This morning I watched an intimidating wolf become an endearing lug, a bear with a cold had some enunciation problems, and a room full of women and men came together to encourage a chicken having trouble laying her egg.
I met these characters in a fantastic puppetry workshop at Pack Memorial Library. I have had a fair share of experience seeing and making characters come to life through the pages of a book, but when it comes to puppets, which are not really so different, I hardly have on my training wheels.
I learned some important techniques, like putting on and removing the puppet in a bag and never letting it hang limp on your hand, and pointing it down so that kids on the floor see the face.
I learned how to give the puppets voice and emphasize their emotions – that nervous or sleepy puppets are friendlier for kids who are scared of puppets, and that they can also bring the crowd together to welcome the puppet or wake it up.
I learned that it doesn’t matter how obviously you move your mouth when you speak for the puppet, that kids will very easily suspend their disbelief for something they want very badly to believe in.
And I learned that the number one reason why kids like puppets is that, in a setting where they are used to being the smallest and having the least authority, a puppet is a creature is smaller than them, a creature that won’t yell at them, and a creature that they can comfort and protect. When using a puppet, the dynamic is not between you and the puppet, but between the puppet and the kids, the same way that kids should relate to the main character, the hero of your story, without ever thinking about who it was that typed them up.
Although I took the workshop because I lead a story time in a preschool classroom, I enjoyed it as a writer. If I can turn a bundle of cloth and fur into a character with voice and energy and something that kids can root for, then I can do the same with a bundle of words.
Finally, I learned that the best way to master puppets is to practice them in the mirror until you know them and they become real. Spend time with your own characters through your writing until they are real to you. And if it helps to turn them into puppets, then by all means pull a chair up to the mirror.