Puppeteer jobs(Also known as Puppet artist, Puppet designer, Puppet show artist)
A puppeteer is a person who designs, creates and dresses puppets, and who uses puppets to stage a live performance to entertain others. Puppetry is the art of making puppets and presenting puppet shows. Puppets are small figures which are designed to be manipulated by hand or by wires for the purposes of entertainment. More recently, the art has expanded to encompass new technologies, such as the advanced area of animatronics, as seen in Hollywood blockbuster movies. In the UK, the erstwhile favourite Punch and Judy show remains popular with children, and many puppeteers choose to specialise in this type of show. It is still considered to be a “seaside favourite” around the UK, and appeals to audiences both young and old. The puppeteer is not only responsible for moving the inanimate puppets, but they must also give them a voice and tell a good story too. For this reason, it is classed as a type of performance art. The art of puppeteering stretches back some 32,000 years, according to Thames and Hudson's Puppetry and Puppets, and is popular all over the world. Puppeteers often design and make their own puppets, but there is a fairly large domestic industry for the sale of third-party manufactured puppets, props and materials.
SalaryDue to the fact that most puppet “roadshows” are run by one person on their own, or two or three persons working in partnership, the owners are self-employed, and so the range of potential earnings depends on two things: the amount of leg-work the proprietors are prepared to do in promoting their business and maximising the number of shows, and the amount of word-of-mouth marketing that successful shows receive from audiences. Puppet shows specialising in children's birthday parties are often set up as part-time initiatives around a full-time job, and first year earnings may be as little as £5,000 or less. Successful shows with good word-of-mouth support and a nationwide service can bring in around £35,000 per year, with bookings stretching months into the future.
- Design and build or procure puppets and props to facilitate live performance of the puppet show.
- Write or obtain scripts for the performance.
- Deliver a strong story to captivate audiences.
- Give voice to the puppets in a credible and entertaining way.
- Organise bookings for the puppet roadshow or theatre, and deliver on deadlines and promises.
QualificationsThere are no formal academic barriers to entry, although a GCSE in drama or BTEC in performing arts can be useful in learning the skills necessary to conduct a public performance, and to overcome nerves. Indeed, many puppeteers do actually come from an academic background in drama, as it is often this which catalyses the desire to enter performance arts. Puppeteering is still one of the most unusual and characterful areas of performance art.
- Understanding of audience expectations for performance quality and authenticity.
- Understanding of marketing or advertising techniques, at least on a local basis, to increase bookings and revenue.
- In the case where puppets are self-built, an ability to produce high quality puppets. This art can take many years to develop.
- Ability to speak in public without trepidation.
- Ability to think quickly around problems in performance, such as forgotten lines or lighting problems.
Working ConditionsMost areas of performance art would tend to be classed as low-risk working environments, and puppeteering is no different. It is, however, worth being aware of the fact that shows are conducted around hot stage lighting, and consequently, live electrics. Also, because the shows are being performed in close proximity to the public, it is essential that consideration is given to the well-being of audiences as well.
ExperienceMany amateur puppeteers choose to begin with children's parties, as it means that the candidate can start with a small stage rig, a limited number of puppets and props, and a chance to run the business with just one or two people. Repeat bookings and increasing revenues can mean the show can grow to include more equipment, a larger rig and, eventually, more people to be part of the roadshow team. In this respect, it depends on how far the leading puppeteer wishes to take things. Some are happy just to perform for smaller audiences. Others wish to build up their show as far as possible. Obviously, performing to larger crowds with significant ticket prices in large towns demands that the puppeteers are able to deliver a show of very high quality, and this can take many years to develop.
EmployersMost puppeteers are self-employed due to the small number of people required to manage and run each travelling puppet show. In terms of puppet design and manufacture, the most famous studio is The Jim Henson Company Creature Shop, which was responsible for bringing to life screen legends such as Yoda from Star Wars and Sesame Street's Elmo. Positions at design houses like this are few and far between, and fiercely contested. They have studios in Los Angeles and New York.
Professor Dill works as a self-employed puppeteer, and runs his own company, the Brighton Punch and Judy Show, which is very popular all over the country.