Mar 212018
 

Today is World Puppetry Day. The idea came from the puppet theater artist Javad Zolfaghari from Iran. In 2000 at the XVIII Congress of the Union Internationale de la Marionnette, (UNIMA) in Magdeburg, he put up the proposal for discussion. Two years later, at a meeting of the International Council of UNIMA in June 2002 in Atlanta, the date of the celebration was fixed. The first celebration was in 2003. The original focus for the day was marionette puppets, but it can easily be expanded to include the whole cascade of possibilities. These are a few that I have encountered and enjoyed.

A hand puppet (or glove puppet) is a puppet controlled by one hand, which occupies the interior of the puppet. The Punch and Judy puppets are familiar examples of hand puppets, and I have enjoyed them over the years. In fact a good friend of mine operated a Punch and Judy show as a sideline, and Tony Hancock’s Punch and Judy Man is stellar film concerning English class values. As a boy, I have to say that Harry Corbett and Sooty won out for me, though. I even had my own Sooty puppet. Akin to the hand puppet is the sock puppet, a particularly simple type of hand puppet made from a sock. One of the best-known practitioners was Shari Lewis with Lamb Chop. Not my thing – sorry, Shari.

Marionettes, or “string puppets,” are suspended and controlled by a number of strings, plus sometimes a central rod attached to a control bar held from above by the puppeteer. The control bar can be either horizontal or vertical. Basic strings for operation are usually attached to the head, back, hands (to control the arms) and just above the knee (to control the legs). This form of puppetry is complex and sophisticated to operate, requiring greater manipulative control than a finger, glove or rod puppet.

A shadow puppet is a cut-out figure held between a source of light and a translucent screen. Shadow puppets can form solid silhouettes or be decorated with various amounts of cut-out details. Color can be introduced into the cut-out shapes to provide a different dimension and different effects can be achieved by moving the puppet (or light source) out of focus. Javanese shadow puppets known as Wayang Kulit are what I know best. Shadow puppetry in Asia may have originated in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE), but it became widespread, especially in SE Asia.

The Ventriloquist’s Dummy is a puppet although they are called dummies because they do not speak on their own. I have loved these acts since childhood, and never tire of them.

Múa rối nước is a Vietnamese water puppet form, originally used in flooded rice paddies. Múa rối nước literally means “puppets that dance on water.” The tradition supposedly dates back to the 10th century. The puppets are built out of wood and the shows are performed in a waist-deep pool. A large rod supports the puppet under the water and is used by the puppeteers to control them. The appearance is of the puppets moving over the water. When the rice fields would flood, the villagers would entertain each other using this puppet form.

The water also provides the setting for traditional stories depicting day-to-day village life. Water puppets bring wry humor to scenes of farming, fishing, festival events such as buffalo fights, and children’s games of marbles and coin-toss. Fishing turns into a game of wits between the fisherman and his prey, with the fisherman getting the short end (often capturing his surprised neighbor by mistake). Besides village life, scenes include legends and national history. Lion dogs romp like puppies while dragons exhale smoke and shoot sprays of water at the audience. Performances of up to 18 short scenes are usually introduced by a pig-tailed bumpkin known as Teu, and accompanied by a small traditional orchestra.

There are many more types of puppets, of course, and you probably have your own favorites. I was thinking of cooking lamb chops as the recipe of the day, but I expect Shari Lewis fans would not be amused. Instead, here is the Swedish chef from the Muppets making popcorn.

Aug 072017
 

Today is the birthday (1916) of Kermit Ernest Hollingshead Love, a US puppet maker, puppeteer, costume designer, and actor in children’s television and on Broadway. He was best known as a designer and builder with the Muppets, in particular those on Sesame Street. Rather amusingly, despite the coincidence of unusual names, Kermit Love first met Jim Henson after his 1955 creation and naming of Kermit the Frog.

Love was born in Spring Lake, New Jersey, and was raised by his grandmother and great-grandmother after his mother’s death when he was 3 years old. He began his theatrical career working as a marionette maker for a federal Works Progress Administration theater in Newark, New Jersey in 1935. He was also a costume designer for Broadway and other stage productions as in the 1930s, including Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre troupe. Love also appeared on stage in a bit part as a student for the 1937 play Naught Naught 00.

Love worked with many of the great figures of mid-century Broadway and American ballet. He was the costumer for the Agnes de Mille ballet Rodeo (1942), for the Kurt Weill musical One Touch of Venus (1943), and for Merce Cunningham’s The Wind Remains (1943) and Jerome Robbins’s ballet Fancy Free (1944). For George Balanchine he designed, amongst other items, a 28 ft (8.5 m) marionette giant for Don Quixote (1965).

During the early 1960s, Love first crossed paths with Jim Henson through Don Sahlin, who urged him to meet with Henson. The three first collaborated on The LaChoy Dragon. Love’s theatrical background had given him particular skill at handling full body-puppets and tailoring them to allow freedom for the performer’s movements. From this, Love went on to build Oscar the Grouch and then Big Bird after a drawing was designed by Henson (though Sahlin had carved the first head). Love talked about how he designed Big Bird so that he would subtly shed feathers in the course of normal movement, “Not unlike a tree shedding leaves in the Fall.” He believed this made Big Bird appear more natural to young viewers. Later, Love designed Mr. Snuffleupagus and helped create Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch. He accompanied the Big Bird costume (Love preferred calling it a “puppet”) when it traveled overseas for appearances.

Though he also worked on The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, Sesame Street was Love’s domain, along with Caroly Wilcox, as one of the key supervisors. He also portrayed Willy, the hot dog vendor, on Sesame Street. He was also puppeteer on the special Julie on Sesame Street. For the feature film Follow That Bird, he served as special Muppet consultant, as well as appearing in many background scenes as Willy. Love was also involved in designing many of the Sesame Street puppets for the early international productions. For the special The Great Santa Claus Switch, Love contributed to the giant Thig.

In addition to his work on Sesame Street, Love remained busy as freelancer, creating and building puppets for the non-Henson puppet series The Great Space Coaster.

One of his specials was watched by a young Kevin Clash, whose parents got hold of Kermit and told him about their son. Kermit worked as a mentor to Kevin and introduced him to Jim Henson, helped Kevin get jobs on children’s shows The Great Space Coaster and Captain Kangaroo. After both shows were cancelled, Kevin moved on to Sesame Street. Other works included building the Snuggle Bear puppet for the popular Snuggle fabric softener commercials.

Going into semi-retirement in the 1990s, Love remained active, building many full-body puppets for the Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker performances, such as designing the mice and the 16 ft (4.9 m)-tall Mother Ginger puppet, an association that continued until 2004. In 1993, he directed the Whirligig pilot for PBS at The Studios at Los Colinas, Irving, Texas. In 2001, Love designed Aza, the bird-like mascot for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Love died on June 21, 2008, of congestive heart failure and pneumonia in Poughkeepsie, New York.

In tribute to Love here’s a muppet promo of their cookbook with recipes: