Puppet Buyers Guide
Puppetry is an old art form that is believed to have originated in ancient Asian civilization. To date, it remains very popular among children and adults, and is widely used in entertainment, ceremonials and celebrations. Puppets are inanimate objects or representational figures controlled or manipulated by a puppeteer. Some puppets fit over the hand or a finger. Others have strings or rods that are moved from above or below. There are many different varieties of puppets, and they are made of a wide range of materials, depending on their form and intended use. If you are new to puppetry and interested in buying a puppet of your own, first, make sure to familiarize yourself with the different kinds of puppets and how each is used. Here are some of the most common types of puppets being used nowadays.
Finger Puppet - used mainly in pre-schools or kindergartens for storytelling with young children. An extremely simple type of puppet that normally has no moving parts and fits onto a single finger.
Hand or Glove Puppet - the most common form of puppetry. Hand puppets are manipulated by the hand and arm which is inserted inside the puppets. Generally the mouth is controlled by the opening and closing of the palm.
Rod Puppet - A puppet with sticks or wire rods attached to the neck and hands. Movement is controlled by the puppeteer by manipulating these sticks or wire rods.
Marotte - a simplified rod puppet that is just a head and/or body on a stick. Some marottes have a small string running through the stick attached to a handle at the bottom. When the handle is squeezed, the mouth opens.
Hand and Rod Puppet - a style made famous by the Muppets. The puppeteer uses his hand to move the puppet's mouth while rods attached to the puppet's hands animate the arms.
Marionettes - puppets controlled by strings attached to parts of the figure's body and controlled from above by the puppeteer. Usually there are eight basic strings to a well-designed marionette. However, some marionettes can have thirty or more. These types of puppets are more difficult to master.
Paddle Puppet - (Marionette a la Planchette) puppets suspended by string or a rod and bounced on a plank, giving the illusion of dancing. The puppeteer uses hands for playing a musical instrument for accompaniment.
Pop-up Puppet - often found in toy stores, this puppet has a cone and a rod through it. By attaching the puppet to the top of the rod and pushing the rod through the cone, the character appears and disappears.
Jumping Jack - movement is accomplished by four strings running from the four limbs of the puppet. The strings are joined at the base of the puppet and when pulled and released, bring the arms and the legs of the puppet up and down.
Push Puppet - a novelty toy puppet type consisting of a segmented character on a base which is kept under tension until the button on the bottom is pressed. When a button is pushed the puppet wiggles, slumps and then collapses.
Pull String Puppet - a puppet consisting of a cloth body wherein the puppeteer puts his arm into a slot in the back and pulls rings on strings that do certain tasks such as waving or moving the mouth.
Shadow Puppet - mostly rod puppets consisting of a jointed figure that puppeteers manipulate between a light source and a screen forming shadows or silhouettes. They are controlled by rods or strings attached at the puppet's head and limbs. Javanese shadow puppets (Wayang Kulit) are the classic examples of this.
Human Arm Puppet - also called a "two-man puppet" or a "live-hand puppet,"a form of glove or hand puppetry and rod puppetry wherein a puppet is manipulated by two puppeteers. One puppeteer will control the head and mouth while another wears gloves and special sleeves attached to the puppet in order to perform arm and hand functions.
Ventriloquist Dummy - a popular form of puppetry where the puppet is operated by a ventriloquist performer who is skilled at pronouncing words with as little mouth movement as possible. This gives the impression that the dummy is doing the talking. Typically, the ventriloquist holds the dummy in his lap and controls the mouth with a hand and some also have multiple eye and eyebrow movements.
Humanette - a puppet-proportioned body which hangs from the neck of puppeteer who is wearing black and performs against a black background. This creates the illusion that the human head appears on a small, comic body. The puppeteer, wearing black gloves, manipulates the limbs with rods attached to the hands and heels. The performer's hands might also fit into small shoes to operate the feet with a second puppeteer manipulating the arms.
Bunraku Puppet - a type of wood-carved puppet which originated in Japan and made to stand out through torch illumination. The puppeteers are dressed in black to remain neutral against a black background, however, their shadows can be seen which enhances the overall effect of the show. These puppets are generally half the size of a human and manipulated by several puppeteers.
Black Light Puppet: puppets that are moved on stage with a background that is lit with an ultraviolet light, which both hides the puppeteer and accentuates the colors of the puppet. The effect gives the puppets a three-dimensional quality. The original concept of this form of puppetry can be traced to Bunraku puppetry.
Carnival Puppet: typically associated with parades designed to be part of a large spectacle, these puppets are giant creations that can be seen from a distance. They are moved by puppeteers who control one or more limbs, and can be made to float or rest on large platforms.