Rod Arm Puppetry 101 (Part 3)

In this post, we’ll talk about some of the motions you can make using one rod at a time. There’s a whole host of them, but I’ll cover some of the basic ones.

Point Things Out
Have the puppet point things out, point in one direction or the other, up to the sky, or down to the ground. As you do, there are a couple of things to avoid. Don’t raise your hand so high that it shows over the theater. If you do, it will immediately draw attention to the arm and the audience may miss an important line or comment. It also may cause some to continue to watch that particular puppet to see if it happens again. But, if they do, they are no longer focusing on the message, but on the puppet.

The other thing to avoid is to stretch the arm so much that it bends backward. Again, that is an unnatural movement that can detract from the puppet play. To help stop that from happening; instead of just moving the rod back and forth, slowly roll your wrist back and forth. By rolling your wrist, you maintain better control of the motion and the puppet’s arm is less likely to snap back.

Pet an Animal Puppet
We have a series of plays in which one of the puppets has a pet Saint Bernard. A simple motion to include is to have the boy pet the dog or even pat it on the head. Lift the arm and have it stroke the dog or even rub its hand on the side of the dog’s face. The same motions will work for most animal puppets.

Cough or Sneeze
Once, when I was doing a play from a script, my throat was dry and I had to cough. I was able to suppress it for a little while, but could hold it no longer. If I just coughed, the ones close to the theater would hear it and probably comment about it. So, to stop that from happening, I had the puppet cough. I simply put the puppet’s hand in front of its open mouth while I coughed. The puppet then said something like “excuse me” and went on with the dialogue. There are also occasional times where it is part of the play to have the puppet cough. In like manner you can have the puppet sneeze—slowly open the puppet’s mouth while moving the head backwards while saying “ahhh” Close the mouth and then say “chew” as you open the mouth and move the head forward. Bring the puppet’s hand up to cover the mouth as you do the second half of the sneeze.

Other simple hand motions include scratching the side of its head, rubbing its chin, straightening its hair, rubbing its tummy, blowing some kisses, putting its arm around another puppet, and more.

If you’re only planning on moving one arm at a time, it’s still good to attach both rods. During your first movement, use one arm—say the left. Then on the next movement use the right arm. Don’t just alternate from arm to arm, but mix it up. This way, the puppet actually moves both arms even though it is one at a time.

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