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Can a house be a puppet?

July 9, 2013

renebaker

While preparing the courses I will be running at the Norwich Puppet Theatre Professional Development Summer School 2013, I have rediscovered Satu’s Smoke Puppet.

This snippet of film shows the first experiments by Satu Kivistö – then a first year puppetry student at the Turku Arts Academy – to animate smoke by using her breath as the control mechanism.

Watching the video brought back fond memories of that particular course on Making Puppets From Found Materials.

The challenge – or was it a provocation? – was there from the very beginning when someone asked “can a house be a puppet?”  Immediately the group was thrown into a discussion about what might make the difference between imbuing a house with life scenographically – be it realistically or symbolically – and bringing a building to life as a character.

A house can’t get up, look around, walk two steps and look around again – the (stereo)typical actions commonly used to show that an object has come alive – but nevertheless it can become a puppet. Well, it can as long as we agree that the term ‘puppet’ may include any object that gives the impression of being alive and not only a specially made figure or recognised puppetry technique (see wikipedia’s definition of object-puppet).

So when does a door slamming or water trickling down a window become the expression of a house-puppet-character and when does it simply create a scenographic mood or atmosphere? The same action can be interpreted either way. People seen through the window may be the inhabitants going about their lives or they could be imagined to be thoughts running round the house’s mind.

We eventually came to the conclusion that we would believe a house to be a character if the closing door was understood to be its reaction, decision or some other emotional response and that an object becomes a puppet if it is believed to have thoughts, feelings and a will of its own.

In the video, Satu’s smoke puppet had only just been invented and was still being tested to see what kind of movements it could it make and how these movements might be interpreted in emotional terms. The next step would be to create a situation in which it could act and react. As far as I know, Satu’s smoke-fire project is still waiting to come fully to life.

If you are interested in giving life to puppets and objects – be they a crafted figure or a found material – you might be interested the masterclasses being held at Norwich Puppet Theatre Professional Development Summer School 2013 (Norwich, UK).

Manipulate and Play with Liz Walker (3-4 August) will develop technique, expression and play by using two person puppets, materials and objects to create short improvisations based on character and movement.

plastic_princessWhen Objects Come to Life with Rene Baker (12-13 August) shows different ways to convey the impression that a puppet has its own thoughts and feelings.

Making Puppets From Found Materials with Rene Baker (15-16 August) draws inspiration from the object’s intrinsic qualities to develop a character.

For further information or to book a place, please visit Norwich Puppet Theatre’s website or call on 00 44 (0)1603 629921.

What people had to say about a previous When Objects Come To Life masterclass:

“Rene’s love and passion of puppets is very inspirational (And infectious!) Great deal of inspiration – and very useful tools to take home and use!”

“This masterclass has really helped me develop my understanding of the puppet and how its movements and intentions can be read, which I feel will be very beneficial to me as I progress in my learning of all things puppet!”

“What a wonderful gentle way Rene has of guiding us through the techniques of animating puppets. There was no tension, just caring encouragement”

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