Stories

New Victory Arts Break: Character Creation

This season’s holiday musical, Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, is full of endearing characters, portrayed by both people and puppets. In last week’s Arts Break, we warmed up our voices and made music together. This week, we’ll craft some sock puppets and use our voices to bring them to life.

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New Victory Arts Break: Character Creation

Some of the videos in this Arts Break were filmed at the New Victory Theater. We acknowledge that New Victory resides on the seized homeland of the Lenape people and the intertribal territory of many First Nations. We celebrate and pay deep respect to all Indigenous peoples, past, present and future.

Crafting a Sock Puppet

Oh, you’re such a character—and that’s amazing! Everyone and everything has a specific set of traits that makes them unique. Let’s explore creating original characters through puppetry. To get started, we’ll need to craft a sock puppet.

Materials: Two socks in different colors or patterns, cardboard, paper, scissors, tape, coloring utensils

Step One: First, pick a sock that can fit over your hand and wrist. This will be your puppet’s head and body. Make sure the sock you’re using is not an important one, since you’ll be transforming it!

Step Two: Find a small piece of cardboard. Fold it in half and hold it in your hand with the fold in the crook of your palm, like so:

Palmed cardboard folded in half

Use a pen or pencil to mark where on the cardboard your fingers end, and then trim the cardboard with scissors. This piece of cardboard will form the inside of your puppet’s mouth.

Folded cardboard cut to fit hand shape

Flip your sock inside out, pinch the end with your new cardboard mouth and then flip it back right-side out. Your sock puppet is taking shape!

Step Three: Now it’s time to create your puppet’s face. What kind of character will your puppet be? Let’s craft some hair, eyes, and a tongue to bring this puppet to life!

  • Hair: Fold a piece of paper in half and cut out a rectangle along the fold. Then make small cuts on the loose sides of this rectangle to create hair-like strips. We want this hairpiece to stay in one piece, so don’t cut all the way across! Tape your finished hairpiece to the top of your puppet’s head.

Draw, cut, shape and tape a small sock puppet hair.

  • Eyes: On some of your leftover paper, draw two circles with dots in the middle and cut them out. You can make them any color you like—does your puppet have violet eyes? Tape them to your puppet’s face.

Draw, cut and tape a small sock puppet eyes.

  • Tongue: Like you did for the eyes, use your leftover paper to draw and color in a suitable tongue for your puppet. Then cut it out and tape it inside your puppet’s mouth.

Draw, color, cut and tape a small sock puppet tongue.

What other creative materials can you use for the hair, eyes and tongue? Yarn? Bottlecaps? Flower petals? Have fun perfecting your puppet’s face!

Step Four: Finish off your new sock puppet with a special outfit! Pick out another sock in a different color or pattern from the first, and cut off the closed toe end, leaving a tube.

Cut a second sock to make a tube.

Now, slide this sock tube onto your puppet to complete their new look. Ta-dah! Your sock puppet character is all dressed up and ready to play!

Finished sock puppet wearing tube

Finding Character Voices

Anything can be a puppet, and every puppet needs a voice to suit their character! Imagine your nightlight whispering mysteriously, or your favorite stuffie crooning in a rich baritone. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Ana Cantorán-Viramontes, and explore different ways of creating voices for the puppet characters in your life!

Step One: Pick your puppet! It could be your sock puppet, a stuffie or any safe household object.

Step Two: Do your warm-up, stretching your face muscles and repeating “mee!” and “maa!” sounds. You can also play with different pitches and vocal qualities in your warm-up, paying attention to your body’s natural resonators— your head, chest and pelvis bowl—just like Ana demonstrated.

Step Three: Look at your puppet and think about its personality. Is your puppet friendly? Timid? Edgy? Dreamy? Based on the personality you choose, create a voice! Practice the voice with a line or two. Here are a few lines for inspiration:

  • “Oh jeez. There’s a hole in the bathtub!”
  • “I know I look good!”
  • “What a day!”

Step Four: As you practice saying your line, play with the voice you’re creating. Here are some different ways you can adjust your voice to give it more personality:

  • Tempo – Is your puppet a fast talker, or do they take their time?
  • Volume – Does your puppet whisper? Shout? Why?
  • Texture – Is your puppet’s voice breathy? Raspy? Gurgly?
  • Rhythm – Does your puppet speak in short, rhythmic bursts? Pause for effect? Lilt like a poet?

Have fun creating an ensemble of puppet friends with all sorts of unique voices. Looking for more inspiration? Check out this GMA interview with four of the original Muppeteers as they describe the origins of some of their characters’ voices and personalities.

It Sounds Like This!

When a puppet has a face, like your sock puppet from earlier, finding voice and personality can be a little easier. But what about objects without faces? Let’s seek out puppet characters among ordinary household objects and create voices for them, too!

Step One: Gather three different household objects. You can choose anything—your hairbrush, a spoon, a stuffie. Then, from your three, pick the one that you’ll create a character and a voice for first.

Step Two: Think of your object’s personality. Are they old and stubborn? Young and hungry? What do they sound like when they say hello? Do they have a high-pitched voice or a really low voice? How do they move?

Have a listen as Siobhan introduces us to her spoon puppet, Simon. She’s given Simon a pair of eyes—feel free to do the same with your object if it helps you discover their character.

Step Three: Pull out your sock puppet from earlier and introduce them to your object puppet. Do they have anything in common, your two puppets? Use the sample dialogue below to kick off a similar conversation between them.

Sid Sock portrait

Hi! My name is Sid Sock.

Simon Spoon portrait

Hello, Sid! I’m Simon Spoon.

Sid Sock portrait

Nice to meet you, Simon.

Simon Spoon portrait

Same here, Sid!

What else will they talk about? Maybe their favorite hobbies or movies, or maybe their winter weather weekend plans? It’s all up to you!

Step Four: Repeat Steps Two and Three with the two other household objects you gathered in Step One. Have fun creating all kinds of new characters!

With enough practice (and enough puppets), soon you’ll be the voice behind a whole host of entertaining characters. Tune in next week to further hone your puppetry skills, both as a solo puppeteer and as part of an ensemble.

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council,and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

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