Talk to the hand: a degree in Puppetry
Puppets are weird. They can be creepy and endearing at the same time, and it’s amazing how the audience project so much of themselves onto what is basically an inanimate object. The skill of handling materials to make this happen is the domain of the puppeteer.
We have all made a sock puppet at some point. Stick a sock on your hand and it comes alive. Most of us are content with that. But some go further and stick a pair of googly eyes on it to make a basic Kermit. They may then add arms or legs, glasses, a moustache, clothes, and make it move and talk convincingly. These people need help, or failing that a creative outlet. Fortunately there is a degree course for them.
London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama runs the BA course Puppetry: Design and Performance. It was the first of its kind and continues to be one of the world’s leading destinations for the training of puppeteers. Anybody remember the amazing puppet horses in War Horse (2014)? Yes, that was these folks.
The course has a clear professional focus. Students take at least one production each year to a major international festival. This has led many students on to full careers in puppetry. In fact, the course is designed to enable students to become independent creators of puppet-based productions. The staff and students work closely with puppet theatres such as the Little Angel and Sandglass Theatres, and attend masterclasses at Suspense, the International Festival of Adult Puppet Theatre.
Graduates have lent their puppetry skills to productions including Little Shop of Horrors, War Horse, The Tempest (Royal Shakespeare Company), Madam Butterfly (Metropolitan Opera House, New York), and The Magic Flute (Royal Opera House, London). The hilarious TV series Mongrels also brought to life by puppeteer alumni of this course. Alumni have also travelled to Iraq to use puppets to talk to traumatized children.