I'm Bob Doughty.
I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Since ancient
times, cultures around the world have been making and performing with puppets. They express the ideas and beliefs of human
societies through stories. Puppets are
lifeless objects that are controlled in such a way as to become lifelike. It is
the role of the puppeteer to make these forms come alive.
Join us as we explore the world of puppetry and visit
an organization in Atlanta, Georgia that works to support this special art form.
In Japan, the tradition of bunraku puppetry dates back hundreds of years. A bunraku puppet is quite large. Unlike most puppets, it requires three
puppeteers to control. One puppeteer controls the doll's head, face, and right
hand. Another puppeteer controls the doll's left hand. And the third operates its legs and feet. The
puppeteers train for many years to move as one in bringing the puppet to life
to act in complex theater productions.
In Turkey, the Karagoz tradition of shadow
puppets began around the seventeenth century. These Turkish shadow puppets are flat. They are made of very thin pieces of leather
that have been painted with bright colors. With shadow puppets, the puppeteer
stands behind a white cloth surface and rests the slightly see-through puppets against
the cloth. Light behind the cloth screen illuminates the colorful puppets for
the people watching on the other side.
The Punch and Judy tradition of puppet shows
has its roots in the sixteenth century Italian Commedia dell'Arte theater.
Punch and Judy shows later became very popular in Britain. Many other countries
have their own versions of Punch and Judy puppets. The French equivalent to
Punch is Polichinelle, while in Russia he goes by the name Petrushka.
In addition to shadow puppets, there are three general
puppet forms. Rod puppets are controlled by a stick or wire attached to the
puppet's main body parts. As you can guess from the name, hand puppets are worn
on and controlled by the puppeteer's hand. Marionettes are controlled from
above by a series of strings or wires.
Before the age of television and the Internet puppet shows were
a major form of entertainment for audiences of all ages all over the world. What kind of puppet traditions exist where
To learn more about the history of puppet
traditions, you can visit the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia. The
center's museum is filled with more than one thousand five hundred puppets from
around the world. They tell about the
rich history of this art.
Underwood is the curator of the museum. He can tell stories about each puppet
in the museum, including a finely carved marionette from Mexico.
JEREMY UNDERWOOD: "This is actually a really cool
piece. It's done by the Rosete-Aranda Company. They were active in the twenties
and thirties. They were doing biblical stories in the beginning, but then they
branched out to these different folk stories. This is a cowboy. They were
actually drawing influence from Italian puppetry which is this very realistic
puppetry. So not all puppetry is just foam and fleece. It's very intricately
carved pieces of art."
Mister Underwood says that Asia has a very rich
tradition of puppetry. He says that about eight hundred of the puppets in the
Center for Puppetry Arts collection are from Asia.
JEREMY UNDERWOOD: "In this case we have Wayang golek, Wayang
klitik which are two major forms of traditional Indonesian puppetry, and behind
you we have Wayan kulit which is the shadow puppetry of Indonesia. So these are three major forms of puppetry in
Indonesia. And also in this case we have Chinese and Indian puppets."
course, not all of the puppets at the Center for Puppetry Arts date back to
ancient times. Many are very recent, including a collection of puppets created
by the famous American puppeteer Jim Henson. He created puppets for several
television series and movies including "Fraggle Rock," "The Muppets," and "Sesame
Street." His shows were extremely popular because they were both funny and
educational. You can see several of his characters including Big Bird and the
One large puppet called Trashcan Phoenix was made by
the artist Michael Curry. He has designed productions for performance groups
including Cirque du Soleil, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and Disney
At the press of a
button, a form that looks like a trashcan unfolds and spreads its wings to
become a bird. This mechanical bird shows how modern technology is adding to
the limitless possibilities of puppetry.
The Center for Puppetry Arts is about
much more than its museum. It is also a center for puppet performance. Vincent
Anthony created the organization in nineteen seventy-eight. Since that time,
the group has been planning and performing all kinds of puppet shows.
VINCENT ANTHONY: "And then it's interesting to see the
performance context. What kind of performances do they have in India now, China
now. We invite groups from all over the world to come here. And then what kind
of performances can we create that are contemporary and speak to a whole new
puppet shows at the Center for Puppetry Arts are for young people. For example,
the show "Adventures of Little Noodle" is about a character made of pasta who
goes on an exploration of the food store she lives in with her family.
The aim of the play is to educate young people about
how to make healthy choices about food and exercise. The show was performed by
three puppeteers dressed in black clothing.
special lighting effects, they became invisible and their brightly colored
puppets took over the stage. At the end, the puppeteers discussed why it is
important to eat healthful foods such as fruits and vegetables. And, they
explained to the children watching how they operated the puppets.
the show, the children could attend a workshop and learn how to make a paper
version of the Little Noodle puppet.
The center's next show for children is called
"Dinosaurs." It is about a bird named Francine who travels back in time to
learn about her ancient relatives, the dinosaurs. We were able to watch as the
puppeteers practiced for this new show.
takes great skill to sing and act while controlling the expressions and
movements of the puppet.
all of the shows at the center are for children. Next month, the center will
begin its "Ghastly Dreadfuls" show to mark the Halloween season. And this
winter, the show "Tales of Edgar Allan Poe" will turn this famous American
writer's stories into puppet form.
The puppets for these shows are made in a workshop that
is part of the center. Jason von Hinezmeyer is the organization's
main puppet builder. He works with the Artistic Director Jon Ludwig to bring
these performances to life.
Center for Puppetry Arts also invites other puppet groups to perform on its
stages. These include Tanglewood Marionettes, based in Ware, Massachusetts; and
Nappy's Puppets, based in North Haven, Connecticut. La Pendue is a puppet group
from France that performs its own version of the Polichinelle tradition. And, Gray
Seal Puppets, based in Charlotte, North Carolina travels around the United
States. They perform in schools,
libraries and festivals. One of their puppet plays is called "Bathtub Pirates."
BLACKBEARD: "Perfect! Oh well done, Mister Tweezers,
TWEEZERS: "Aye, aye, Captain."
BLACKBEARD: "Yes, I believe the tub will suit our needs
perfectly, Tweezers, perfectly!"
Educational programs are another big part of the Center
for Puppetry Arts. Adults can take classes to learn how to build and operate puppets.
center's distance learning program uses puppets to teach children in
classrooms in forty-four American states. By using video technology, educators
and performers at the center in Atlanta, Georgia can connect with classrooms
around the country.
The program uses puppets to teach students about
subjects such as dinosaurs, plants and the rainforest. Other programs tell
about American and European literature or about puppet traditions around the
These efforts are helping to teach
a whole new generation about the magical world of puppetry arts.
program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Bob Doughty.
I'm Faith Lapidus. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts
of our reports at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also comment on this report
and tell us about puppet traditions in your country. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in
VOA Special English.