Puppetry Tech Notes


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Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Egg-Carton Dragon

MAR 2006

I've used "Puff," a dragon mouth puppet made from an pulp paper egg carton for years. Recently, a puppetry class of challenged adults I teach was working on a production of "The Frog Princess" set in Florida. To add some interest to the opening scene in the garden with the well, they decided that Princess Lily should be chased around by a couple of alligators. So we began working on egg carton mouth puppets based on my old friend. My class is also fond of my Punch figures and particularly enjoy watching Mr. Punch match wits with Croc. That mouth puppet has a hinged plywood mouth which makes a very convincing sound when it snaps shut. Old Puff is barely audible. But banging two cartons together does make a good sound, especially after they've been stiffened by water-based fixative spray. Some redesign was in order.

It became clear that it takes two egg cartons for a puppet because cutting it in half doesn't let the two sections hinge nicely. It takes eight "eggs" for both the top and bottom of the jaw. We discovered that by leaving the lid of the carton on the upper "jaw," and then cutting into so it could be carefully folded up , there's a front for the head to mount eyes on. Use a serrated steak knife to cut the pulp cardboard neatly. (See #1)

Hinging was worked out using ordinary masking tape. First open each cut-down box. Trim down the rearmost flatter edges for a cleaner hinge. Small pointed scissors work best. On the carton that still has its whole top, use scissors to cut a slit in each side so the head can bend up. Lay a straightedge across the top between these slits and fold gently. This may be easier if a line is scored in the pulp first and the center may need to be cut and retaped. Finally, inside the lower "jaw," use scissors to snip out the rearmost center bump, after making a cut with the knife to start.

Close the boxes and stack them upside down with the opening facing you. Masking tape doesn't hold well or last long but can be easily redone. Start using strips of duct tape if you're confident, however. Pin two strips of tape sticky side out along the back of the boxes over the hinge from edge to edge. Run one strip of tape from inside the uppermost box next to the first bump down inside the lower box to the same position. Stick down well inside and then push this tape against the pinned tape. A little slack won't hurt. Tape the other side and remove the pins. Fold the extra tape from each side over the hinge strips.Now put a third strip down the middle over the trimmed edge. Now try out the hinge gently by putting four fingers into the top jaw, two on each side of the rearmost bump and the thumb in the bottom jaw.

There will be play side to side. Get a piece of paper tube trimmed to the length of your thumb. Squash slightly and insert in lower jaw. Tape in place, try it, then glue it down. I use low temp hot glue. For a tighter fit, glue a scrap of foam inside the tube on either side before final placement. Tape over the outer end of the foam to ease putting the puppet on. Some duct tape around the rearmost bump in the top "jaw" will make gripping it more comfortable. (See #2)

To raise the head up, cut two curved pieces of grey cardboard, say from the back of an old pad and glue these inside the head across the slits in the sides so these "darts" are kept open about 30 degrees. Bulging eyes can be cut from the bottom of two eggs "cups" from one of the discarded scrap sections. Glue these on just above the bend. Or try ping pong balls with their backs cut away. Or eye snipped from foam. My Croc has eyes purchased after Halloween that were intended to float in drinks. Before gluing the boxes shut, you may want to fasten dark green cloth inside the lids to fill in the holes.

The body is a cloth tube with the head end trimmed to fit against the eggcartons. To make it easier to attach, sew only a short section at the top of the head end and pin the rest. Use scrap muslin to get the right size and shape, then transfer the pattern to some green cloth. Before attaching permanently, base paint the cardboard with matte acrylic, probably green on the lids and white for the "teeth. Staple the cloth to the head using a small paper stapler, then hot glue. Use glue to cover the staples with cloth scrap. I have green hot glue left from the holiday season which I used (See #3).

You may want to stitch a line of points down the back when you close up the tube. If these are stiffened felt, a larger paper stapler may be used. Make the tube loose and flexible. Then finish decorating the head and the body. Glitter glue will make it seem scaley. You can also glue pieces of the internal separators between eggs at the front of the top jaw as nostrils, or just paint black spots. The spaces between the teeth can be black, red, or green. A piece of black or green tape should cover the hinge inside the mouth. It can be used to secure whatever sort of tongue you decide to use, flat and stubby, or long and serpentine. Whatever sort shouldn't deaden the sound too much, however. Ours were red crinoline.

Email:Will Stackman

posted by will 2:51 PM

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