New Victory Arts Break: Puppet Performance

The puppets of Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas continue to delight on stage and on screen. They’re also inspiring our own adventures in puppetry! In last week’s Arts Break, we created and gave voice to puppets made from socks and household objects. This week, we’ll explore different puppetry performance styles, both on our own and with a little help from our friends.

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New Victory Arts Break: Puppet Performance

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.

Ensemble Puppetry

Puppetry is such a fun art form, and it’s even more fun when we enlist our friends and family. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Spencer Lott as he uses a few articles of clothing—and the helping hands of an ensemble of friends—to become a puppet himself!

Materials: A long-sleeve shirt, a pair of shorts, a pair of shoes, a table

Step One: Gather your materials. Then cast two fellow puppeteers to fill out your ensemble and give them each a role. You’ll need a star puppeteer to guide the action, an arm puppeteer and a foot puppeteer.

Step Two: Get dressed! The star puppeteer should wear the long-sleeve shirt draped over their shoulders and hold the waistband of the shorts in front of their actual waist. Buttoning the shirt will help disguise this.

Star puppeteer

The arm puppeteer stands behind the star and manipulates the empty sleeves, either by holding them directly, or by pinning them to their own shirt cuffs.

Arm puppeteer

The foot puppeteer crouches down to the level of the table and manipulates the shoes and shorts by pinching the bottom of each short leg together with the opening of each shoe.

Foot Puppeteer

Step Three: Have fun playing around! Run, jump, dance, eat a meal. Work together to discover all the entertaining things your new ensemble puppet can do!

Looking for inspiration? Check out this video of one puppet leading three others in a virtual cooking class, from the puppetry ensemble of London’s Little Angel Theatre.

Animal Puppets

We’ve made sock puppets, object puppets and ensemble puppets out of clothing, but we’ve left out the entire animal kingdom! Animal characters can be a joy to puppeteer—you can give them their own personalities and voices, all while doing your best to mimic (or exaggerate!) their natural physical movements. In honor of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, let’s decorate and bring to life our very own animal puppet—an otter!

Materials: Otter puppet template or a sheet of paper, coloring utensils, a makeshift rod, tape

Step One: Print and color in one of the otters from the sheets below, or draw your own otter puppet on a blank sheet of paper and color that in instead. When you’re done, cut them out.

Four Otter Puppet Cutouts

Step Two: Find a rod to tape to the back of your puppet. It could be a straw, a spoon, a chopstick or even a popsicle stick. Just make sure it’s long enough for you to comfortably handle after it’s attached.

Otter puppet with drinking straw rod taped to back

Step Three: Give your new otter friend a name, and then start exploring its character. How does your otter move? Do they swim? Waddle? Hop? And what sort of voice do they have? High pitched and squeaky? Low and slow? Have fun playing around and discovering your otter’s personality through movement and voice!

Step Four: Finally, introduce your puppet to an audience. Find a spot in your home that can serve as a small stage—a blanket fort, an ottoman, even a shoebox will do! Have your puppet enter and stand center stage. Then, in your puppet’s voice, offer a greeting: “Hello! My name is __________. Nice to meet you!” before taking a bow and exiting the stage.

BONUS: Have everyone in your family create an otter puppet! Once they’re done, they can all share their names and perform together.

For some added animal puppet inspiration, check out this scene from the original Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas television special, featuring Charlie Muskrat, Harvey Beaver, Emmet Otter and Wendell Porcupine:

You "Otter" See This!

With so many different kinds of puppetry in our repertoire, and with friends and family to play along with, it’s time to put on a show! In this activity, let’s work together to showcase all our skills in a prize-worthy puppet performance.

Step One: Otter, sock or household object, choose a puppet from the many you’ve made over the past two weeks. What special talent does your puppet have? Maybe they’re the fastest puppet in town. Maybe they can carry a tune like no other. Or maybe they have a talent just like yours.

Here’s a pair of puppets with enviable talents of their own—Wilbur the Sock, and Simon Spoon:

Step Two: Find your stage! Arrange your stage so that you, the puppeteer, can hide from the audience. Performing from under a table, behind a cardboard box or even behind the sofa are great ideas. Can you think of other great puppet stages?

Step Three: Like you practiced in the previous activity, have your puppet enter and stand center stage. This time, in addition to their name, have them declare the talent they’re about to share with everyone. Then, showcase their talent! When you’re done take a bow, hold for applause, and then exit..

BONUS: Make it a talent show! Have each of your friends or family members take turns showing off their own puppet’s special skills.

Looking for inspiration? Check out this video of the amazing ventriloquist Darci Lynne Farmer and her rabbit puppet, Petunia, showcasing their voices on America’s Got Talent:

Thanks for joining us these past few weeks as we’ve explored different ways of music- and puppet-making, all inspired by Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. As you gather with family and friends this holiday season, virtually or in person, we hope you’ll take the time to enjoy these art forms together. See you in 2022!

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.