Saturday, December 18, 2010

Puppetry Journal for K-State's Creative Drama class

(Egao No Genki)
Sally Bailey
TU 1305-1420
December 2010
Puppetry Journal
We are wrapping up our semester with a Puppet play. I participated in "The Hat," and the following is a copy of its script:
The Hat
Lisa: “Hello boys and girls, my name is Lisa. Have you all noticed how cold it is starting to become outside? Maybe I should put my winter clothes out on the line and let them air out before winter sets in!”
Hedgehog: “Oh! Looky here! It seems as though that little girl has dropped something. I think I better get closer and see what it is!”
 “Oh no! Now it’s stuck on my head, and it won’t come off! This is soooo embarrassing!
Pig: “Oink, Oink! Tee hee hee! Oh Mr. Hedgehog, what is that on your head?
Hedgehog: “Why, it’s my new hat. Isn’t it beautiful?
Pig: “Hmmmmm, interesting.”

Duck: “Honk, honk! Ho, ho, ho! Would you look at that?! The hedgehog has flipped his gizzard!”
Hedgehog: “Laugh today Mr. Duck, but tomorrow when it rains, my hat will keep me dry.
Duck: “Well, you do have a point Mr. Hedgehog.”

Cat: “Meow. What a silly-looking hedgehog you are, with that thing on your head!”
Hedgehog: “But my ears will be warm in a snowstorm.”
Cat: “Yes. Perhaps you are right.”

Dog: “Whoof, whoof. Oh Mr. Hedgehog, is that a hat you’re wearing? How funny you look!”
Hedgehog: “But I’ll be cozy and dry when it snows.”
Dog: “Hmmmm. Yes, you will be.”

Horse: “Hedgie, what is that ridiculous thing on your head?”
Hedgehog: (a bit angry) “It’s my hat of course. Don’t you know that everyone should wear a hat in winter when it’s cold and snowy!”
Horse: (a bit startled) “That’s strange. The hedgehog is usually so friendly.”

Hedgehog: “Oh how I do wish to be left alone! Everyone is laughing at me because of this silly thing on my head. I can’t even fit into my den!”
Lisa: “Mr. Hedgehog! Come back!”
Hedgehog: “Oh no, even the girl is laughing at me.”
Lisa: “You silly little Hedgehog. Don’t you know that animals don’t wear clothes!”

All the other animals: “Oh, don’t you just love my hat!”
Hedgehog: “How ridiculous they look! Don’t they know that animals should never wear clothes!”

Now, before we all started making our puppets, as I was assigned to the Hedgehog, I immediately thought of buying a puppet of Sonic online. Before I did though, I asked Sally if it was okay just to buy the puppet. She said, “Absolutely… not!” She would have given me a zero for just buying a puppet, as making one would involve learning an arts-and-crafts skill that is therefore part of the grade. Having no prior puppet-making skills, I had to start completely from scratch and sometimes sought the guidance of others most of whom were also making puppets for the first time in their lives.

I was pretty sure that if I had prior puppet-making experience, I would have learned how to make my OWN rendition of Sonic the Hedgehog, as we were fans of Sonic when we were little, and I was sure that some of the preschoolers in the audience that we were going to perform to, were also Sonic fans. Alas, I had not the expertise to put one together that well, so I had to make a VERY original hedgehog.

At first, I did not feel rushed in making my puppet, so I felt okay with using the glue-gun and setting the pipe cleaners (as the hedgehog’s bristles) with my bare hands. I even decided to make a pattern: dark, medium, light, dark, medium, light and so forth. Sally drew guidelines with markers to delineate the limit of how far Hedgie’s bristles were to be placed. Instead of taking extra time to make a real-looking hat (as there was a limit to how much time we could spend on it), we just used kids’ socks for our hats. We had to glue the Velcro pieces onto the socks and heads of our puppets.

Later on, we were running out of time; many have already finished up so in order to rush my puppet’s creation safely, I had to put on gloves before gluing the remainder of the bristles, as doing so quickly with bare hands would have been a hazard against my skin. I do not remember the exact temperature that melted glue is coming out of a glue gun, but it would have been hotter than I wanted to bear. Lisa burned herself once or twice and the glue left marks on her hands, so it was imperative to put gloves on in order to finish. In addition, to rush things along, I decided to break the pattern of the bristle colors. I reckoned that no preschooler who is not a future Adrian Monk would ever notice a break in the bristle patterns, so I went ahead with putting the rest of the bristles on without regard to what colors the bristles were next to.

Even though there were some circumstances where parts would fall off, I swiftly re-glued them back on, and there were not any more kinks on our puppets for a while. The next class period, we were due to record our parts onto a cassette tape. For a circumstance that I no longer remember, I was late, and a visitor from Ft. Hays State University who was “scouting out” classes to take at K-State next semester, became my understudy and spoke the part for me. However, the group found something wrong with the tape. They did not get it to record properly so nothing was recorded. Since everyone had to re-do the recording by the time I showed up, I caught a lucky break! I asked Bridgette what the term is called for situations like the one I was just in, and she called it a “fluke.” I therefore got to record my part after all and the tape sounded quite fine. I asked Sally why we didn’t use a CD recorder instead (to keep up with the times), and she said that she would have had to go through extra steps to record our play onto a CD, so the tape was simpler for all of us to work with. We worked in a prop storage room on the side of the Purple Masque.

Before we recorded, I thought that since the hedgehog was a small critter, I should give it a “small critter’s voice.” I suggested whether I should use my cartoony voice, and demonstrated it with Hedgie’s first line. They said it sounded quite authentic, but we can just use our normal voices. I told them that I thought I sounded like “Smeagol” from Lord of the Rings, and asked whether anyone concurred. They said that I sounded exactly like him, so I told them to give me a call the next time a Lord of the Rings play auditioned for cast members.

By the time we finished the final recording of our lines, I think I was praised for putting feeling and emotion into my character’s voice. I did try well in doing so.
Next, after the “puppet stage” was set up, we did our practice presentations with Sally and some of the other students from other puppet groups being critics. One mistake I worked out was that Hedgie did not run away right when he was saying that he could not fit into his den. That is when Sally told me to run away, and then Lisa would tell Hedgie to come back. Other than that, we just had to get our timings right and we were all set.

Our critiquing audience in our practice run did not seem to have any significant issues in how we did. Some of our partners thought the timing to raise the clothes hanger made the play cumbersome so we jettisoned that part, and decided to let the socks sit on top of each of the stage platforms instead. Other than that, we all thought we were ready to go. Now when we went to perform at the library and in front of our real audience – the preschoolers, they were laughing at the way we sounded and moved our puppets. All the reactions from the kids seemed quite positive, so then I was sure that we all pulled it off quite well.

What I would do differently next time is come on time to the first tape-recording, and make sure that the stereo is set up to record properly. In addition, I would hope to know better how to make Sonic, as he must be the cutest hedgehog anyone has ever seen. Hedgie was just an average one, in my humble opinion. I am sure that if I made Sonic (and accurately), then he would be the life of the puppet party.

Now about the other groups’ puppet shows, the one about “Krong,” a cute alien who lands in a back yard, would have been quite a gripper for me in my elementary years. I have loved reading and watching science fiction since very early on in life, so a kids’ book about aliens and spaceships would have been a favorite read for me. Now, had I had a part in making their play, I would have changed the alien’s teeth from green to purple, as green suggests VERY poor dental hygiene, no matter who or what has them. Purple, on the other hand, would have been more alien-like, and we generally think more of having eaten purple powder candy or sucking on some kind of purple syrup than poor dental hygiene, when we see purple teeth. In addition, the green sock puppet looked too much like a dog, even if it was a glow-in-the-dark dog. I would’ve added some other elements that would’ve made him look unlike any creature seen on Earth. The way Krong was voiced sounded quite cute, which was exactly what was needed for an audience of children. On the part where the girl tries to speak Japanese, I would have suggested some more lines for her, as I have some background in the Japanese language. That could have spruced it up a little, but it did not matter all that much, so overall, they did a fine job at it.  Because of the reasons stated above, the script was quite clear and interesting, and the same goes for capturing my attention.

The next show was about the penguin pet. First off, that is quite uncommon so I would not know how much red-tape it took to take in a penguin as a pet. I would consider penguins “exotic,” so I am sure there is red tape behind obtaining one. Moreover, the boy demonstrated lack of foresight, as many children may lack, but at least he learns while he lives and tries things. The penguin was not nearly the size as depicted in the book, but I do not blame the puppeteers because we had very limited resources in how to make our puppets, so that is why they could not make the penguin bigger. It didn’t matter to the preschoolers though, who were focused on the story and entertainment value thereof. I’d say their puppets did the job, and showed the audience what the script tried to convey: That some pets, toys or hobbies are easier than others, and to consider the ramifications of owning certain types. It interested me as well, because I learned quickly how much of a logistical challenge raising a penguin is, which is also how their performance captured my attention. When I learned that at the end of the story, the boy was going to get his own life-sized helicopter to fly in, I was thrown off because first, what IS the minimum age to get a pilot’s license? How much training does he need to go through and what is the cost of that? In addition, even if a real-working helicopter was small enough to fit a child, wouldn’t it be expensive still? I did not understand how their family was going to afford a helicopter for their child if their house looked like a normal middle-class suburban type, not a mansion that you would see behind a gated community. Moreover, a helicopter crash would be more catastrophic than a bicycle crash. Would not the parents be too concerned about their son’s safety to let him have his own helicopter? However, all those red-taped technicalities and procedures have to be thrown out just to entertain children, as many cartoons and kids’ books have to do in order to bring the desired story to the child. Ignoring those technicalities, it’s a pretty interesting premise.

Frog and Toad was a story I barely remembered reading as a child. What I remembered most about the play was Nick’s mailbox. First, I thought the rusty pole was a real metal pole, but as it turns out, it was made of cardboard paper, and sprayed on with rust-like colors. I wondered how Nick was going to move the “puppet” without exposing his hands and arms, as the pole was far too thin for anybody’s arms to fit in. He used a black shirt to hide his arm on the black background, and probably used a stick or string to control the puppet another way. I didn’t pay all that much attention to this one but I’m sure that the puppets did their jobs, and the same went for the script. The performance wasn’t quite the attention grabber for me but I’m sure it caught the attention of the intended audience regardless.

When we came to perform our play, Sally used a VHS camcorder that was 11 years old. It was not a DVD-RW camcorder because she did not have the money to get one. I had thought the theatre department obtained the supplies and equipment for her, and she did not furnish it herself. I do not know the state of the theatre department’s budget, but it seems to need a little more funding. Then again, maybe the department does have the finances but is not quite keen on funding a part of their department whose building is due to be torn down in a few years. (Purple Masque is in East Stadium, which is going to be replaced with an extension to the Alumni Center whenever the time is right.) Despite this, at least the camcorder still did its job and the video quality was satisfactory. However, it could be trickier to transfer a VHS recording to a computer before uploading it on YouTube. I wish I was there to see the full video of our show, but Sally’s feedback indicated that I performed my puppet quite well.

I hope for the VHS to be copied and archived somewhere in the library so I can review it at my leisure later. Otherwise, what opportunities will there be to review our own performances?


  1. I think the minimum age for a helicopter licence would be 7, 11 or 14 depending on the country.

    (Would it be in line with cars and motorbikes, or planes)?

    Loved reading about Hedgie and how you made him.

    VHS is respectable school equipment.

    And the penguin seemed great!

    Great critique here.

    (You could find out about the state of the budget...)

  2. Good to hear from you again. It's been a long time. Thanks for the feedback.

    I thought you lived in Cambridge. How come you're in Australia now?