As a classroom teacher and now as a professional storyteller, I have found that a puppet can be an invaluable friend to take with me on all of my gigs to help me introduce stories, tell a joke between stories, and also act as a character within them. You donít even have to be a ventriloquist! All you have to do is give your little friend a name, a character with a few personality traits, and a home to live in, and you are on your way to the greatest nation of all--the imagination. The key is in the character....and if you have trouble coming up with one of those, look no further than your own family. I have a Christmas Elf named Storminí Norman after my dad, a 4 year old girl wise in the ways of the world named Beatrice, for my grandma. and a scrappy leprechaun named Karl after my cranky grandad. You get the picture.
Each one of my many friends stay out of audience sight until they come to "life" on my hand. No lifeless puppets on stands or dead bodies lying on stage please. They each stay in their "home" until needed for the performance. I use shoe boxes, gift bags from $1 stores, large popcorn tins, picnic baskets, any kind of box or bag that will keep them out of sight. One of my favorites is a box emptied of mimeograph paper decorated by one of my schoolís maintenance folks with bright red brick paper. I added doors and windows and the kids are convinced my puppets have a 3 bedroom ranch. When the puppet emerges from the "home" it is full of life and the childrenís eyes are on the puppet, not me. I have even had a couple of adults ask how I learned ventriloquism when I have never ever made an effort to hide the movement of my lips. Have fun with costumes.Many creative people can sew, but if you canít, there are other options. If you have a very large puppet, it is easy to find clothing at garage sales and/or thrift stores. I have a couple of professional sized puppets that wear sizes 2-3T. But, if you have a small one, try Build a Bear or one of the "knock-offs" for some fun ways to go with themes or holiday times. Many craft sales have doll clothes the right size, but they are rather pricey.
If you have never used a puppet before, hereís some tips for "keeping it real"
1) Speak clearly. Remember to change your voice when the puppet is speaking
2) Donít "bite off" your words. Open the puppetís mouth when it speaks, not vice versa.
3) Keep your puppet engaged even when you (and not the puppet) are speaking. (If you keep moving your wrist, it gives the puppet the illusion of "life")
4) Turn toward the puppet when you speak. It looks like you are being cordial and polite.
5) If someone in the audience speaks to you or your puppet, have the puppet "look" in that direction
6) Get "personal" with your little friend. Touch it. Tickle it. Give it a little hug.
7) Never let the head flop down...the audience may panic that something is wrong!!
Now that you know how to make a puppet your friend, what are you going to do with it, you are asking?? This is where the real fun begins. The answer is .... "Anything and everything!" You can make a puppet into a kind of a mascot or librarianís helper, having it point out the dayís theme by "making a mess" of the topic of the day. A sheep puppet could be the emcee for an Easter program, for instance. A puppet could be the "star of a story" as my old lady puppet is who swallows a fly, a spider, a bird, a cat, and....you know the rest of the song. A puppet could be a banana with "googly eyes" stuck to it and talk to the kids about health and nutrition. Whatever you decide, the audience will stick right with you, because that is what puppets do for you, they involve kids like nothing else. Trust me, they will love it! There is something really magical about sticking a piece of cloth on your hand and making it talk. Even after 25 years, I am still amazed at how open kids are to this kind of fantasy, and how even "cool" 5th graders allow themselves to be drawn into the fun of it. Puppetry is a lot like regular storytelling--you develop a rapport with the audience and there is a oneness that brings relationship between storyteller and audience.