New Victory Arts Break – Puppetry Week

Welcome to the third week of New Victory Arts Break! Guided by New Victory Teaching Artists, Arts Break is a curriculum designed for the millions of families stuck at home to incorporate the performing arts into their homeschool learning. Show or no show, our nonprofit is committed to bringing the performing arts to the widest possible audience, and inspiring you to make art, and make memories, together!

Last week, we focused on movement and dance. This week is all about puppetry! Practice a variety of puppet-making and puppeteering skills with materials you already have at home, and put them all together into a masterful show of manipulation.

Get a new Arts Break in your inbox every Monday morning! Opt in to New Victory email.


Household Puppets

20 – 35 minutes, Ages 3 – 11

A puppet is any inanimate object that represents a living character. You may not realize it, but there are puppets all around just you waiting to be discovered! All it takes to turn an everyday object into a puppet is a little imagination. In today’s first activity, let’s see if we can give life to some household items with nothing more than a dose of empathy.

Step One: Think of five emotions that you have felt. For example:

  • Happy 
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Excited
  • Surprised

Step Two: Search your home for inanimate objects that you feel match those emotions. Maybe you have a sad-looking spatula or a nervous nightlight!

Step Three: Bring your object to life using the emotion you chose. How does your object show how it’s feeling? Does it wiggle? Does it droop? As an extra challenge, try not to use your voice.

Step Four: Brainstorm more emotions your object might have. How can you change the object’s movement to match different emotions?

Looking for inspiration? Here are some fun examples we made last November to prepare audiences for RE:PLAY from the mesmerizing “musicians of silence,” MUMMENSCHANZ.

And here is a quick look at RE:PLAY. As you watch, think about the characters MUMMENSCHANZ is creating.

  • What materials are they made from?
  • What are they thinking? Feeling?
  • Are they puppets? Why or why not?

As you can see, the artists of MUMMENSCHANZ animate the inanimate, often with little more than a pair of cleverly placed eyes. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Renata Townsend as she shares how to use cutout eyes, along with the puppetry principles of breath and focus, to turn anything into a puppet.

We can’t wait to see your household puppets! Tag us @newvictorytheater on Instagram, and we’ll feature them in our story.

Our New Victory Ushers are already getting in on the puppet-making fun. Check out these puppets from third-year usher (and talented artist) Leilani Serrano.

Examples from Leilani Serrano

Challenge for kids 12 and up: Animate the inanimate, literally! In his Secret World of Stuff videos, Sean Charmatz draws silly faces onto everyday objects to hilarious effect.

Drawing or animating on top of photos and videos is challenging. Try experimenting with Cute CUT, a free app for iOS and Android, and see what you can create!

You can also draw directly onto a photo or video with the drawing tool in Instagram Stories.


Tabletop Puppetry

15 – 20 minutes, Ages 6 – 12

All over the world, there are many different styles of puppetry rooted in deep cultural traditions. Bunraku puppet theater originated in Japan over 300 years ago and is traditionally performed by three puppeteers per puppet—one for the head, one for the left hand, and one for the feet—though fewer performers are sometimes involved. Take a look at this video from Bristol Riverside Theatre’s The Little Prince (New Victory 2011) to see the bunraku style in action.

The bunraku style, in which the puppeteers visibly manipulate the feet, hands and head of a puppet, has been expanded and absorbed into a contemporary style of puppetry known as tabletop puppetry. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Curt James and learn how to make and manipulate your very own tabletop bunraku-style puppet.

Do you have a sibling at home to help you manipulate your puppet? Here’s second-year usher Ashlie McNeal and her brother, David, telling an eye-opening story with their puppet, Dylan.

Now it’s time to have some fun bringing your puppet to life. What can your puppet do? Take some inspiration from The Train Theater’s A Sick Day for Morris McGee, whose main character has a very specific daily routine.

Step One: As a family, discuss your morning routine. How do you get out of bed? When do you brush your teeth? What else do you do?

Step Two: Using your puppet, work together in the bunraku style to show the different steps of your puppet’s morning routine. How does your puppet brush their teeth? Is your puppet still sleepy?

Step Three: Gather household objects onto a tabletop and act out your puppet’s full morning routine. Imagine different sections of the table are different rooms of your home, and use objects to represent furniture—a shoebox bed, a teacup sink, etc.

Modification for 2–5-year-olds: If someone’s hands are too little to coordinate specific movements with a puppet, perform the steps in the morning routine with your own puppet and have your kid guess what you are doing!

Are you interested in how other kinds of puppets are manipulated? Check out this WIRED video of the Muppeteers of Sesame Street explaining how they bring their puppets to life, from small hand-and-rod puppets to full-body puppets worn by two people.


Bringing Toys to Life

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 3 – 10

Today is all about answering that age-old question, “What do my toys get up to when I’m not around?” Action figures, stuffed animals, dusty tchotchkes—breathe life into some inanimate characters you already have in your home!

In Théâtre de l’Œil’s The Star Keeper (New Victory 2016), Pretzel the worm goes on a dreamlike journey to restore a fallen star to its rightful place in the sky. Pretzel is not a typical worm, though. Watch the video below to get a sense of how Pretzel is designed and puppeteered:

As you can see, Pretzel’s top half resembles a doll, while his bottom half is more wormlike. In this activity, try your hand at bringing a stuffed animal or toy to life in the style of Pretzel.

Photo: Théâtre de l’Œil

Materials: A small toy, like a stuffed animal or action figure; a tube sock

Step One: Look at your toy. It is now a puppet!

  • What’s your puppet’s name?
  • How does your puppet sound?
  • How does your puppet move around?

Step Two: Look at the qualities of movement that your toy has.

  • Does your toy have floppy arms? No? How can you make floppy arms?
  • Does your toy have a neck? No? What does it look like when you dance without moving your head?
  • How does your toy sit? Jump? Balance?
  • How do you think your toy does everyday chores like washing dishes or making lunch?

Step Three: Now it’s time for you to transform your own puppet into one resembling Pretzel! Cover the bottom half of your toy with the tube sock.

Example Puppets

Step Four: Animate your puppet! Work together to find ways to make your puppet look as real as possible. Find ways to hold your puppet and make it move. What can it do?

  • Can it wake up from a nap?
  • Can it balance on a tightrope?
  • Run on the playground?
  • Talk on the phone?
  • Type at a computer?
  • Eat a snack?

GIF of fish puppet example

Toys are no stranger to the New Victory stage. In Cre8tion’s Fluff: A Story of Lost Toys (New Victory 2014), the Ginghams rescue lost and discarded toys and tell their stories through music and quirky theatricality.

Let’s put some silly moves into a forgotten toy of our own! In this activity, explore your own toys’ dance moves and tell a story.

Materials: Stuffed animals or other toys

Step One: Pick out a stuffed animal or toy you haven’t played with in a long time. What do you remember about it? Does it remember you? How does it move?

Step Two: Take turns pretending to move like your toy. Turn on music for inspiration. Do different songs make you and your toy move differently?

Step Three: Reenact a story with your toy. If other family members are playing along, incorporate their toys, too! You can try recreating a favorite book or movie scene, or create a new scene inspired by your toys’ movements and character traits.

Bonus: Make yourself a puppet theater stage out of a cardboard box and perform for an audience.

Share your toy stories with us on Instagram by tagging @newvictorytheater! Here’s second-year usher Cliff Williams performing a short scene between the despondent Mr. Roberts and kindly Mrs. Love.

Modification for younger kids: Have a stuffed animal dance party! Throw on your favorite tunes and encourage your stuffed animals to join you on the dance floor.


Shadow Puppetry

20 – 25 minutes, Ages 4 – 11

Shadow puppetry is a ton of fun—have you ever tried it? The first thing we need is a little darkness. For today’s activities, we’re going to start by building a fort, inspired by the nighttime antics of Joël and Wilkie from Travelling Light Theatre Company’s Boing! (New Victory 2018).

Just like Joël and Wilkie, all we need for a fort are pillows, blankets, sheets and imagination. And with the help of a flashlight, our fort can become a shadow puppet theater!

Materials: Bedsheets, four chairs, clothespins or binder clips, pillows and blankets, a flashlight

Step One: Find a bed sheet and four chairs. Place the sheet over the chairs to create a roof. Then use clothespins, binder clips, rope, or really great knots to keep the sheet taut and in place.

Illustration showing how to make a tent at home

Step Two: Grab some pillows, extra blankets and a furry friend to make your fort cozier.

Step Three: Turn off the lights and turn on a flashlight. Use your hands to create animals and shapes. Can you make a bird? A square? An eagle? A bat? Here are some examples.

Step Four: If other family members are playing along, try to guess one another’s shadow animals.

Now let’s dive deeper into shadow puppetry! Le Clan des Songes’ Cité (New Victory 2016) used colorful light and geometric shapes in shadow to tell the story of a man chasing the sun as it darts between the tippity tops of towers. Take a look.

Let’s explore shapes and scenery and collaborate to make a shadow puppetry masterpiece like Cité!

Step One: Use your hands to practice creating different shapes. Try making these things using just your hands, and then try working together with many hands:

  • Square
  • Circle
  • Heart
  • Star
  • Bird
  • Spider
  • Empire State Building

Step Two: Find objects in your home that you can use to create a shadow landscape. It could be a spiky mountain range, a lumpy moonscape or a geometric skyline like the buildings in Cité.

Step Three: Find more objects in your home that you can combine to make a shadow creature. Here are some ideas and things to think about.

  • What does the shadow of a feather look like when you put it next to a book?
  • How is the shadow of a transparent object (like a plastic clear cup) different from an opaque object?
  • What does a shadow of a piece of fabric with holes in it look like?
  • What happens when you bring your object closer to the flashlight or farther away?

Step Four: In your shadow landscape, use your newly created shadow creatures in combination with other objects to reenact your favorite stories or movie scenes! For instance, here’s an image from PigPen Theatre Co.’s The Old Man and the Old Moon (New Victory 2014), featuring a model ship sailing on an ocean made from a net.

Photo from The Man on the Moon
Photo: Liz Lauren

Bonus: Is your fort not well suited to a large audience? Try making your own shadow puppet theater from cardboard and paper.


Puppets in the Wild

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 4 – 12

You’ve built up a big set of puppeteering skills this week—emotion through movement, breath, focus, collaboration and more. Today, let’s take a walk on the wild side and create puppets inspired by animals! Follow along with the New Victory Teaching Artist Lauren Jost and her family as they teach us how to craft some articulated animal rod puppets and bring them to life.

We want to see your animal puppet creations in the wild (or maybe just looking out the window). Tag us @newvictorytheater on Instagram, and we’ll feature them in our story.

Animal puppets of all stripes graced the New Victory stage last year in IBEX Puppetry’s Ajijaak on Turtle Island (New Victory 2019). Take a look at the variety of animals (and forms of puppetry) that Ajijaak the crane encountered during her migration across North America.

Now use these coloring sheets to create your own tabletop or backyard puppet show with animals featured in Ajijaak on Turtle Island—the buffalo, the coyote, the crane and the deer.

Who Is Your Puppet Worksheet

Materials: Coloring sheets, scissors, popsicle sticks, crayons or markers, construction paper or cardstock and glue or tape

Step One: Construct your puppets.

  • Print out all four coloring sheets and color in each animal anyway you’d like. Think:
    • How does this animal look and feel?
    • Would you like your puppets to be realistic or interpretive?
    • Is the animal striped? Polka dotted? Get creative!
  • Cut out your puppet and trace that shape onto a piece of construction paper or cardstock, then cut out that tracing. This will serve as the backing for your puppet, giving it structure. Repeat this step for all four puppets.
  • Glue or tape a popsicle stick to the middle of your construction paper backing, making sure that there is enough popsicle stick for your hand to hold. Then, attach the image of your animal on top of that so the popsicle stick is hidden in the middle. Repeat this step for all four puppets. Take a look at our example!

Step Two: One at a time, make your puppets come alive through movement. Think:

  • How does your puppet breathe?
  • How does your puppet walk—slowly or quickly? Does your puppet fly?
  • How do the movement and breath of your puppets differ from each other?
  • How does your puppet laugh? Cry?
  • What does your puppet’s voice sound like?

Step Three: Ajijaak on Turtle Island tells the story of Ajijaak, a young whooping crane who must face her first migration south. Take your crane puppet on a journey!

  • Using your crane puppet as your main character, decide on their journey. Are they travelling from uptown to downtown? East to west? The mountains to the ocean?
  • Your puppet will encounter three animals along the way—the buffalo, the deer and the coyote. To inspire your puppets’ characters, dedicate these three animals to people in your life. Think of something that they say often and add that to your dedication.
    • Example: I dedicate the deer puppet to my aunt who always says, “Love and light make life so bright.”
  • Once you know the inspiration for each of these animals, take your crane puppet on their journey and interact with all the characters along the way. Think:
    • What do each of these animals share with your crane puppet?
    • How do they help or hinder their journey?
    • Do any of these animals change the way your crane puppet sees the world? How?

Modification for younger kids: Need something a little simpler? Try out this puppetmaking worksheet inspired by Little Angel Theatre’s Handa’s Surprise (New Victory 2016), which featured a variety of African animals with a hankering for fruit.

Wild Puppets Craft Template

Can you make your wild puppets move like the animals in the show?

Itching for more animal puppets? Check out this behind-the-scenes look at the touring puppetry workshop of The Lion King.

We hope you enjoyed this third week of New Victory Arts Break. Check out past Arts Breaks here, and keep coming back for more arts-based fun in the weeks ahead.

You are a part of the New Victory community, and we want to see you, and hear from you! We appreciate how you have been a loyal audience to us, and now we want to return the favor. Show us how you’re using New Victory Arts Break at home and share your creative work with us! Tag us on Instagram @newvictorytheater.

Comments Leave a comment

  1. I really liked the second last art because it was not that much work and it looks so good I would try to do that at my house.

  2. I did like it because some of then are funny and they explain the story will and i learn new things of what to do at home.

  3. Thank you so much for this!!! So many amazing ideas and new skills to learn!!!