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Theater, Film, and Television


stock characters, handkerchiefs, puppeteers, good humor, tennis balls

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Puppets, objects used as characters in theatrical performances. Audiences perceive life and spirit from their movement, their shape, and other aspects of their performance. Gifted puppeteers (puppet operators) can bring to life even apparently ordinary objects such as bricks, handkerchiefs, spoons, or tennis balls. There are many kinds of puppet performances. Some puppetry is technically very simple, while some is remarkably complicated. Technical complexity is only one element of a performance, however; other components of puppet performances include character, theme, plot, movement, and design.

Puppetry has been popular for thousands of years. In some regions it developed as a traditional and highly stylized form of entertainment for a wealthy or aristocratic audience. In other areas it was a form of folk theater presented to people of all classes. Traditional and folk performances typically involve stock characters, standard bits of stage business, lively plots and raucous, good humor. The traditional or folk puppeteers themselves are often anonymous, obscured by the theatrical traditions of which they are only a part. In the past, such performers were often known for where they performed—which village, street corner, or marketplace—rather than by name.

The puppets themselves are often superb examples of artistic craft, whether they are delicately fashioned to suit the tastes of the rich and powerful or boldly created for the rigors of popular performances. They include the exquisitely frail and intricately articulated shadow figures of China; the regal and subtle rod puppets of Japan's bunraku theater; the elemental crudeness of Turkey's Karagoz shadow puppets; the lovable, internationally known Muppets created by American puppeteer Jim Henson; and the vigor and grotesque humor of Punch and Judy and their many variations in Europe, Australia, and the Americas. Along with puppeteers, theaters, and techniques of performance, the puppets themselves are significant elements of the long puppeteering tradition.


Malkin, Michael R., B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

Professor of Theatre, California Polythechnic tate University. Author of "The World of Puppetry" and other books.

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