and the eye-line stays put. He also told them that a big part of it is working that thumb muscle until it's strong enough to last through a show (or a taping of a show).

At SFIT, I was lucky enough to get to work with some guys who'd been doing puppet improv for a while. It was good for me to hear the thing's they focused on -- things that I'd heard before from Josh & Tamra's puppet improv workshop -- but it was good to be reminded:
- speak from back of hand
- pop open on vowels
- check in with your scene partner AND your puppet
- keep the eye line focused on where you want your puppet to look
- keep energy in puppet
- keep puppet's head out to audience; avoid profile
- keep hand pointed slightly down so audience can see eyes

AND Improv... Also, at SFIT I noticed that improv puppets works best with both good puppeteering AND good improv. Both are necessary to do good puppet improv. And yet, with my just focusing on puppets, I feel like I've been neglecting my improv training. So, I've determined I can't just give up improv for a whole year to work exclusively with puppets. Soon, I hope to pick up another improv class and get back into strengthening my improv muscles.

Another thing that clicked at SFIT, was the idea of what KIND of puppet works best in puppet improv. When we had a cast mixed with people and puppets, it was clear that the human puppets could just as easily have been played by real people. Only the "devil" character seemed worthy being a puppet. In an improv world, where improvisers can play any character they want -- man/woman, astronaut/alien, donut/teapot -- it makes sense to cast puppets in the rolls that are more fantastic. Therefore, I'm going to focus on creating puppets that are animals, monsters, inanimate objects, or other "creatures" -- no humans. We already have a bunch of those.

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