Puppetry Tech Notes


powered by FreeFind

Wednesday, July 28, 2004





Several years ago, I saw an brief act by one of the students at the O'Neill Puppetry Conference which used a series of signs to advance the action. This reminded me of a similar skit I'd seen at summer camp long ago. Since I was committed to performing at a special Puppet Slam for an upcoming Puppets/Education Magic weekend, as well as teching that program, I wrote a simple routine which used signage to figuratively turn the audience into puppets--briefly. The act worked well enough that I repeated it for the first potpourri at the 2001 PofA National Festival in Tampa. All I had to do was pick up 10 sheets of posterboard and a magic marker on site. My "script" is appended to this article.

While recent puppetry theory has concentrated on the puppet as a performing object which the puppeteer symbolically brings to life, it might be interesting to consider the form, and indeed theatre in general, as a process of manipulating the audience as well. Concentrating on the puppet and the puppeteer without considering
the real purpose of puppetry, which is to influence the audience leads on occasion more to performance art, which requires no audience acceptance, than to theatre which does not exist without an audience.

A sign act is a good example of such a process, There are only a few things a performer can do with a sheet of cardboard with some words on it. I joking described my act as a silent movie with no pictures only title cards, and indeed, for my reprise at the N.E./MidAtl Regional Fest in July 2004, I was happy to have Steve Weidman accompanying me at the piano. The audience merely by reading along becomes complicit with the situation. Once they start to participate, the die is cast.

But now a few technical details. The easiest way to present signs written back to back is to write the message on the backside upside down. Then the board, held by the sides merely needs to be flipped over. This assumes that the longer edges are top and bottom. It is possible to hold the board in the center of the top and bottom edges and either flip it or rotate it. In the latter case both messages must have the same orientation. Signs can be written vertically and manipulated in a similar fashion, but the words have to be shorter. One can even have a horizontal message on one side, and a vertical on the other, which involves flipping and turning the message at the same time. If more than one sign is needed at a time, hold each by the top center. Variations in presentation may be used for emphasis and/or interest, but shouldn't be overdone. K.I.S.S.

When preparing a sign set, start by numbering the boards and marking Front and Back. This will make it easier to put them back in order. Make sure the lettering won't smudge when they're stacked and handled. I perform with the signs lying in order on a card table to my left. I drop those I'm done with on the floor. They could be stacked on the seat of a chair leaning against the back, with some kind of temporary stop to keep the signage from slipping off. I don't speak and even wear dark sunglasses to avoid real eye contact with the audience, adopting a cool attitude for the performance. I hold all signs in front of me, except for Applaud (#9), which I hold against my arm extended to the right so I can gesture towards the words. The final sign MANIPULATION (10B) is written vertically which may take slightly longer for the audience to read.




Copyleft - Will Stackman, July 2004



1B I said ! (Flip back; push forward)

drop; quickly show 2

2F That's a start

pause; flip

2B Enjoying yourselves?

hold; pick up 3

3F I'm not convinced - (repeat 2B; push forward; drop 2)

then flip

3B You're learning - (drop)


slow flip

4B is an ART


5F Shout out for


5B ART! - (hold, top grip)

(Pick up 4F PUPPETRY
top grip; back to 5B ART; alternate, drop all)

6F Everyone please


6B Shut your eyes

drop; pause; pick up


pause; flip

7B NO Cheating!

8F Raise one hand

top grip, raise and
lower one hand, then flip

8B Now the other

top grip, raise and
lower other hand, then drop

9F Who needs strings?

fast reveal; slow flip,
side display

9B Applaud yourselves

wait for it; drop

10F You've demonstrated

flip; big finish?


E-mail:Will Stackman

posted by will
2:51 PM

Indexed by the FreeFind Search Engine.