This is a draft I used today in a workshop I assisted with. It’s quite bit rough, but I thought I’d share some of it.
A lot of it is based on observations of other kinds of puppetry, as well as what I’ve found works for me The general concept is heavily inspired by animation principles, as I regard puppetry as a form of animation.
Simply speaking, your arm is now a backbone, and characters need good back health. Avoid slouching and leaning; these will turn your character into a doll. Most of your focus as a puppeteer will be on your own puppet, and it’s your responsibility to ensure that your puppet remains your character. In most of what you’re about to read, I avoid using the word puppet because as long as your puppet is on, they’re your character.
Eye focus helps to define your character’s consciousness and emotion. Having physically consistent eye focus between characters also promotes the idea that they’re attentive and engaged. As a general rule, the only time eye focus should be different is if a character is taller or shorter than other characters (to create a different height), or if the character is performing a motion that requires them to change focus, such as when bending over to look at or pick something up.
Make sure that your character acknowledges the other characters around them. You can do this by maintaining some eye contact with other puppets. As a performer, keep your focus on your character, periodically looking at the other characters around you. It also helps to look at the other performer.
The only time I ever look into the audience is when I need to make sure my character’s focus is on someone from the audience is speaking to the character. I admit, I also look for feedback from the audience in the form of smiles, but that’s not required.
Lip-synch creates the illusion that a character is speaking.
There is no single “proper” way of moving your hand, but your puppet’s mouth should open and close on every syllable, and the upper part of their head should not bob back (or “flap”). If you find that you can’t hit every beat, try speaking slower. Once you’re able to synch up at a slower rate, you can begin experimenting with faster speech.
You need to build stamina, strength, and skill. The only way to do this is with a puppet on and some way to see what you’re doing. Start singing your favourite karaoke hits, and if not that, then simply mouth-synching to your favourite songs. Experiment with arm movements, and try new inflections with your voice. It’s not too hard to create a character with any one of these actions, but pulling them together can be hard work, and it’s up to you to co-ordinate them.
Make your first audience a mirror, and focus on your character. Remember that the audience can be distracting, so avoid looking at yourself and for crying out loud, look at your puppet!