Welcome to a world of puppets!
There is much to enjoy as we discover how to bring a puppet to life and convey a simple message.
Any manipulated shape or form:
The ideas around the notion of clowning has been somewhat hampered by the bad press some clowns have given this performance art form. Inappropriate use of costume, practical jokes, antics and sometimes even criminal activity hasn’t helped.
Similarly, gimmicky, loud, trickster clown antics and skits used purely as ‘entertainment for the kids’ on a celebration of worship platform has not helped the reputation of clown ministry.
This entire section of MIDST will help to put a positive spin on the contribution clown ministry can have in a multitude of contexts, including platform ministry.
To begin with, any performance art is often clapped as a piece of entertainment. Even if it has a teaching point, a message or an object lesson, we are pretty much conditioned to clap a clown as they complete their piece and leave the platform. There is nothing wrong with clapping. It’s how we often show appreciation or express joy. But normally we don’t clap someone who is trying to focus our attention on God and God’s mission in the world. Such presentations of the Christian message through song, sermon, Bible readings or talks may well be witty, funny, clever or emotive. And we will engage with the message and God working through the messenger but we will rarely publicly thank the messenger through clapping. If we do, fine … so by all means, clap the clown. If we don’t normally clap the messenger and are left thoughtful and responsive to God at work in and through the message and the messenger … then don’t clap the clown either.
The difficulty here is that message being delivered by the messenger is that of a clown performance being delivered by a clown. Firstly, therefore, the challenge is to change the terminology from ‘performance’ to ‘clown ministry piece’. Secondly, the clown’s challenge is to exit the ministry area with as little attention on his or her self as possible. The goal is to direct the attention and focus towards God and towards helping people to transact with God. That’s what the Bible reader does. That’s what a preacher does. This can be achieved simply by saying, “Let’s pray!” The clown or clown troupe may then leave quietly while people are transacting with God.
Clown ministry works to leave the attention not on the performance or the performers but on the Good News of God concerning The Lord, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Welcome to a world of puppets!
There is much to enjoy as we discover how to bring a puppet
to life and convey a simple message. Simply put:
Any manipulated shape or form:
• given some identity •
• and moved by a person •
• before an audience •
• to convey a message or idea •
is a puppet!
Human beings are complex creations, capable of enormous changes in patterns of behavioural and emotional responses. To try to define a person’s character is difficult. As soon as a person says “I am basically a negative person,” something within them will say, “Yes, but not always”.
Although no one fits into a neat character type, we often categorise people in this way. “She’s a happy person.” What a funny, light-hearted guy.” “What a bossy britches.”
As in any kind of acting or performing, the figures on the stage are typically larger than life. At the end of a motion picture or theatrical performance we have a strong idea of what each performer is like in nature, temperament and personality. The actor has the liberty of shutting out the many complex systems in which we work as human beings, to concentrate on a few that will enable the story to be told in the most effective way.
Puppets must also have character because they are performers/actors. It is not enough just to give a puppet a high pitched voice. They must be given a personality as well.
The only character a puppet has is the one given to it by the manipulator. To just change your vocal pitch will not enable an audience to understand what and who the puppet is, nor aid in telling your story. You’d be better to throw the puppet away and tell the Story face to face.
The benefits of giving a puppet character are obvious when we look at the strength of characters as enduring as those in the Muppet Show. Take Kermit for example. Kermit has been made to be a sensitive, feeling, organising frog with a definite aversion to things that are complicated. He would like things to run smoothly and mediates in problem situations. This highly developed character owes its strength to the consistency with which this puppet is manipulated to reacts, think and speak with in these characteristic parameters.
Another thing to note is that puppets don’t grow old. They don’t grow from childhood, through puberty to adulthood and old age. There age is frozen due to their looks or dress, but their character will develop in time. So, in developing a character for your puppet, you will need to begin simply and follow the steps outline below.
Story & Voice
Having now an idea of the inherent flavour of the character you are creating, you will need to consider things like the gender, age, type of voice, accent, intonation, and speed at which the character will communicate.
Use accents, inflection and intonation to your own advantage. An accent can go a long way in emphasising a certain character trait without being racist. It may also add to your scripting and joke writing.
The choices that are made here must be moulded together to bring to life a larger-than-life character. There is not really any one order in which to develop the character either.
Care must be taken, however, to ensure that the combination of character and voice chosen can be sustained over the period of a performance and be projected with sufficient audibility.
All characters need a history. This is not meant to be a life long imaginary story. What is needed is a few important land marks from the past, or some hopes for the future that will anchor why the puppet responds in a certain way.
For example, Miss Piggy from the Muppet Show believes that she is a famous actress (at least in her eyes), who is becoming more beautiful and famous. She is jealously attracted to a frog. These few sentences enable a character to have some depth and purpose. Put Miss Piggy in a situation where, for example, she is sent to the end of a queue of waiting people. You can imagine how she would respond without even having to try too hard. “Moi???? Wait????!!!”
Remember, the essence, sex, age, voice and history need to be born before an authentic character exists. The wonderful thing about character development is that once a character is born, it can then grow and change. Amazing things happen when you put your character in situations it would not normally allow itself to be part of: for example, what happens when a particularly grouchy character suddenly decides she’s going to be nice to others for a day?
By taking the story/message you have are going to communicate and placing your puppet in that story/message will allow your character to grow. For example, place a particular grumpy puppet as the storyteller of the first Christmas. How will that puppet tell the happy story of Christmas? Perhaps telling the story from a grumpy character such as King Herod?
There will of course be times when a different puppet with a different essence will be more effective given the message you want to convey. As mentioned earlier, this is the exact reason why writers choose the characters the way they do for their scripts in order to achieve the emphasis they require in the story to be told.
However this is not a licence to abuse a story by choosing inappropriate characters or to be inconsistent with a certain puppet’s character for a performance. Children will notice this. A careful retelling of a story by using an unlikely character for that story can take deliver a brand new slant on the deep meaning of the story.
Finally, a character will come alive in time and develop it’s own world. You will know when this is happening when you find yourself doing/saying something at work or home which will suddenly remind you of your puppet. This also forms part of the inspiration of a character, the puppet bringing life into the puppeteer as the puppeteer manipulates the puppet to life.
If you have a purchased a puppet, the looks of the puppet may suggest what its character may be. This is not the foundation of your character however. The foundation of your puppets character will be its essence.
Essence is the basic flavour; the major personality trait; the source of all thinking, responses and action; the motivation behind the character.
If you already have a puppet, ask yourself what does the puppet’s appearance suggest?
If you are making a puppet, make sure you incorporate physical features that reinforce the one or two character essences you choose.