Did Somebody Say Puppets? YIKES!!!
Markie Scholz has been a professional puppeteer since 1971. She has performed extensively in over 40 states as well as France, Italy and Holland. She was gracious enough to grant us an interview on a beautiful summer's day in June of 2000.
Legends Markie, a lot of adults seem to be afraid to use puppets. Why do you think this is true?
Scholz One thing all of us are afraid of is making fools of ourselves. Now think about it--does putting a piece of cloth over your hand and making that cloth utter outrageous noises seem like status quo to you?
Legends I see your point. But you don't seem to mind. It must be because you are so creative.
Scholz No I don't mind because I love to see people laugh. And yes I am creative, but so is almost everyone else. If you cook, you are creative. If you decorate your home, you are creative. Do you do crafts or woodworking? How about gardening, sports, hiking, biking or bird watching? All of these activities are creative. Each creative end result is generated because the individual is drawing from a pool of experience to create something new. I am just lucky enough to make my living at it.
Legends Would that we could all be so lucky. Is there anything you can tell the folks to help them get over the fear of using puppets?
Scholz Yes. To gain reward at any of the activities I just mentioned a person has to spend some time learning and practicing. It is no different with puppetry.
Legends Can you give us some basic exercises--just to get us started?
Scholz It seems to me that the most important things in a puppet's life are speech, sight and enthusiasm.
Legends Well lets start with the first thing. What about puppet speech?
Scholz The rule of thumb for making a puppet's mouth work is: "Every time your mouth moves, your puppet's mouth moves too." Begin by putting a puppet on your hand. Now with your free hand put your index finger over your mouth in a "Shhhhing" position. Say the ABC's. Feel the movement you make with your lips? Now make your puppet do the same type of movement with its lips.
Legends You mean to tell me a puppet's mouth can make the same complex motions our mouths can? I don't mean to be a doubting Thomas but I don't think my fingers are that nimble.
Scholz You're right. The important thing is to start becoming aware of how your mouth works. If your puppet says "WOW!" its lips will open wide. But if it says "Humbug" its lips will barely open. If you practice with your puppet in front of a mirror it will help a lot. Practice that "lip sync" (your lips and your puppet's both moving at the same time in the same way.)
Legends I hate to sound dumb, but what should the puppet say?
Scholz Try reciting Jack and Jill or the ABC's, sing your favorite song, the Gettysburg Address is always a favorite.
Legends Okay, now that you have explained the puppet speaking motions, tell us how to come up with a good puppet voice.
Scholz Just start practicing making funny voices. You might want to start when nobody is home, but keep on practicing. You can make your voice go high or low. You can give yourself an accent or you can make your voice gruff. You can be very sophisticated or you can be a country bumpkin. Watch and listen to the kid cartoons, imitate the voices you hear.
Legends That actually sounds like fun. How do I tell what voice goes with my puppet though?
Scholz Just look at your puppet. Try Jack and Jill again. This time use your voices. One of them will stick.
Legends Okay, so we have the speech part down. You said the second part to making puppets look convincing (aka less embarrassing) is sight. What do you mean by that?
Scholz It has to do with finding your puppets "Natural Eye Position". Turn your puppet around so it is looking you right in the face. Learn what you have to do to make those eyes look at things. Most puppets require a slight forward bend of the wrist to get them to look straight ahead. Go back and practice in front of a mirror. Adjust the way you hold the puppet until it looks natural.
Legends What about all of the zany puppet motions? Is there a trick to those?
Scholz Here are some tips. Once you have the natural position down, start working on your wrist. Any slight wrist movement makes the puppet seem aware of its surroundings. Practice looking up, down, left, right, out the door, etc. Make sure the puppet doesn't fall on its belly or leap great distances to look (unless that is the effect you really want.) It needs to look with its eyes while standing straight and tall. Once you get the subtleties down experiment with more difficult movements. But don't forget to keep that puppet focused. So much of the believability is in that focus.
Legends It seems to me that I remember you lecturing to a group about Puppet Manners. It doesn't seem to me that puppets are very well behaved at all. What did you mean by that?
Scholz Well no, puppets are rarely up to Mom's Etiquette. They do have to mind their "P's & Q's" though. This has to do with their paying attention on stage. When a puppet is on stage it should always be at attention. Avoid resting your arm on the stage between speaking parts. Nobody likes to talk to a sleeping puppet. Little motions tell the audience that the puppet is alive and well. And please make sure your puppet stays the same height on the stage. As your arm gets tired, you tend to let it relax. The result is that your puppet gets shorter. DO NOT REST YOUR PUPPET'S CHIN ON THE STAGE! Don't let your puppet waver in the wind, leaning this way or that.
Legends Your last topic is one I can see you are not short on. It is enthusiasm. Tell us more.
Scholz This is probably the most important ingredient to puppet success. You simply must be excited about what you are doing. If you are, your excitement will be contagious. Imagine going to hear your favorite entertainer live. You have front row seats. You can hardly wait to see the show. Then he or she walks out, sits in a chair, yawns and mumbles the words to your favorite song. You would be disappointed because you want to see "The Show". You want to share the entertainer's excitement and enthusiasm. When you are using puppets you need to get just as excited and energetic as you wanted that performer to be.
Legends Markie, I can't tell you how much we appreciate your sharing some of your secrets with us. We have learned a lot. Maybe we have even learned enough to put a puppet on and give it a whirl.
Markie Scholz tours nationally with partial support from the National Endowment for the Arts. The name of her theatre is Dragons Are Too Seldom Puppet Company. She lives in Spearfish South Dakota. You can contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her address is 1920 Christensen Drive, Spearfish SD, 57783. Phone: 800-642-4805, fax 605-642-1998.
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