Puppetry Tech Notes


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Wednesday, January 01, 2003


Ladder-based Hand Puppet Stage

Jan 2003

    Using a pair of stepladders and some boards to improvise a hand-puppet stage goes back several decades, and can be useful for workshops and school programs. Professional troupes, such as the Tilroe's Frog Print Puppet Theatre or the Periale's Perry Alley Theatre have based touring shows on the idea. Several variations are possible.

    The quickest setup is to place two 6' ladders about 5' apart facing each other. Put a 6' board across the middle steps so that puppeteers sitting behind it are hidden when a curtain hangs down in front. Push this playboard to the front and clamp in place. A 6' bar with scenery hanging down rests across the ladder tops toward the back, also clamped in place. Short bars with side curtains can be used to hide the ladders. (See illustration below)

    This arrangement is limited, of course. Two puppeteers can work side by side, but they won't have much freedom to move. They probably can't see the audience either. Puppeteers standing behind the scenery can work above it, but they don't have much contact with those below or the audience.

    A much better setup has the two ladders facing the audience. The playboard and the propshelf are supported by short boards resting on steps, clamped or bolted to the sides. These boards can be any width of common lumber from 3" to 6" which allows the height of the playboard and propshelf to be customized. The boards holding the playboard project forward; those for the propshelf are inside the ladders on a lower step. Secure these boards using ties, straps, trunk-latches or loose-pin hinges to suit setting-up conditions. (See illustration above)

    The front curtain hangs from the propshelf and may be "permanently" fastened to it. The upper shelf/bar can have either opaque scenery hanging from it or a scrim. Performing seated is not recommended unless circumstances require it. Puppeteers standing behind a scrim have more mobility and are better able to relate to their audience. Black masking behind the whole setup is a good idea. See "Rolling Racks" for a simple solution. The ladders are masked by long "banner" curtains which form a kind of proscenium. Support these strips using "T" bars extending forward from the top of the ladder. Mount these supports with bolts and wing nuts for easy removal or use strong nylon clamps.

    The quickest setup in front of an audience require two adults and two children. Each adult carries a ladder with its curtains attached in and unfolds it in position on its marks. Two children follow carrying the playboard, with the propshelf on it, and the top bar on top. Fold the curtains up and over so they don't drag. Children move to the front.

    One adult unfolds the curtains, the other takes the top bar and the shelf. The first adult, with the children's help, mounts the playboard and straightens the curtains. The second adult set the propshelf in place and mounts the top bar securely. This adult checks all fastening while the first and the children bring out puppets, props, back table, and other puppeteers. With practice the show should be ready to perform in under five minutes. The whole thing can be done while singing. Strike the setup is simply a reverse of this procedure.

E-mail:Will Stackman

posted by will 3:04 PM

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