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More Than Just a Silly Voice

28 03 2008

AugieI’ve been thinking a lot about characters and character development lately. Maybe it’s because I’m getting back into writing; maybe I’ve seen too many pathetic attempts at live puppetry; or maybe I’ve just been reading too many storybooks to my kiddos. (Wait–is it really possible to read too many kids’ books? Hmm.) Well, whatever the reason for my personal desire to dig deeper into the realm of character development, I thought I’d share some of my discoveries.

First of all, there’s more to it than just a silly voice. Sure, the quality of the voice has a lot to do with a particular character’s likability and longevity, and it’s important for puppeteers to spend time working on developing consistent, fun, and believable character voices. But let’s go beyond that and look at other aspects of good characters. Read the rest of this article »




More on Movements

16 10 2007

A previous post got me thinking more about puppet movements. So puppeteers are actors. Sure, I can buy that. We take on roles, assume characters, and use them to tell and illustrate stories. Yeah. We’re actors. But that’s not all. (Hmm… Suddenly I want to muster up my best cheesy announcer voice and say, “But wait - there’s more!”) You see, as puppeteers we have to be masters of body movement much like a dancer or a mime, we have to be more animated and exaggerated like clowns or cartoons, and we have to be skilled in the basics of puppet movement! So, we’re really puppeteer-actor-mime-dancer-clowns. Sure. That’s easy. (rolling eyes)

One element of puppet acting that I particularly enjoy is exaggeration. Puppets don’t have to be forced to fit into the box called “realism”. They can step out into the world of fantasy much like cartoon animations do. Audiences have no trouble playing along with the concept that the Flintstones’ car is powered by feet, or that Kermit the Frog is really tap dancing even though we see no feet. Puppets are allowed — and expected — to exaggerate and define their own reality.

David SimpichEven a great artist like David Simpich, who has mastered amazing realism in puppetry, still relies on some elements of fantasy for his true-to-life performances. Think about it: the audiences must suspend disbelief to enter the time and place of the story, to imagine the puppet characters as real, and to look past the strings or control rods that dictate the puppets’ movements. And as for those movements themselves, there still is an aspect of exaggeration even when performing lifelike, realistic movement. Read the rest of this article »




Mouth Movements

21 08 2007

After last week’s experience in the bayou, I’ve been thinking about lip synchronization and how important mouth movements are to the believability of a character.

It is so much easier to have accurate lip sync when you are performing the puppet’s voice yourself, than if you are having to anticipate the sounds of a recording. Matching someone else’s delivery style, pacing, and general voice acting is tough. So how can you make the best of a not-so-perfect situation? Here are some hints: Read the rest of this article »




Movements and Poses

25 04 2007

MaryAnn posingBefore acting theorist Konstantin Stanislavsky challenged the traditional approach to theater, actors of the nineteenth century practiced prescribed poses that were supposed to illustrate certain emotions. (Much like my four-year-old standing in front of the mirror trying to discover his best “poor me” face in hopes of weaseling out of cleaning his room.) If someone tried to convince a contemporary audience with such outdated methods, he’d be laughed off the stage. We don’t want to think, Golly, what a nice pose! That person can really show how an angry person stands. NO! Today’s audiences don’t want to think about the actors as actors… we’d rather forget that we’re watching a movie or a play, being so captivated by the believability of the characters and situation that we can remove ourselves from reality and experience the story. THAT won’t happen with 19th century acting. (Or with a 4-year-old’s scheming.)

Modern actors need to have an emotional connection to what they’re saying, thinking, feeling, and doing. And they need to develop an emotional connection to the audience. Ed Hooks says, “When we speak of creating the illusion of life in animation, it boils down not to mannerisms and naturalistic movement, but to emotion. The audience empathizes with emotion. Actors are athletes of the heart.” (Acting for Animators p 36) Read the rest of this article »




The Whole Enchilada

5 04 2007

A deep dish from Ginos East Mmmm...Think about your favorite meal. In our house, anything Mexican trumps… although I’m partial to a good Chicago pizza. Now think about what goes into that meal. What ingredients are necessary? If you leave out one or more of those important elements, would it still be your favorite? Where I’m from, it’s just not a hot dog if you forget your dill pickle spear!

You see, things just aren’t right if you neglect the necessary elements. The same is true with our puppetry performances. If you have exquisitely crafted puppets performing the most well-written lines displaying proper puppetry techniques inside a beautiful proscenium, you’re still missing an aspect of performance that is extraordinarily important: acting. Without it, you’re just not giving your audience the whole enchilada–it might be somewhat satisfying, but it’s not going to call them back for seconds. Read the rest of this article »




Character Voices

5 03 2007

The Harder house is quite an odd place. Puppets (and random puppet parts) have found their way into most every nook and cranny; Sketchy ideas and figures are everywhere–scrawled on whatever paper-like substance was handy; Puppet, Muppet, or VeggieTales music or other random kids programming is frequently emanating from multiple rooms; And general silliness is encouraged and expected. With a puppeteer mom and radio dad, our children just don’t have a chance at a normal life.

In this atmosphere of creativity, playing with character voices has been a natural part of life. Read the rest of this article »




Acting and Characters

5 03 2007

Surprised AugieTo date, PuppetryLab has primarily focused on puppetry theory and specific movement techniques. But there is so much more to creating a lifelike, believable character than simply the movement of the puppet. If you have excellent puppetry technique but ignore simple acting basics and neglect character development, your audience will not fully engage in your performance and will quickly lose interest.

Rather than try to tackle everything in one post (sheesh–whaddaya think I am? …WonderWoman?), we’re going to start a new category or two and keep coming back to these other two very important facets of puppet performance: acting & characters.







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