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Creative Thinking for the Puppeteer

by John Blundall and Stephen Foster

Based on the question from so many puppeteers ‘how do we start’, I tried to outline the most important elements to analyse this question. Fundamental to answering this question is creative thinking. Although this may seem obvious, it is surprising how this element of the creative process and the initial planning of a production is missing.

The time spent on proper planning is priceless; it can save time and frustration, as well as money. Although most of us subconsciously know the importance of thinking, production deadlines and other frustrations lead to us not using this valuable resource. So this should always be our starting point.

Searching for new methods of working and ideas, creating new puppet productions combines two important elements, dramaturgy and scenography, often seen as two separate subjects, in the puppet theatre they work together. Also of the most important ingredients of the puppet theatre invention and a surprise are essential.

In an educational context we get used to dealing with scientific ideas developed to solve problems; the puppet theatre is no different. Creative and rational thinking is essential to achieving aims and objectives required by the demands of the established idea. New and effective ideas are the result of the pleasure and a sense of achievement in discovering them and applying them to a production that really works.

Ideas come in many ways, shapes and forms and can be applied to many aspects of a production, and they are directly linked to the imagination and creativity of the individuals involved in the creative process of producing new and original work. Thinking, and the development of a logical train of thought to test, or realise ideas or concepts is essential. Everyone is different and have different ways of thinking and working, even so, thinking, logic and reasoning are essential to achieving desired results.

Invention has resulted in virtually everything that we make use of in our daily lives, why shouldn’t invention be a fundamental requirement in the creation of new work and ideas for puppet theatre production. The discoveries that we make during the creative process enriches both the creative team and the audiences who are the prime receivers of our efforts.

New and innovative work and ideas will always be needed to ensure the future of the ancient art and craft of the puppet theatre and future generations of puppeteers. Generations of creative artists of all disciplines have left us a legacy of inspirational material and ideas that generate new thinking and ideas, but most puppeteers make very little use of them. Without new ideas the puppet theatre will never survive. New ideas will only secure a future, and the basis for new developments.

New and innovative work and ideas enable us to find simpler and more efficient ways of working and producing more inspiring productions. Creating new work is an expression or evidence of the human soul that inspires and entertains people. Finding new and innovative ideas is a fundamental part of the creative thinking process. Many great puppet productions deal with the greatest ideas and ideals of human kind and explore the beliefs and values of individuals.

The puppet theatre is a composite of languages of expression, and not just words, or the spoken word. Words can have many connotations and different meanings. One of the basic techniques used preparing puppet theatre productions is that of a brainstorming exercise using single words, or combinations of words, related to a topic. Invented language, sound patterns, or the use of single words by applying a range of intonations to express different meanings and emotions. Use visual imagery for inspiration.

In the same way as you take a line for walk, take a word for a walk. When creating characters, give them a history before trying to develop dialogue. Watch and listen to characters in different situations. Listen to the speech patterns and rhythms. Malapropisms are interesting, as are combined words. I well remember a Polish puppeteer using the non-existent word ‘entwitched’. meaning entertained and bewitched.

When identifying an argument to develop or putting a series of ideas or arguments together to provide a line of reasoning, keep it as objective and simple as possible. Find arguments that can provide for the development of ideas being proposed. Avoid elaborate dialogues, the puppet cannot sustain them. How can you use visual expressions to project ideas? When starting out to develop a scenario use the basis of the well made play; a beginning, where all of the characters are introduced; a middle, where a conflict is developed; and an end, where the conflict is resolved.

The process of creative thinking in the development of a puppet theatre production can often be a solitary experience unless there is a creative team. The puppet theatre can suffer from the lack of good well informed critics. In most cases puppet theatre productions lack the luxury of a director whose selective eye, and cultured mind, not only shapes the production but also functions as the intermediary between the production and the audience that has a substantial role to play as part collaborator in the process. When the production leaves the rehearsal space where the works structure has been created . The meeting of production and audience for the first time is the start of another part of the process of the evolution of a work which should change to continue to keep it alive.

Where there is no director, the competent arts critic can be invaluable to perform the role of intermediary between actor/puppeteer and the audience. For many years there have been discussions about the role of the critic and the puppet theatre and many puppeteers have expressed the view that puppet theatre doesn’t need them.
Use logic and reasoning.
Memory recall.
Calculative thinking.
Critical and analytic thinking.
Thinking clearly, logically, and creatively is fundamental to a successful result
Approach work in a conscious and focussed way.
Develop a sense of ownership.
Motivation for discovery, don’t just copy.
There is no one way of doing things.
Apply what you learn or think.
Learn through self discovery.
Value first thoughts and ideas.
Being able to think effectively, aim to make connections between different thoughts, experiences ideas, memory recall is essential in the process of development and discovery, and the understanding of concepts.
Logical approaches to research and discovery.
Find thinking time, it is an integral part of the process.
Daily thinking time with no distractions.
Inspire yourself - seek inspiration.
Think of different and exciting ways of approaching a subject.
Evaluate your thinking time - what did you learn?
Where do you think that you might go next? - keep it interesting.
Use objects, discover their inner lives and energies.
Keep on questioning.
What could be done next?
How could it be done differently?
How could it be done better?
What are objects and characters trying to tell you?
How well does it work?
Take your time.
Word limits.
Get feedback, explain or discuss ideas with others - children are great for this purpose.
Read things out loud, record them, and play them back, listen to them with the eyes closed.
What can you make of an object?
Take risks, make it a challenge.
Don’t do what you usually do, or are used to doing.
Focus on images.
Focus on an objects.
Visualise thoughts.
Listen to music - not music that you normally listen to - Classic FM is a great resource.
Study ‘The Method’ of Stanislavsky.
Movement focus - the moving hand or finger following with the eyes.
The importance of editing - try to say it with only 50% of what you have written.
Don’t ‘do’ what you can ‘say’ better, don’t ‘say’ what you can ‘do’ better.
Create word pictures. Turn words into pictures.
Use words that can be visualised or physicalised.
Think outside the box, the one you usually inhabit.
Use video recording to help you analyse what you are doing.
Doodle - take the line for a walk.
Hug trees.
Do come and talk to us - we can help you with any aspect of the creation of puppet theatre and mask productions, in all of their forms and combinations. We shall also be adding practical items for puppeteers and mask makers to our website; see link in RH column -->

PUK is grateful to Puppet Animation Scotland for permission republish this article which appreared in the SNAP Newsletter -- Scottish News About Puppetry). If you would like to receive a copy of SNAP and get on the mailing list write to

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