Puppets 4 Learning

The project was for me, Marcus Clarke to create at least 6 Puppets that could be used as TV Puppetry teaching tools. To teach the Art of Puppeteering for Television.  I am a Puppeteer and a Puppet Maker mostly known for my work over the past 20 years with the world renown Puppet Character creating Company 'Hands Up Puppets'.

The proposed Puppets would be made and designed by me specifically to be used to teach, primarily young people with no previous experience of Puppetry, the basics of Puppeteering for Television.


Puppeteers, Craig Crane, Katherine Smee and Dave Taylor getting an early start
with Hands Up Puppets.

Gaelic speakers learn to Puppeteer for Television.

Teaching Puppetry is something I have experience of having previously taught some of today's top professional Puppeteers.
I also
devised and implemented in 1993 a 16 week Puppeteer Training course based in Galway Ireland.
The aim of the course being to teach 10 Gaelic speakers to Puppeteer.
And to such a high standard that they could then go straight on to work in a new Gaelic language TV Co production, ‘Mire Mara.' see above

This was a  26 x 15’ Children’s Puppet TV Series for the 5-8 year old age group. Mire Mara was produced for RTE (the Irish National Broadcaster), S4C (the Welsh language broadcaster) and BBC Scotland and part funded by Euroform - European Lesser Used Languages Fund

  The results of the Galway based Puppeteering course exceeded all expectations and 'Mire Mara' was awarded Best Children’s Programme at the 1996 Celtic Television and Film Festival.

For the initial introduction part of the 1993 Training course in Ireland I had used just the Puppeteer students Hand  (right or left) Concentrating on isolating the thumb to perform libsinc and practicing that separation and co-ordination with the other necessary general hand movements. Nodding, and turning right and Left.
This ‘Hand’ as Puppet was added to later with a simple pair of ‘ping pong ball’ eyes that rested on top of the hand being secured by elastic.
This combination resulted in a simple but extremely effective Puppeteering Teaching Tool. The Eyeballs on top now being used to hone the ‘focus.’ (Where the hand is ‘looking.’) Moving in conjunction with the lipsincing performance of the hand and thumb.

For 2008’s Puppets 4 Learning I devised an initial strategy based on my teaching experiences and outlined the Puppetry Learning Stages and likely Puppet Teaching Tool requirements and possible configurations for each stage.

1/ I decided to create new versions of the Elasticated Ping Pong eyeballs for the introductory learning stage making them more robust by design.

2/ I later added a new idea, a simple stretch sock over the hand with the Ping Pong Balls on top. This added to the Hand and Ping Pong Ball combo 'Hand Puppet' (quite literally) more colourful, fun and appealing looking. It also made for a very useful intermediary stage Hand Puppet for the learning of TV Puppetry basic techniques. In terms of both the Puppetry and in the Puppets  use of the Camera Frame.

At this stage these simple basic teaching tools were demonstrated to Penny Hargreaves Head of School, Performing Arts and Music, New College Nottingham and John Holme of Radio Nottingham, John actually tried to learn some basic Puppetry with them on Air. Listen
Both commented on the simple yet effective teaching tool brilliance of them.

So this had the very early introductory stage of TV Puppetry Learning 'sorted' and now ‘proper’ Puppets could be considered for me to design and build.

I made a few simple assumptions about what was needed from these new Puppet Teaching Tools, these included, simplicity, robustness, lightness, ease of use and flexibility. These Puppet Teaching Tools would also need to be able to be used by Various sized and aged students. They needed to be attractive too, to make the prospect of learning appealing.
So to the options,
I could Build 6 General Purpose TV Puppets, ‘all round TV Puppets.’ All 6 the same.
I could build 6 Puppets all different ‘Individual Puppets’ each designed to be apt at teaching specific Puppeteering techniques.
Or every combination in between.
Weighing up the teaching time factor with the challenging aspects of learning TV Puppetry and the resulting standard of TV Puppetry desired to be achieved.
I narrowed it down to a 321 or 222 strategy

My 6 year Old Son had been using an old puppet Head I had made and given him several years earlier. I was surprised looking at it and considering the treatment it had received, just how good it still looked. Relatively speaking.
So I thought of some of its design aspects with a view to my need for these new TV Puppet Teaching Tools to be robust.
I had made the eyes on this Puppet in an unusual way, for me anyway, they were clear acrylic domes (hemispheres) sprayed with white enamel. With plastic craft noses glued on into the middle for Eye Pupils.
Usually we sculpt and cast our eyes out and in varied coloured resins.
I decided painted acrylic domes would be a good Robust choice for all 6 Puppet Teaching Tool Puppet Eyes. Then I decided on a 222 strategy or 3 pairs of Puppets, each pair being similar but having a different design and configurations from the other two pairs.

The first became a pair of Generic Bugs.
The Fleece of this Puppet Head had stood up surprisingly well so I though a couple of these Fleece style Puppets as generic ‘Bugs’ or ‘Aliens’ would be good for one of the pairs of TV Puppet teaching Tools. They had though quite substantial inner foam to maintain the head shape regardless of hand size as well as to make them more robust. I included some shields at the front in case of long nails which could cut through the foam and fleece from inside.
I then added some simple and uncomplicated long Fur Bodies which had some bouncy secondary action.

A pair of Woodland Creatures.
Next I decided on Two Furry animals, Fake Fur Puppets in Woodland creature style with rodded arms.
Minus the rods for now as they can bounce around at eye level quite dangerously.
The loose arms can be used effectively to gesture with anyway, by being held up directly by the hand.

Next I decided on some Large Generic Monsters. Two of them. One Hot and one Cold in colour and Theme. With simple hand head grips. They also had substantial foam inner liners to maintain the head shape regardless off hand size and to make them more robust. I gave them some head feathers on their heads for some secondary action and interest as well as ‘live arms.’ Like Gloves you can get your hand in them to manipulate them and hold up objects. But with short sleeves or masked entrances for ease of use.
These live hand Puppets are also good for teaching arm use us The Principal Puppeteer has one arm in the head and another in one of the arms with often another Puppeteer performing the other arm making for good Bunraku style working together on the same Puppet character. The principal Puppeteer can also opt for another Puppeteer to do both arms which makes for a usually more co-ordinated hands. Useful for clapping (applause) etc. Obviously just these two puppets with possibly 4 Puppeteers can also make for an informative experience of the ‘Iceberg’ effect. Small Puppet above with large mass of Puppeteers struggling to work and see monitors below.
The Puppets were finnished on schedule.
Expert appraisal          (Dave Barclay pictured right as puppet superviser on the Feature Film Cats and Dogs)
Professional Film and TV Puppeteer and Puppet supervisor Dave Barclay 
http://www.davebarclay.com on a visit to this Country inspected the Puppets created by me for the above Puppets4Learning project.
He commented -  "Marcus Clarke's 'Puppets 4 teaching Puppetry' are a series of hand and rod characters specially designed for teaching. His rehearsal and training puppets are perfectly crafted. They combine great character design with lightweight construction and ease of operation. His range of simple heads to more complex rodded and 'live' arm characters allow the newcomer to puppetry the tools to learn the progressive techinques of hand puppetering, whilst enabling the seasoned professional the clarity to hone their skills, and get back to the origin of their art."

22nd May 2008 was Evaluation Day at Rufford.

We had 3 stations, Camera and Monitor set ups of varied configurations and after an initial talk,
explanation of TV Puppetry and the showing of some clips the Students from two Schools and ages 10 years through to 15 gradually and in two seperate class sessions worked their way through the Puppets exercises to arrive at a finished performance which was taped. Both of the two sessions were about two hours and the Students did very well to create, realise and put over a Short performance in that time.This was a Short Film.

All of the Puppets worked exactly as planned and offered up their varied configurations and strengths obviously to the students who quickly realised them and worked with and towards them.
All of the students were able to operate or perform all of the Puppets with ease and without any problems.
The Students were keen to get to grips with the Puppets and were obviously  inspired and excited by them.
They are excellent teaching tools.

2020 And these Puppets. Designed and built as Teaching Tools with ACE's help in 2007, are still doing worthwhile work with Marcus in the Prison Network They're kept clean, well maintained and always treated with respect by users. Great Skills and Tools. Puppets4Learning Project.     
©Marcus Clarke 2008