File puptcrit/puptcrit.0811, message 37

Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2008 18:14:40 -0400
Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] actors/puppeteers

On Nov 1, 2008, at 4:02 PM, Hobey Ford wrote:

> On Sat, Nov 1, 2008 at 11:23 AM, Alan Cook <> 
> wrote:
>> More than once I have seen actors totally incapable as puppeteers. 
>> The problem was EGO.
> Yeah, a lot of actors will upstage their puppets and refuse to step 
> behind the character.

Perhaps Ego is the problem, in some cases, but I've seen puppeteers do 
the same. Sometimes it is simply not knowing the basic rule of three 
for performing: take the stage, give the stage, and share the stage. Or 
not knowing how to tell the difference between which to use when. Or 
not having enough confidence in the story and/or their abilities to 
allow the puppet to be the focus of attention. Or just trying to 
compensate for any number of shortcomings - personally or 
professionally. In short, ironically it may be lack of ego that is 
screaming for attention.

On Nov 1, 2008, at 10:50 AM, Hobey Ford wrote:

> On talking with the director it was the first time I ever heard the 
> notion of casting actors instead of puppeteers.  He felt like he could 
> train an actor to be a  puppeteer easier than training a puppeteer to 
> be an actor.  That is sort of an indictment of puppeteers, but I have 
> heard the sentiment many times since..  I think it just says that a 
> trained actor brings so much to the table that a "puppeteer' might not 
> bring.  We are muliti taskers and generalists. "puppeteer" is a title 
> that can mean so many things.  It gets back to all the fuss about  the 
> "master puppeteer" title.  I think that that director must not have 
> had  access to a pool of real talented puppeteers.  I know too that 
> many actors come short on learning what it takkes to be a skilled 
> nuianced puppet performer.
> On Sat, Nov 1, 2008 at 10:33 AM,  <> wrote:
>> Hobey,
>>   The Griffin and the minor Canon - ... that was one of the most 
>> perfect puppet shows we have seen, even up until today.   I have 
>> always felt that no matter how exquisite the puppets are built and 
>> costumed, the story is what holds and keep an audience. The range of 
>> emotions that the audience felt for the Griffin was stunning.  ...
>> Bob Nathanson

Why is it a surprise that a director would chose an actor over a 
puppeteer for a film or play that involved puppets? Even, sometimes, if 
that show is a puppet show?

I think this more goes to the wants/needs of the director or 
production, and to a certain extent to their understanding of the arts 
and limitations puppetry, than it is an indictment of puppeteers. From 
a directors or producers viewpoint they are looking for the drama and 
want someone who can act. Not all puppeteers can, particularly if they 
work to a tape (be it dialogue or all music) as they can be unpracticed 
in vocal acting. The puppeteer is playing an instrument (the puppet) 
and like someone who plays the guitar or other instrument, may or may 
not also be able to act or sing or dance. I would think that a director 
is correct in that the majority of their needs are served by hiring an 
actor over a puppeteer. From their viewpoint, the story and acting it 
out is of higher priority than playing the instrument well. I would 
guess that they figured that they could teach them to work a puppet 
passably well, more easily they could teach a puppeteer to act not just 
passably well but to the level that the story required (in their mind's 
eye.) Any person who plays the instrument seen being used in a film or 
play, or has a decent knowledge of how it is done, be it puppet or 
piano, can pick out right away that the actor isn't playing it 
correctly, if at all. But if the story carries the action and emotion, 
it may not matter much.

   In some workshops I teach, I use David Sympich (sp) as an example. 
Some would argue that because in some (all?) of his shows he moves the 
puppets very little, almost not at all, leaving them in frozen 
animation, therefore he is not really a puppeteer - or not a good one. 
If measuring by lifelike movement alone as the standard of good 
puppetry, it is a viable assessment. But I would counter that THAT 
measurement alone is not enough. Add to it David's superb voice talent, 
outstanding storytelling talent, and incomparable figures that he 
builds, and I would say he is one of this nation's finest puppeteers. 
The other aspects make me want him NOT to move the puppets much. I want 
to get lost in the figures, the story, and the character voices he is 
creating. I can do that better being drawn in, to an almost motionless 
figure, more readily than to one that was "acting" in motion. IMO it is 
his economy of movement, and his trust in his combined abilities 
including that economy, that make his shows what they are: a real 
treasure to experience.

  However, there are many talented puppeteers who are also excellent 
actors. so directors are shortchanging themselves if they don't explore 
those options.

When casting a puppet show with non-puppeteers, things that would put 
you higher on my list of potential puppeteers is if you can dance and 
sing or play a musical instrument, then if you have acting experience 
or can do a cold reading. It is as important to me that you understand 
(with you body as well as your mind) movement and rhythm as is your 
acting ability. I think I can more quickly train someone to work a 
puppet and then perform through that puppet if they understand those 
elements than I can someone who is "just a serious actor."  But to 
teach a puppeteer who is not also an actor to act, and to act well? 
Given any sort of rehearsal time constraints, training a puppeteer up 
to acting speed would take longer than an actor (who can already dance 
and sing) up to puppeteer speed. But then if you've seen my shows you 
will know that they are not about the realistic manipulation. Yes, the 
manipulation is a good part of it, but without the story there is no 
point to my show. This could change with the addition of shows that are 
less story driven, but at this point the story is in the driver's seat 
and that's what I prefer. You mileage may differ.


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