Performing with Hand Puppets

Tips for Entrances and Exits

Hand puppets can be a wonderfully entertaining and educational tool for audiences of all ages. These tips will help puppeteers perform smooth entrances and exits.

In live performance, before a puppet ever opens its mouth to perform for a skit or song, the puppet must enter the stage. Since the entrance is the first thing the audience sees, a professional style entrance can enhance the credibility of the program and “set the stage” for the whole performance.

Puppets should not instantly appear on stage as if they have just taken an elevator or been beamed up (except for humorous effect). Instead, practice the staircase technique. This technique works best for hand puppets that perform above a curtain, while the puppeteers remain hidden.

Staircase Technique

  1. Begin with the puppet’s head just below curtain level.
  2. Keep the puppeteer’s wrist relaxed, hand closed, and forearm straight.
  3. Move the puppet up and forward a few inches at a time with a smooth, subtle bounce. This gives the illusion that the puppet is walking up a staircase behind the stage.

Unless the puppet has legs that will hang over the front of the stage, the puppet’s waist (bottom) should remain an inch or two below curtain level.

Rule of Thumb for Posture

  • After the puppet has entered, the puppeteer’s arm should extend at a right angle to the floor.
  • As a rule of thumb, performers should keep their elbows next to their ears to keep the puppet standing nice and straight. This gives the puppet show a more professional appearance and prevents the audience from getting sore necks from watching crooked puppets.

“No Broken Arms” Exits

Exits are reversed entrances with two extra considerations:

  • Do not break or dislocate the puppeteer’s arm
  • Do not break or dislocate the puppet’s arms

To make the puppet turn around before walking it down the staircase, the puppeteer will need to turn his or her arm around too. If puppeteers turn the puppets away from themselves, their elbows will get twisted backward. Puppeteers who turn the puppet toward the puppeteer will find this makes the exit much smoother and more comfortable.

The puppet’s arms may end up resting on the stage, especially if they are not attached to rods. If puppeteers attempt to exit the puppet from this position, its arms will fall off the curtain long after the rest of its body has gone down. Ouch! Broken arms. Simply make sure that the puppet’s arms are off the stage before it takes its exit to avoid the appearance of broken arms.

Puppeteers should practice entrances and exits many times, preferably with a partner watching to offer corrections and feedback, so that the entrance and exit techniques become habits that can be used for any performance.

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