Puppetry 101 with Canadian master Ronnie Burkett

Puppetry 101 with Canadian master Ronnie Burkett


Now, I’ve never done anything like this before. I mean this, let alone this. [Burkett] I gotcha, don’t worry. I am with Ronnie Burkett, master puppeteer, and he’s going to teach me the basics of puppetry. Let’s start with a marionette, because that’s the hardest kind. Now, this is a marionette who is a character who was cut from the Daisy Theatre. And the stringing is a little long, because I would be up on a platform. But on my 19th birthday I auditioned for Bill Baird, and the main thing that he taught me was feel it on the floor, without looking at it. [Wheeler] Why don’t you want to look at it? Just so you get muscle memory, because you might have a completely different character with a different weight in this hand, but this was the first test, to see if I could have that puppet on the floor without slumping. So, let’s see if you can walk him and have no slumping. [Burkett] Just, yeah, raise him up a few times, and just feel when his feet hit the floor. Yeah, Oh, good walk! Ok, you’re hired. I’m out of here. That’s actually really good. And then of course character in walking is defined by three things, the speed, and the amount of side-to-side. You know, like a gunslinger might walk more like that. And the up-and-down, does he go up and down a lot. So, that’s where you find character, through those three choices. Even though I’ve done marionettes my whole career, my favourite puppets on the planet are hand puppets. So, it’s been great having the opportunity to make these things. Because they I think there’s that Punch and Judy factor of being inside of it and it’s really raw. Forget Me Not is truly audience immersive because, in the play, they’re instructed how to operate a hand puppet. The great thing about hand puppets is they can shake hands, they can slap, they can embrace, they can touch things, and examine them, which a marionette cannot do. Exactly! So, there’s something very tactile and visceral. Every hand puppeteer has a different way, I teach this. So it’s this would be the head, and these two fingers are the hands. And what I love about this, especially for Forget Me Not, is that this is American sign language for ‘I love you’. So, I feel, there’s something really beautiful about being inside of these things, bringing them to life. And certainly in a day and age when all we see are clenched fists, it’s pretty nice to know that 100 people in a room will be saying ‘I love you’ inside these things.

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