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Five Secrets of Marionette Manipulation

hands Manipulating marionettes is not an easy business. Like learning to play a musical instrument you are still, after thirty years or more, still learning and still making discoveries. It takes time and effort, but it helps if you set off in the right direction. To put you on the road we offer the following tips.

SECRET No. 1. You must know what you want the puppet to do

You cannot make a puppet that can do everything that a human being can. The human body is very very complex, and it took God to design it. We have to be content in our puppets with achieving an approximation of human movement - and if we decide in advance what we want the puppet to do then we also have an idea of what movements will be required.

For example, is our character a puppet in a play? We would concentrate on head and arm movements for conversation. A dancer would need mainly leg and body movement. What style of dancing? The precise footwork of a Scottish dancer could not be achieved with a loose-limbed marionette designed for Caribbean Calypso. And what about special movements. Avoid a big belly if the puppet is to sit down. Longer strings will be required for a puppet that is to lie down. And an extra string might pull a hand to heart, or hand to mouth, or assist in handling props.

SECRET No. 2. You must construct the puppet so that it is CAPABLE of doing what is required, and probably LIMITED to doing ONLY what is required.

This is quite a complex business because it involves the way the puppet is jointed, the way the weight is distributed and the way the puppet is dressed. Costume not only affects appearance but also movement.

For example: Your puppet is a king, so you want him to sit on a throne. You have decided to make him a fat king. Now fat puppets do not sit easily so you must decide at this stage how you are going to achieve this. Consider such things at the constructional stage and thus avoid facing them as a manipulation problem when you discover the figure you have made incapable of some action.

On the other hand we have two puppets in the cabaret which have been deliberately built without elbow joints, this makes manipulation easier and achieves a specific pre-planned effect. We decided in advance what effect was wanted, and found in construction that we could build in limitations which made things easier.

SECRET No. 3. You must have an EFFICIENT CONTROL

This is the wooden device to which the strings are attached. Ideally we need one which reduces the effort of pulling strings, one which not only keeps the strings tidily available but one which is also mechanically helpful.

SECRET No. 4. Is knowing what is POSSIBLE to achieve.

You need something to aim for, something to aspire to, otherwise you can be too easily satisfied with your own efforts. That is the value of watching other people's shows. Think how many people achieved the four minute mile - once it had been shown to be possible.


Manipulating marionettes is not dissimilar to playing a musical instrument. It is relatively easy to learn the basics of playing the violin, but it takes a great deal more practise before playing becomes pleasurable to other people!


Chris Somerville offers tuition in marionette manipulation, either for groups or on a one to one basis. You can get full details by writing to Chris at
The Harlequin Puppet Theatre, Rhos-on-Sea, Colwyn Bay LL28 4EP, North Wales, U.K.
or by Email

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