Introductory Handbook to Kohler Puppetry Method

DSCN1995DSCN5665A Puffet!! We have made over 25,000 !!









Handbook for the

Kohler Puppetry Method

DRAFT 6/20/15

Prepared by Marc W. Kohler

105 Newman Ave. 913S

Rumford, Rhode Island 02916


Web Site:

Facebook: Marc W. Kohler, Santa Marc,

Marc and Fran Arts Servies

Puppet Shows and Workshops:

Youtube Channel: Marc Kohler

Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 16095

Rumford, Rhode Island 02916

Cell: 401-441-2129

Studio: 168A Armistice Blvd.

Pawtucket, RI 20860

The first Draft of this handbook written as a support to a presentation for the Professional Day for the Teaching Artist and Therapists held at the Puppet Homecoming Festival sponsored by the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions of the Puppeteers of America on Sept. 5-7, 2014

Revised and expanded for an application to the Puppeteers of America National Festival Professional Day for Teaching Artists and Therapists.

Copyright Marc W. Kohler

July 2015



My Experience with Puppets

The Value of Puppets and  the KPM

How Does the KPM Work?

How the KPM is Therapeutic?

Outline of the KPM

Preparing to Implement the KPM

The Opening Puppet Show

Puppet Making Supplies

Puppet Making Process

The Six Questions

Group Process

Puppet Exercises and Greetings

Puppet Stage

The Interview

Understanding “The Fit”

Creating Plays and “Platts”

Creating Puppet Biographies (The Lifeline)

Puppets’ Likes

Creating a Puppet Family Tree

Speculations and Conclusion

Future Chapters: Puppet Stages

Other Puppet Heads

Other Puppet Bodies

Forms: Questions, Lifeline, Personality, Platt

Verbatim Samples of Workshop

Special Needs:  A longer explanation of the

Method with  Special Needs Groups

Method with Adults


Over the past fifty years, puppetry has gone through very large changes.  We have abilities to communicate and create images in ways that would never have been imagined.   Television was entering its second decade, and puppets on television were still new.

Then, in 1969, when Sesame Street premiered, the public saw puppets in new forms, new purposes, and with an incredible impact.  Moving mouth rod puppets became the standard puppet for television, in for many live performers,  Then, over the decades, Jim Henson and the Puppets created a whole away of puppet techniques, movies, television shows, with the impact that hand puppetry has almost disappeared.  It is interesting to note that Fred Rogers succeeded with his “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” even though he used solely hand puppets.

Today, there are still many puppeteers who use hand puppets, but the interest in hand puppets and puppet making in schools, therapeutic environments, and even scouts has attenuated.  Everyone wants to make and use moving mouth puppets.

So, that is why I decided that I had discovered a way to use hand puppets which will be successful in bringing the hand puppet back to classrooms, therapeutic groups, adults and children throughout the country.  The hand puppet made quickly and without any thought given to he character of the puppet before construction gives the maker a vision into their values and self-esteem.  It provides for a tool for art therapists, counselors, and other helping professions for self and group exploration.

There are also variations and changes that you can make in this process that will give you even more powerful ways to enhance the experience.  The Kohler Puppetry Method can be applied to stuffed animals, puppets that have already been made, and even objects.  The key is that the participant decides what the object (the Puppet) is based on what they see and feel about it without an explicit elicitation of feelings that the participant has.  It creates a safe psychic place to deal with feelings without intruding on the participant’s need for security.  The “hand puppet” environment is a “gentle” one.  There are no errors that can be made in this process,  The created puppet can be anything that the maker wants it to be.  It can change its age, place of origin, and all of its traits in a second.  We do not care the that puppet might be eighty years old, can fly, and likes to eat garbage.  These are just dimensions of the makers world.  The creator of the puppet is performing the puppet, hearing the puppet, and speaking for the puppet in what I call the :”Puppetry Circle”.   This is the key to the profound opportunities that puppets offer to leaners, explorers, and dreamers.

My Experience with Puppets

I started doing puppet shows as a child, and spent the summer of 1965, at 17, working as an assistant to Alan Cook at one of his puppet displays in Palo Alto, California.  In 1970, I founded The Puppet Workshop, Inc.   It was a non-profit educational puppet theater, and its goals were to produce original educational live puppet shows, teach the art of puppetry, and to explore new uses of puppetry in the arts, education, therapy, and commercial uses.  The Puppet Workshop stopped operating in 1994.  I have continued to do puppet shows, workshops, and puppets with special needs groups.  You can see many of The Puppet Workshop can be see on Youtube Channel: Marc Kohler.

The Kohler Puppetry Method(KPM) started when I made my first “Puffet” in the spring of 1966.  I had worked the summer of 1965 with Alan Cook, and the next summer as a recreation leader for the Palo Alto Recreation Department.  Mr. Cook is one of America’s premier puppet collector, supporter, and record keeper!  During one of the recreation training sessions, we made art projects, and I made a puppet head out of a piece of burlap wrapped around a bunch of felt pieces and tied with string.  I made a simple serape for the body, and put my index finger into the puppet head.  In 1975, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts asked me to design a puppet that could be made quickly on playgrounds in housing projects in Providence, Rhode Island.  I made the heads from the cardboard tubes used to hold bolts of cloth. These tubes replicated the burlap tube from years before.  Inside the tubes I glued rolled up 1/2″ pieces foam rubber. We had made the puppet bodies in several different ways, and this pattern evolved over the next few years.  We were asked over and over to do these workshops with these puppets.  By 1976, I decided that I had a final product and applied for a patent.    In 1977, I received a patent on this puppet:  U. S. Patent Number: 4,019,570 in Puppet Assembling in March 1977. Here is an illustration of the Puffet from the Patent.

From 1977 TO 1993, we made over 25,000 Puffits in workshops with children, teens, adults and children and adults with special needs.  Three thousand were sold directly to the Providence School Department along with training workshops for teachers.

I found a company which could manufacture the cardboard tubes and another one to make the foam head inserts.   The Occupational Therapy Office of Butler Hospital helped glue the pieces together.  Graduate students seemed to enjoy being paid to sew the bodies.  We reached about 1,600 participants a year in puppet making workshops.

Most of the ideas of this method were discovered while using these “Puffets”.  They were used with thousands of participants.  I like it because it can be made quickly, is sturdy, and will last for years after being made.  The method can be used with other kinds of puppets, but it is hoped that the puppet that is made can be made in about 20 to thirty minutes.  I have used variations of this puppet and created puppets with participants who had limited ability to hold a hand puppet, no wrist movement, or were deaf or blind.  I will discuss those puppets in the section on Special Needs participants.

Now, twenty years later, I have realized that the methods that I used in my puppet making workshops could be replicated by puppeteers, teachers, child care workers. Special needs teachers, and can be done with children, teens, adults and special needs groups.  It is a method, because it uses a specific kind of puppet, can be replicated, and will provide hard copy written products.

 Value of Puppets and the KPM Method

What then, can the KPM add to these well stated goals and objectives?  It will add and increase the actual written products that come from the puppet making and performing experience.  For the method to work, here are some premises.

The participants do not decide or think about the character of the puppet that they are going to make.  Preconceived notions destroy the impact of the process.  I want the puppet to be MADE first, and thought and felt about later.  Puppet making materials will never meet the needs of the preconceived images, and so preconceptions will lead to disappointment. The goal of the method is to create an emotional attachment between the puppet and the puppet maker.  While the puppet maker is totally responsible for the character and nature of the puppet, the puppet becomes an active participant in the puppet creation and effects the performance.  This attachment is profound and deep.  It is not one to be played with, for once I asked a group if they wanted to renamed their puppets to create new characters–they refused with enthusiasm.  I present the participants with the idea of making a puppet without mentioning a specific puppet, story or written piece.  I do introduce them to the excitement of a live puppet show given with passion and commitment.  Then, I provide the supplies and directions to make a puppet without once mentioning that the puppet will have a character once completed.   Only after the puppet is completed or near completion, do I ask the participants to decide who or what their puppets are.  And, even here, I make the questions as short as I can–leaving lots of room for what the puppet might become once the puppet maker gets to know their puppet better.  These six questions give the puppet the “bare bones” of the character.

The participants write down the answers to six questions about their puppets.  If they cannot write, we let them answer the questions orally, and we write the answers for them. For non-verbal participants, we use the “Yes” or “No” system that works best for them. We then use the puppets in exercises, get the puppets on stage for interviews, and from these experiences the Kohler Puppetry Method has laid down the foundation for creating written works:

1. The Six Questions

2. Personality Likes and Dislikes

3. Lifelines.

4. Family Trees

5. Improvised original group and solo plays and monologues recorded or videoed.

6. Using improvised pieces to create pieces.

All these pieces are geared to the age and abilities of the participants.

The KPM and Special Needs Participants

In the area of special needs, from 1984 to 1993, three members of the Puppet Workshop served as a resident puppet artists at agencies and schools in Rhode Island through a program titled Supplemental Independent EducationI Plan(SIEP), a program of the Providence School Department.   We visited agencies where children from the Providence School were placed.  We were encouraged to reach as many children at each location whether or not they were from the Providence School Department.  We also worked for local mental health centers and other locations serving teen and adult special needs populations.  In one example, I worked with every school-aged child in the Meeting Street School population over  a period of five years.  We also visited Groden Center locations, CITE, Eleanor Slater Hospital Zambarano Unit,  and other special needs schools.   This gave experiences that I will discuss in this paper. I worked with autistic children, children with Cerebral Palsy, children with autism, teen prison inmates, adult special needs groups, and other groups and individuals.  For six years, a group of patients with schizophrenia visited our studio weekly.

When we did these workshops, we were paid as “Puppet Therapy”.  Today, the term “puppet therapist” or “puppet therapy” are not accurate by today’s definitions.  Thirty years ago, the terms were used as a convenience, even though we did not provide any actual art therapy as it is defined today.  Here are some lines form the Wikipedia definition:

“…This…underscores the art therapy process in two ways. In most cases, a skilled professional attends to the individual who is making the art. This person’s guidance is key to the therapeutic process. This supportive relationship is necessary to guide the art-making experience and to help the individual find meaning through it along the way. It helps the individual trust themselves more.  The other important aspect is the attendance of the individual to his or her own personal process of making art and to giving the art product personal meaning–i.e., finding a story, description, or meaning for the art. Very few therapies depend as much on the active participation of the individual (p. 24).” In art therapy, the art therapist facilitates the person’s exploration of both materials and narratives about art products created during a session…”

You see, in the puppet making and performing that I have evolved, the participants reveal parts of their personalities, their hopes and fears. I did not follow up the process with a discussion about how the participants felt or how they could relate the experience to their personal feelings or thoughts.   So, while the puppet made with this method will reveal aspects of the puppet maker’s personality, they are not asked to evaluate them to “…make art and to giving the art product personal meaning,”–though in the right hands there would be a great heal to learn about the puppet maker from this method.  The therapeutic nature of the work has to do with the feelings of confidence, success, affirmation, and  sense of accomplishment does make it powerful experience for these participants.   The puppet making and performing allowed changes to take place, and gave staff insights to their charges. Puppet Therapy is reserved for the licensed, practicing therapist who uses puppets for his clients to gain knowledge and insights about their particular lives and memories.  I the puppet therapies that I have reward about, puppets in the session room can be used by clients or the therapists.  In some cases, the client makes a simple puppet with the therapist, and uses that puppet to discuss and explore personal stories. Someday, I hope the Puffet will be used in such environments.

Why is KPM therapeutic?

“…the healthiest form of projection is Art…”   Fritz Perls – Gestalt Therapist

I interpret Perls’ words to mean that the making of art is the best way for a person to “get out”of themselves feelings that they have “inside” of themselves.  Freud used the term “projection” as  behavior within ourselves that we use as a defense. An example of this would be for a person to complain about people being rude, while being rude themselves.

When Perls used the term, though, he was suggesting the free expression of feelings “onto” the piece of art.  In the core of Gestalt Therapy is the “two-chair” therapy with a “top dog” on one chair and “under dog” on the other.  Fritz would listen to a person’s dream/story, pick two of the last physical objects in the dream, and then he assign each of two chairs to be those objects. He would then have the two “subjects” begin a discussion between the two characters.  In most cases, one chair “character” would evolve into the “Top Dog” and the other chair becomes the “Under Dog.”  The subject then moves back and forth discussion around issues specific to the client or their dreams. Perls would side coach the discussion, and through this process, the subject would resolve personal issues or be “stuck”.   “Stuckedness” is something we all experience. The basic idea is that Gestalt therapy emphasizes the here and now, bringing conflict to closings.

In the Kohler Puppetry Method, there are two “chairs,” but they are not opposites at all.  They are the person making and performing the puppet and the puppet.  The puppet is solidly attached to the person, and the relationship  between them is not hostile.  It is supportive and evolutionary. That is why the hand puppet tends to work best, but other puppets work, too.  Each needs the other.   The puppet evolves as a character as the person makes decisions for the puppet.  The puppet is spoken “for” and speaks “to” the puppet maker.  It is a circular connection–one feeds the other as it hears, thinks, and feels about the feelings that the puppet evoked.  I believe that the evocations are not consciously control;led–they are spontaneous, unrehearsed, and delightfully variable.  Participants will not remember what they wrote for the Six Questions, change the answers, change sexes, change voices, and provide immediate transformations.  For, the puppet speaking on that stage for the first time is the truly “empty page”–that the six answers are just the flimsy cover for what the puppet on stage discovers!  Or, is it the puppet performer making the discoveries?  I think it is both, and the relationship can be it is explosive and truly exhilarating!  Why? A puppet appearing on stage for the first time creates what the method calls the “performance imperative”(PI)  or “performance imperative moment”(PIM).  This is the internally felt pressure to perform the puppet–move the puppet, say something, utter a noise–This can be a precarious place for participants–some will not be able to utter anything, but most, the vast majority will “meet” the call!  This will meld the relationship between the puppet and the maker, so that they become like parent and child–or maybe child and parent–or, maybe a relationship which leaves a great deal to be discovered.

Here are samples of the method in process:

—The puppet of a child who stutters does not stutter.

—The quiet child’s “Washington” puppet will be a man in charge.  The teacher lets the boy wear Washington in class, and she observes the power of Washington “moving” into the student.

—A non-verbal child wiggles her wrist controlled puppet on stage, and when asked a question growls an answer.   This is a sound that the staff had never made before.   All they had heard before was yelling, and this “growling” gave the child a whole new resource for communicating–her “puppet voice!”

—-In an adult  workshop where they were making puppets around the idea of local arts council concerns made a puppet of her maid.  When the puppet came out on stage, the participant could not utter one word for the puppet, so the puppet made a bow, and left the stage.

—-A high school senior makes a Puffet with a smile cut out of paper and glued on.  I stated that I thought she had a nice smile, and the puppet responded with “It’s glued on.”  After the performance, her teacher told me that her mother had died a month before the workshop.

—A group of high school students make puppets, and all the male puppets come up, and suggest that they are going to look for prostitutes, and the girl puppets claim that they are going to go out only with the men that spend the most money on them.

—A student in class does not speak at all.  He makes a puppet, and when the puppet comes up, it speaks.   The puppet’s job is “Throwing Rocks”.  When I ask how big the rocks are that he throws, the puppet responds with “Gigantic”.  After that day,the teacher does not allow any of the children to speak for the child–something that the boy’s silence had created–yes, he was “throwing rocks.”

—In an extended two part puppet making and performing workshop with 6th graders, one boy made a puppet that according to its biography (The Six Questions) would live only to the age of eighteen.  During the second workshop, the boy changed that to “he’s going to die of old age”.

—Tommy, a child with cerebral palsy, made a puppet named Dennis Eckersley. (A long time ago when Mr. Eckersley was a famous pitcher)  The puppet’;s problem he was hurt and could not pitch that day.  “Who was to pitch?” I asked.  The answer was, of course, Tommy would have to pitch for him.

Outline of Kohler Puppetry Method

Here is an Outline or Overview of the Method, so that you can see the elements of the larger picture.

  1. Opening puppet show.
  2. Making puppets
  3. Answering the Six Questions
  4. 1. Puppet’s Name

2. Puppet’s.Age

3. Where is the Puppet from?

4. Job

5. Likes to eat?

6. Feeling?

Break into groups of between 1-12.

  1. Greetings
  2. Movement exercises (Fingers, wrist, elbow, and arm (FWEA))

6.  Voice exercises and explorations

7.  Puppet Sounds

a.  Sounds that the puppet makes

b.  Sounds of what the puppet does’

c, Environmental Sounds:

d. Environmental Music

e. Character Music

8. What is more important: the audience or the performers?

9.  Interviews and introductions

10.  Creating stories? Does your puppet have any problems?

11.  Scripting the stories by using the Platt.

12.  Rehearsals and performances

Writing Exercises

13.  Lifeline

14.  Puppet Personality traits

15.  Family Tress

16.  Explore the “whole” character,and the “novel” in the puppet.

There is also a way to break down this steps.  During the opening show and making puppets, the facilitator observes the group.  When the group breaks into smaller groups, the facilitator individualizes each participant.  So, by time the puppet comes up on stage, the puppeteer becomes know to the facilitator, and it is that sense of intimacy that leads power to all the steps.  The performing participant relies on the facilitator to make it a safe environment to take whatever risks they feel about bring on stage.

Preparing to use the KPM:

Once you know your way around the environment where you will be working, you should meet the participants.  This is especially true for special needs students who may have limitations in movement, speech, hearing, and other physical dimensions which will help you design the puppets that you are going to you.  Every situation requires that you should learn as much as you can about the nature of the disability, and how it impacts how the participants make and express decisions.  Autism spectrum students offer wide ranges of communication methods and movement styles.  Children with spinal bifida can speak with very adult word structures.  I have found that special needs teens and adults that I have worked with have had no physical limitations or speech limitations, so there you have to concentrate making the environment around the puppet creation interesting, exciting, and valuable to their lives.

As I mentioned above, the puppet must be made as quickly as possible–no more than twenty to thirty minutes.  There are cases where pointing at a voice board or the blinking of eyes requires more time spent making the puppet.

Group Size

Before you start doing this workshop, and after yo have determined the type of individual or group you are going to work with, size comes up next.  With special needs children, I like to work one-to-one, and will work with as any as four.  For able children, I like to work with twelve children, so that when we break up for groups to perform the Interviews of two or three.  With groups of fifteen or more require that the performing groups have to be four groups of 4 or 3 groups of three.  So, if there is a classroom involved, I would a second person to handle 1/2 of the class for exercises and interviews.  Recently, I did a workshop with 50 children, and this was just to bug to handle alone.  With adults, too few can be inhibitive, and too many make it difficult for them let their hair down, so I limit adult groups to twenty, and then I will put four groups of five behind the stage for interviews.  In most cases, what I call the Opening Show described below, but with small groups and special needs a groups, I will start with a simple and quiet introduction, and ,move to puppet making.  So, the description that follows is for a large group with two KPM facilitators.  Trained teachers and aids can fill in, but in many cases, the non-facilitator group will judge the facilitator group “better” or having more fun, so as you sue the method, be aware that there are some rigid items (Quickly made puppets), and less rigid. (How best to start the group off.)

The Opening Show

When I introduce the making of the puppet, I go out of my way to excite and interest the participant or participants.  This is extremely important when working with teens and adults.  The excitement has to be at a level that creates interest and enthusiasm for the puppet making project. This “positive” excitement creates an environment where there are no wrong answers.    I use a short puppet play to start the workshop.  If you want to see a version of it, go to Youtube Channel: Marc Kohler.  It is titled Puppet Making Workshop by The Puppet Workshop.  It is the third video on the page, and the URL is:  The workshop is preceded by a short children’s presentation which they created at the end of the workshop.

I believe that the “excitement” for the workshop comes from the general enthusiasm that I use in performing.   Then, there is a transformation of a puppet called the Stagehand.  He is nothing more than a glove with eyes, and was created by Alan Cook.  Also, I should note that my Mr. Punch has none of the character traits of the British Mr. Punch.  He has always been a modern man–yes, ever so slightly selfish like his English twin, but only for the purposes of the particular play that we have written for him.

Punch wants to show the audience how to make the puppet that they are going to make.  So, he asks the Stagehand if he wants to be a puppet?  Of course he does!!! Then Punch tells him that he needs to “take his clothes off.”  Reluctantly, Stagehand lets Punch remove the glove from my hand.  Here, my hand becomes alive–“Hand” is truly embarrassed and scared that he is naked in front of an audience.  His suffering varies by my consideration of the nature and age of the audience.  He can be raucous, calm or noodled.   A naked hand is stimulating, and almost scandalous.  Here, I am walking a line that I am confident will work.  No one has ever complained that I showed a naked hand during a show.  I have been using this routine to open and excite workshop audiences for over forty years.  In playing the hand, I am deeply indebted to the work of Burr Tillstrom on the That was the Week That Was television show.

You can see his Berlin Wall piece at:

Once Mr. Punch has calmed the hand down, he instructs the hand to stand with pouted finger up, pointer here, and tall man there.  Mr. Punch asks the audience to do the same–no matter what kind of audience I have–they all have to put they future puppet hands in the air.  Here, the audience identities with the hand on stage.  They are naked in the air, and I believe that is stimulating, too.  They are being brought into the “puppet world” that I am building for them.  Mr. Punch or my hand never mention that all the hands are naked, but I am sure that there is something happening in this moment.  I am sure that if I made my hand a female, this routine would be offensive to some viewers.  Gender issues are extremely important for four audiences today.  Puppetry has its own set of gender issues, but that jus for another paper.

Next, Mr. Punch puts a cloth body over the hand.  This is a standard puppet making body which has evolved over the years into a pattern that we use with all ages.  Suddenly, though, the hand, now a covered up hand cannot see!!  He is blind!!  He needs a head the audience screams or mentions politely.  Punch then puts a blank tube on the head finger, and the hand ties to say that he cannot talk, that he has not nose, that he had=s no mouth–but the worlds are blurred for he has NO WAY to be articulate.  He has gone from being a gloved hand to become a “puppet” embryo.  And, this is not an exaggeration.  The puppet on stage, which has become the audience’s friend, has now entered a new world in a new form.  It is a birthing process done with delight and glee.   AND, most importantly, the audience has an emotional attachment to the sufferings of the hand on stage–just as they will transfer positive and protective feelings onto their own hand when it “becomes” a puppet.  So, the love  and affection that they have for the Stagehand are the feelings that they will have for their own puppets, and they show how a puppet  can produce transference easily, quickly, and profoundly.  Anthony Palumbo in an article in The Puppeteers of America Journal wrote that Piaget thought that babies distinguish the mother from the “objects” in their world by seeing the face of their mother.  Palumbo proposed that our attachment to puppets was the same, in that we “make” the puppet come alive through looking at the face.  I would add, too,  that any successfully done anthropomorphic movement or sound from a puppet will set in motion the same powerful identification and transference.

Now, in the play, Punch brings out a head for the covered hand which is a bit “scary”–not really scary, but Punch and the Stagehand think so.  The hand screams a bit, Mr. Punch gets scared, and he pulls the head off of the puppet.  This demonstrates to the audience in an unstated way, that if the puppet does “release” or “discover” any real anger, rage, or “scary” feelings, Mr. Punch–ie, the person controlling the puppet can relieve the situation.  This is a way of saying that the person will be protected from the projected feelings revealed by the puppet.  It does not guarantee that the audience, though, will be protected.   In one adult workshop, a participant in a workshop for a local arts board, created a black puppet, and used the opportunity to chastise the audience the racism of their “lily white” population.  The puppet was angry and eloquent–an interesting moment of reflection for everyone in the room.

Finally, Punch brings out with an acceptable head, but puts it on the hands of the new puppet. “Mr. Punch, I come to you with my head in my hands.” He pleads.  Punch moves the head to the neck finger, but puts it on backwards.  The new puppets that he can only watch reruns!!  Punch twists the head around.  These two acts demonstrate how the puppet head fits onto the body for the participants, and it shows that mistakes will be made in the process, but mistakes can be corrected.Th participants have entered “world of the puppet”, where both the puppet and the performer will in a protected environment.  The new puppet is elated, and cheers as he exits the stage, and Mr. Punch asks “Are there any hands out the who want to become puppets?”

Then we make puppets.

Puppet Making Supplies:

36’ wide alligator paper:  This gives the distribution of the supplies the look of a Thanksgiving Table.  This allows the participants to see all the supplies that everyone is getting, and prevents the feeling that some participants are getting more than they are.

White School Glue:   I like to have a bottle for each participant, for this prevents the lack of corporation.  I have also used small pans with the glue poured into them.

Kids Scissors:  Again, I like to have each participant have their own.

Adult Scissors:  I usually cut the trims and such into 8-10” pieces, but sometimes we do not have all that time.  So, the adult scissors are very important.  I also require that no participants get up during the workshop unless they have work that needs to be hot glued.

Puffit Heads

Puffit Bodies: These are not distributed until AFTER the puppet heads are created.

Head Papers: These are pieces of construction paper cut from 9”X12” sheets.  They are 9”X2 3/4” (the height of the Puffit)

I do not include White or Black Head papers, and i will sometimes leave out Pink, too.

Head Toppers:  These are squares cut from the Head Papers to be placed on the top of the head.  Trims and fake fur stick better onto the construction paper than the foam rubber.

Eyes and Noses: Buttons. 1/2” Circle Stickers. Pompons. If they are going to use the stickers, I suggest that they use white glue since the sticker glue will not hold the sticker) You can also just use construction paper for these.

Mouths;  Mouths can be difficult to make with trims, so i cut lots of moon shaped red pieces, and they can be cut up or put on directly to form a mouth.

Hair: Trims, Cotton, Yarn, old mop heads (washed), Fringe, fake fur (cut into pieces), Doll Hair,  heavy Colored String, Construction Paper can be “curled”, cut, ripped, and otherwise altered to become “hair”.

CRAYONS AND MARKERS: I avoid these.  Markers make much too s strong lines and can overcome the size of the Puffit.  I will distribute crayons near the end of the workshop for sideburns, shadow. eyebrows, eyelashes, ears, pimples,  warts, and any other details that the participants want to make.

Hot Glue Guns It took me over two decades to decide bring hot glue guns to these workshops.  The reason was that, white school glue cannot hold the hair in place.  If a piece of the face or head comes off when the puppets are performed, I anchorage the puppets to  say “There goes my nose.!”  (This is PDS: Puppet Directed Speech).  Too often, though, the hair of many puppets was coming off.  I started one or even two hot  glue guns. I ask teachers, aides, or other adult to use the g;glue guns.  Children who realize that their puppet needs hot glue.  They raise their hand, and wait to be called up.  This prevents a line from being formed, for I have found that a line can result in a adult glue omitting their arm with the glue gun, which results in glue being dripped.  Accidents in general occur more often.  Remember to  put the glue where you want the item to stick, rather than putting the  glue on the “moving object.”

Puppet Making

Here is where you are prepared to provide the materials, glue, paper, and all that is needed to make the puppets.  With physically able special needs groups, the distribution of materials is the same as with able groups.  All supplies are distributed equally.   For children, I will have them work on the floor, and roll out a sheet of 36″ wide alligator paper.  This lets all of the participants see that everyone is receiving the exact same supplies.  The white paper roll established a working “palette” on which they will create there puppets.

For physically challenged participants, you will have to invent a puppet that they can control.  You might have to use voice boards for the participants to communicate what kind of eyes, nose, hair and the rest of aspects of the puppet.  In many cases, the children were limited both by physical disabilities, mental situations, and voice difficulties.   I would make up a “set” of features from which they can pick their favorites.  In most cases, I use the Puffet. (Photos of puppets for these participants here)

In the case of weak hands:  Put the puppet on a dowel, so it becomes a rod-puppet.  I made “handles” for the stick from heat reactive plastic that centers use to make supports and casts.  I will have examples of puppets that I have made in these workshops, so you can see them.  This is for children who cannot rotate their wrists.  Every situation might require different puppets–different by weight, size, shape, and color.  We attached inverted five quart buckets to dowels, attached them to wheel chairs, and the children performed by moving in their wheelchairs with the puppets over their heads.  A curtain hid the wheelchairs, so the audience saw these puppets move above the curtain. The audience loved the performance.  We also made plaster hemispheres to hold the rod puppets, so the participant could push the puppet around when it was on stage.

For a child with rigid wrists, I made a large foam rubber head attached to a short tube.  The tube went out of the back of the puppet head.  So, I lined the cardboard tube with foam, so that it could slip onto her hand.  She could move the puppet with her arm on stage.

When you begin your work, I will be available to for advice.  On my web site, I have a page titled Puppetry Ideas for Puppeteers. (  There are stage design stage plans there now.

I give out the heads, make sure that they test the plain head on their fingers to make sure that the puppet will work on the index finger.  They cover the head with construction paper cut in strips that match the height of the head.  I intentionally take out white and black paper for the head covering.  This avoids the issues of race in the puppet making process. Someday, I might explore race issues with Black and White puppets with just two colors for the puppets.

The process of selecting what materials the participants receive is determined in the method too.  I want each participant to use three dimensional materials before graphic tools like crayons.  I avoid markers completely.  This is because I want the puppets to have a sculptural shape and look.  So, I give out trim and buttons. (See Appendix 2 for suggested supplies)  I give out 1/2″ round stickers for the eyes.  I ask the participants to use white glue for this, because the sticker adhesive is not strong enough to stay on when a button is glued on for the pupil.   I avoid using goggly eyes.  After a while, I will give out red construction paper “lips” shaped like smiles, and participants can use them to make the mouth, and/or combine them to make a larger mouth.   You see, I would prefer to see a mouth made out of yarn or trim to a paper or crayon mouth.   The last materials that I give our are the crayons.  Again, this to encourage more interesting puppet making than just drawing a face on with a crayon.  I announce that the crayons will serve to fill in detail “…ears, eye shadow, eyebrows,  five-o’clock shadow, scars, moles and whatever details your puppet needs…”

As the puppets are nearing completion,I give out the bodies of the puppets and the sheet with the Six Questions on it.

The Six Questions

Your Name___(Participants first name)__

1. Puppet’s Name

2. How old is the Puppet?

3. Where is the puppet from?

4. What is the puppet’s job?

5. What does the puppet like to eat?

6.  What is the puppet feeling?

If the children are too young to write the answers, we write the answers for them.  We make some effort to make sure that the answers from one participant do not influence those around them.  Rarely, but occasionally, there will be children who try to influence the chidden around them to “fit” into their puppets identity.  Just make sure that they answer the questions as privately as possible.


Why these six questions and why do they provide a basis to therapeutic and educational explorations for using puppets.  If the participants cannot write, we write for them.  The participants put the puppet on their hands, on their sticks, on their wrists, or whatever way they see and feel the puppet move and react.  I have them put their own name at the top of the sheet, so I will know later the names of both the puppet and the puppet maker.  Now, to the questions:

1. Puppet’s Name  This question is profound for the participant.  Sometimes, it gives them such trouble that I suggest that they skip it, and come back to it after they either questions are answered.    I suggest that if they are having trouble they can hold the puppet up to their ear, and the puppet will whisper their name to them.

Younger children and special needs children will often name the puppet their own name.  This is fine, and when they get the puppet on stage, they will also often take on another name.  There is no requirement that a participant remember what they have written down, nor are they beholden to stay with their written answers.  You see, once the puppet is in action, the synergy between the performer and the puppet alters the personality of the puppet–that is a Performance Imperative.

As I said earlier children with Spina Bifida tend to sound older then they are, for they have excellent mimicry skills.  “Sue” named her puppet “Sue”.  With some prompting, she decided that the puppet was named “Jane”.   Jane had to drop beyond the scrim to ask Sue, what she should say.  Jane could not run or jump, for Sue could not run or jump. By the end of the interview process, Jane was running all over the stage.  When we were done, I asked her if she wanted to take Jane back to her classroom, and Sue said no.  By the time I had rolled up the scrim, Sue told me that she had decided to take Sue Puppet back to the classroom!

Disabled children of all abilities will often name their puppets for movie stars, national sport stars,super heroes, and television characters.  This is fine, too, I find it helpful to encourage children with the suggestion that we do not know what a superhero might like to eat or where they came from, so I suggest using the puppet as “Spiderman’s Brother.”  In one case, with a child from Meeting Street with Cerebral Palsy named his puppet “Dennis Eckersley.”   When I asked if Dennis had any problems, Tom said yes,and jot was that Dennis was not well and could not pitch that day.  So, Tom would have to pitch for him!  Here is powerful example of transference as the power of Eckersley was transferred to Tom.

2. Age. The age of the puppet gives the puppet lots of underpinnings thad the creator does not realize when they do it.  It gives us a birth year, and that is the first question to be asked when building the puppets lifeline.  Age, too, speaks to many aspects of character and participants understanding of the age continuum. Is the puppet young, old, or middle aged?  It is not important what the age is.  What is important is how far the participant can remove themselves from the puppet?  Same aged puppets tend to be tied to their creator for details of their lives, but over time–sometimes just minutes, the puppet takes on a new age of its own.  Again, no participant is tied to any of their first answers to these questions.

3. Where is the puppet from?  Again, a very important question, for where they come from determines lots about their lives.  They might come from the participant home, or Candyland, Mars,or Rhode Island!!  Alien puppets come up and did not know how to speak English.  One showed from heaven.  This is a gateway question to the “world” or even “worlds” of our new puppets.  Every answer possesses messages for the participant that look forward and backward.  Forward to what it could become, and backward to give it a life history.  Place of origin is a deep issue for us as people, much less for our puppet counterparts.  For young children and the children in my workshops at Meeting Street, place of origin was usually their homes.  This is fine, and as we work with the children, that place will become a positive place to find answers other than those in the “real” world.  It is the entry into the world of the puppet that the participant[ant will project and deal with issues that are within them.

4. What does the puppet like to eat?  As I mentioned  earlier, consuming food is an integral part of Gestalt therapy.  How we chew our food relates to how we “chew” on reality.  Fast eaters like me, are rushing away or towards things al of the time.  In this question, though, I am just prancing on the edge of this large concept.  “What they eat?”  is different from “How thy chew?”  Still, food voices are one of the key reflections of how the participant feels about themselves.  Average participants’ puppets will eat spaghetti, pizza, and peanut butter.  Abused participants’ puppets will eat garbage.  Troubled puppets will eat rocks.  I am not sure, but my guess is that puppets that eat people have angry creators.  During the interviews, I ask “How many pizzas do you eat a day?’  This allow the creator to explore outlandish ideas–maybe ten, maybe a hundred, maybe a thousand!!  And in this response, they are expanding the puppets range of emotional depth.  The more the puppet eats, the bigger their attitude toward dealing with the world around them improves.

5.  What is the puppet feeling?   This is a question that I added after doing this work of about twenty years. i was reluctant to put the “Feeling” question up front, so that the feelings of the participants only when the puppet appeared on stage.  I decided to add this question, for it is key to the therapeutic nature of my work.  It demands that a participant make a decision about the feelings that the puppet has.  They also are aware, at some level, they know they will have to demonstrate when they perform their puppet.  As you might guess, participants almost oftentimes change this answer several times during a performance.    You see, going back stage and putting the puppet on stage transforms the participant from puppet maker to puppet character creator to PERFORMER!  That usually triggers good feelings, anticipation, excitement, and some joy!!

Separating into Groups

Participants of all backgrounds approach puppet making in different ways.  This will result in the group breaking itself into three smaller groups.  The first will be the children who are confident and are ready to use their puppets. The second third are rule-followers, and go along with the project with a little less enthusiasm and gusto.  The third group will be children who want to extend the “making” period.  Why?  Here are some reasons; They are avoiding performing, avoiding judgement of the puppet when completed, are perfectionistic and nothing is ever right, or are just filled with the fear of “making anything”.  I am sure that there are other reason that you have encountered.  With a group of thirty makers, this results in three ten person groups.  If twenty participants, then two mixed groups of ten, etc.  One year, we made had150  children and puppets. We brought fifteen facilitators to do the exercises and shows with each group of ten.


I take the group or individual participants, and gather up their Biographies.  I do not organize them in any way, but do check that each participant has given me one, and that I can read the person’s name at the top.

Then I greet the group.  If there is time, I use an exercise where I name the first participant and then repeat each participants name as I learn there names, and can greet each participant with their name.  There are other greeting techniques that we use, and this one tends to be the best.  I do it because the facilitator has to establish trust between themselves and the participants.  Knowing their names will help tremendously during the Interview process.  This is important because, when they perform their puppets, their name and the puppet’s name have to distinct.   Without that distinction, we fail to provide the participant with a safe place to risk their effort performing their puppets.  Safety in this process is an imperative part of the method.  This is discussed in the Interview section.

Movement and Sound Exercises

1. Movement: Fingers, Wrist, Elbows, and Arms. (FWEA) Pronounced FreeAh!  I use arms optionally since it does not always apply to the participants that i may have on any particular day.  Fingers for “Clapping”, wrist for “bowing”, and elbows for “jumping”.  “Let’s climb a ladder, and dive into a swimming pool!!”  Up the puppets go, and down they fly!!

2. Now, we have to add sounds:

  1. Voice:  High pitched, low-pitched, growling, with lots of air, through your nose,  combine them!

b.   Sounds that the puppet makes walking on concrete, mud, through tall grass, etc.

c.  Sounds of what the puppet does: sawing, sewing, washing dishes, hammering, riding motorcycles, space ships

Now, we play the “Movement Sound Game”:

Here you ask the participants if one of them could make a sound, and move the puppet so the group could guess what it was doing.  If no one can guesses the right answer, the player picks the next player, and in this way every participant will have a  turn.  If now guesses right, but has already performed, then they pick the next player–someone who has not performed.  The facilitator can jump in and exaggerate the sounds and movements, so they get to feel what is like to make noise, move their puppets, and laugh.  The laughter is serious business–it reflects the trust that they have in the facilitator, and it is worth seeking.  Now, we expand the “sound” repertory with interesting sounds that the performers can make while there puppets are on stage.

d. Environmental Sounds:

i. Places:  Circus, zoo, jungle, etc.

d. Environmental Music

i  Wedding, dance, funeral, etc.

e. Character Music: What music would you hear before the puppet comes on stage. ( Heroes, Villains)

Performers or the Audience?

After the exercises are completed, I ask the group which is more important, the Performers/Puppeteers or the Audience?  I will repeat the question, and the group will yell out the two answers.  Until, someone says “Both”.  Or, I will stop the searching wit the answer: Both!  You have to have good performers and a good audience to have a good show!  This is important, for there is a tendency for participants to lose interest after they move out into the audience after performing.   So, this is one way to keep them interested.  “They were a good audience for you, so you haver to be good audience of them” works well, too!


What do we use for a stage?  In most child special needs situations, you will have few children, and the “stage” can be the table around which you are working.  I have a video of my work with children from Meeting Street School, which I will try to post it someday. For years, we used tri-wall stages 4′ wide, with a 30″ high front piece, and two 2X4 pieces for the sides.  There is a pattern of fit on my web site:  I use this small stage for the opening puppet show when the group are children.  This stage fits about four children and can fit, and I use it for the opening show.  For teens and adults, I use a folding wooden stage with curtains which appeared in The Puppet Theatre Handbook by Marjorie Batchelder McPharlin. It is a professional one-person stage, and provides a truly excellent way to perform the puppets.  It gives the participants a solid “wall” between the performers and the audience.  That is a kind of safety net  for the performers.

The Interview

I collect the “Bios”, and we enter into the Performing section of the program.  I will make the “Moving and Sound Exercises” less for teens and adults.

Now that everyone knows that the audience and the performers are equally important, I go on to the Interviews, and we form an audience.  In many cases, I find that using chairs work very well, and better than having the participants in the audience sit on the floor.  This is something that I realized only recently, and admit, that the vast majority of my interviews took place with the audiences sitting on the ground in front of the stage.    I call groups of three to five children up to the stage, and with small groups we might not use a stage at all.  I mix the Bios up so that the children will come up in a random order. They take their puppets behind a stage, and I tell them to stand if the stage is the larger one or kneel of rate smaller stage, and place their heads behind the Scrim and in front of the Scrim Backing.  I place the Scrim backing in such away that there is about 18″ between behind the Scrim and Scrim Backing as covering the top of the stage.That creates a dark lace behind the Scrim that allows the performers to see the audience without being seen.

There will be participants (Children, teens, and adults) who do not want to perform.  I suggest that they do not have to perform, and it would be great if they went behind the stage just to see what it feels like.  In most, almost all, of these cases, the participant watches the participants who perform before them, and when it is their turn, they WILL perform their puppet.  This is a result of the Performance Imperative Moment or Performance Imperative.

In puppetry,  the Performance Imperative (PI) is the demand that a puppet perform on stage.  This is unique to puppets, and does not occur in other art forms.  The puppeteer holding a hand puppet is attached to the puppet.  That attachment is like any other “Creator-Creation”  model.  Whether it’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Shakespeare and his Hamlet, creators and creations are attached for good or ill.  So, the stance of the puppet maker towards the puppet is obvious–the puppet is little and imaginary and the puppeteer is its  master, alive and very real!

Let me take a short detour before I explain this   When I finish a puppet show with my Scrim and my comments about people in the audience, children have asked “Those aren’t real puppets, are they?”  They have used the exact same words for decades.  The answer is: “No, these puppets are not alive, but when they are on stage you become convinced that they are.”

This is the magic, the power and the potential of puppets in our lives–no, they are not alive EXCEPT in our use and perception of them.  We make them come alive, and it is different from animated movies because the puppet performed or seen in live shows is a three dimensional object–and that three dimensionality speaks to different areas of our consciousness than animated figures.  The three dimensionality puppet is alive.

So, puppets that see and talk to the audience are “alive”.  The participants have seen puppets performed that way.   Now, as they go back stage, they know that they are entering the world where puppets are expected to perform.  They know too, that in terms of creation, the puppet is little and only slightly defined, but the puppet maker is large, human, and therefore, by implication, powerful.  No matter which way a person feels about performing, they know that this piece of cloth and cardboard is “just a puppet”–that is what makes the Performance Imperative so important and interesting.

That means that the performer is in a situation where they intellectually know the puppet is little, the puppet show is not important, and that they could avoid the risk–but if they avoid the risk, then they will be in danger of being criticized for not having the hutzpah to perform.  So, with the support of my voice and the success of the participants that have performed before them give the reluctant participant will put their puppet up and perform!  So, they meet the Imperative, and get all the accolades.  The method has taken powerlessness, place it into a form, and put it on a person’s hand to experience that power was always within them.  Therapeutic? Educational? Transforming?  Well, that’s why I think this method works so well.

During the Performance Imperative Moment, the puppet must speak–the process demands that the puppet speak for themselves. Therein lies the therapeutic power of the exchange.  The puppet can be ANYTHING that the maker wants it to be.  The relationship is circular in that the performer speaks for the puppet, and the puppet speaks to the performer.  It is mutual admiration combination that triggers and releases terrific enthusiasm.  I call this circular nature of puppetry identity The Puppet Identity Circle–the engine of the puppet magic.

These puppets were given no long determinations of character age, place of origin, family connections, or a personality. The Six Questions has laid down the slimmest character traits possible, and there are oceans of decisions to be made.   This coming growth of the puppet’s character is distinctly different from a character invented for a story.  Writers use characters, shape characters, and have them do and think whatever they want.  Some authors claim they “talk” to their characters.  In the case of the puppet, though, the puppet has come out of the conscious and subconscious mind of the creator.  The puppet comes to life when it is on their hand, and they TALK BACK TO THE PUPPETEER with an authority that the Gestalt has given it.  The puppet is not a character projected out of the imagination.  It is a child brought into existence from nothing!  You will find that participants know that the puppet is telling them things–not asking.  They follow that direction, and get the real experience of writing what this puppet does, feels, and thinks without the anxiety to know that the character could do anything.  A puppet made this way is as rigid a character as Hamlet–just give the puppet maker enough time to find out all that this character will become.

Let’s return to these performances.  I call up each puppet.  Once the participants are back stage, I use only PDS, Puppet Directed Speech, and use MDS (Manipulator Directed Speech) only when necessary.(See Glossary).  I will not ask for all six of the answers that the participant has written, but I will pick and choose what I think will work best for that particular performer and puppet.  I have spent over an hour watching these participants.  I have learned all of their names.  I am aware of what pressure some participants might feel from the participants. In a sense, my task is to let the puppet grow through answering the questions.  The puppet might change anything form the answers–their age, name, job–a well known puppeteer changed his puppets job from “popcorn salesman” to “ringmaster”!!

The Fit

When  this first interview comes to an end, I call up another puppet.   I introduce the two puppets.  I might suggest something that they can do together.  For instance, a pizza eater might ask a cook to make them a pizza.  If this triggers an independent conversation, then you have Fit–a free standing theatrical moment.  A civil discussion protected by my strength to assure that the two puppets remain equals and friendly.  I should mention here that participants might hit each other with their puppets.  The puppets might start kissing each other.  There are rules.  No hitting.  No puppet has killing as their job.  I do let puppets “eat people” since this is such a current concept in this day and age.  In the majority of cases this “Fit” does not occur, but for teens and adults, it is fantastic, entertaining, and original.  As the master of ceremonies, I decide if the “fit” is worth continuing and to bring in the third puppet, and in this way I interview the four to five participants behind the stage.

The Closing

At the close of the last interview, I suggest (or demand) that they all come up and sing a song together to which the puppets dance.  The audience will be encouraged to sing along, clap and cheer when the participants com rout from behind the stage.  In this way, we can get through 12-15 participants before we have a problem with attention.  That is why we worked on being good performers AND good audience members.


When the interviews are done, we discuss how it felt to perform, and move onto the next step of this process.  It takes about 90 minutes to do the workshop to this point.  It is much shorter with young special needs participants, or longer for mature audience.

Since the group has organized itself into the two, three, or four groups–I keep them in those groups.  I ask if their puppets have any problems?  Depending of the age and ability of the participants, they can write the answers down or just tell them to me.  Here, I create a story.  You see, some of the puppets will not have any problems, and they become the characters who solve the problems.  Also, the “problems” will be surprisingly similar.  Puppets will say: “My nose is too big.”  (They will find it easier using their puppet persona)  “My hair is messy.”  “I need friends.”  The next question “Why are you worried about your nose”  “People will laugh at me.”  The problems will revolve around the participants emotional issues.  So, with most problems, the “non-problem” puppets” become the solvers.  They organize a party, buy flowers, do an operation, and through short set of scenes, solve the problem.  They may have to go visit one other of the puppets to get what the need to solve one puppet’s problem.  I will become obvious to you which problem can be solved.  If all the puppets have no problems, then they plan a party.  Again, just like the interviews, each story ends with a song.

If there is time, you can write a Platt(See Glossary).  The letters on the right of the Platt are initials for the puppets.  The right column are the Point ofConcentrator Concentrator for the given scene.  When we performed in the Puppet Workshop, we added a third column that included props, songs, or special things that we would need to know to do our scenes.  We only used written scripts for our curriculum BUGS shows. (See Glossary)  Here is a sample Platt for a play with four puppets.

Henry puppet feels lonely.  Henry tells Sam.  Sam goes to see and Diane and Mark,  and asks them if they would like to help give Henry a surprise party.  Henry gets Sam to come to where the party is going to be held. Diane and Mark jump out and shout “Surprise”.  Singing and dancing ensues.  We make up a title:

Henry Has a Party

Puppet On Stage POC (Point of Concentration)

Henry, Sam

Each puppet comes up and Diane and Mark    introduces themselves with their name and anything else that they want to add. ______________________________________________

All Again

The name of our play is Henry Has a Party ______________________________________________

H (alone) Tells audience how he feels

S Comes up and talks to Henry

Henry tells Sam about his feelings and _______________exits.  __________________________

S and D     Sam calls up Diane and they decide to see Mark

S and D They travel to Mark’s house___________

S, D, and M Mark, the famous problem solver

tells them to have a party at his house______

S and H Discuss going to a place for lunch


S and H Arrive at party

D and M SURPRISE! “You will never be alone again!”



Finale_Puppets take bow, and the puppeteers take a bow

The facilitator is a needed as a resource during the performance.   This is extremely important, because participants will not remember their scene as well as you might think.  They will “internalize”. You might try making a Platt for stories that you know.  That will help get the concept in your mind.  For an improvisational group like Puppet Workshop, the words might not be set until after 50 performances.

For a first story, we have done well.  A quick and exciting way to have this short play become text is to video or audio tape this show, and it transcribed into text.  With a pair of earphones, if is possible to do this quickly with the Dragon Speaking program.  This is truly a wonderful experience for young children, to see their spoken  words become written words.  They have “written” something without picking up a pencil.  If they want, each performer can edit the script any way they want to build on the original structure.  They do not need to work as group, because the play was an exercise, not a final product.


This takes us to the next steps in this process. The Lifeline, the Personality of the puppet, and family trees.  You see, writing is a very personal activity, so additional group activities are not needed until these steps are taken.  There may be more for the participant to learn from dealing with puppet’s life than trying to have them fit into someone else’s play.  This is why I emphasized  the fact that the process does not start with any preconceived notions of characters, plots, stories, or movies. Everything will come out of the spontaneous creation of a thing, and the feelings and thoughts that the creator has for and with this thing—a thing that we prefer to call a puppet, but which will forever be a thing.

The connection between the creator and puppet then is intense and reliable.  That is, the puppet maker has a rock on which to stand. What the puppet thinks can be objected to by the puppet creator, and the puppet maker can object to what their puppet offers the world.  It is a relationship filled with the possibility for all kinds of excitement and discussion.  The Rule of Six dominates the created object. Their age gives the creator of the ting and anyone else who cares a permanent year when this creation was born.   So, we have the first point of the Lifeline for the puppet.  There is a point here where you can decide to go to the Lifeline or Personality Likes.  I am sure that the Family Tree comes last.  I tend to like Likes next, but I have used the Lifeline next, too. The Lifeline

The Lifeline is a line drawn or printed across a blank page with space at the top for the Puppet Maker and Puppet’s names.  At the far left of the line, the puppet maker writes the year that their puppet was born.  They can determine this by subtracting the Age of the puppet from this year.  Little might need some help.  Then, they write the year that the puppet will die on the far right.  Some might die at 18, 24, or 99, or live forever.  That does not matter.  We are not writing anything here that has to make sense.   We ask the puppet maker what were BIG moments in the puppet’s life, and they can put this attached to the Life by shoots coming off of it.  Marriage date, birth of children, the first time they went to the moon, and much more can be put on the list.  It is a dramatic experience for a participant to be in such command of a story without even knowing that they are writing a story.  There does not have to a middle or an end.  We are putting down the fruits of the participant’s mind.  Storylines will come later.

The new puppet is, in fact, senseless.  All they have are the Six Questions, The Rule of Six as it were.  What is exciting, though, is that at any time in these processes, the puppet maker can CHANGE their answers?  We are not working on memory.  We are building a confidence in making artistic decisions, The process now is to “carpet” the maker’s knowledge of their puppet just we would carpet a hard wood floor.  All participants will “carpet” their puppets simply (wall to wall), with complexity (Shag) or with majesty (Area rugs).  The metaphor works well when you think about it.  We are not going to “fill-in” what the puppet feels and thinks, we are going to ask them.  The puppet is clearly in some kind of control which takes the pressure off of being the writer.


This may sound repetitive, but in this process of making decisions, the “joint” effort of a puppet with a small premise in this world, can be completely evolved by the puppet maker into a complete character on the same scale as many novel and drama characters,  This way to reach this goal gives the puppet maker a real sense of accomplishment, and they will be able to apply these same step to the recreative writing exercises.    This means that a participant is free to listen instead of trying to make things up out of nothing.  This is a gift to children who get lost “making up” things.  Here, they have a concrete way to doing it without the intimidation of being right or wrong.  The participants may need more pages for longer and more complex Lifelines, and then we have the Personalities Likes and Dislikes.

There is a sample for these questions in the Form Appendix,  I call this process “carpeting the environment” of the puppet, creating and filling it in at the same time.   Again, the puppet maker can use additional sheets, decide more things about the puppet.  These answers can be taken off the sheet and gathered by category.

For teens, this can be a struggle.  For instance, movies and television shows in the list may not make sense to them, because there are populations in our cities that cannot afford to see movies and care little about television.  Ask them to name music groups, and you will have lots and lots.   The point is that the act of answering the questions are acts of creativity even though for the participant, the puppet is answering the question

The Family Tree

This is where the Lifeline and Likes provide a background for discovering who is in the puppet’s family.  It will teach the participants what a family tree is without resorting to personal Family Trees.  All the puppets have families, and none of them have to be similar.   Yes, it is good for children to find their own real family trees, but in this exercise they decide everything. They control the “Tree” and will understand real Family Trees better as a result of making one for their puppet friend.  I have been asked if the Family Tree can be fantastic.  That is, can the relationships be made up and invented (Four fathers).  I have not varied this step in my work, and I would have to try out this variation.  I am pretty sure that a child that understands what a Family Tree is might also invent variations for it.  That could be a very inventive step.


Over the period of working on these tasks, the puppet has grown, but still may need assistance.  They might need props and scenes.  They might need other puppets–made as simply as possible.  Here again, the more that the puppet maker makes to support their puppet creation, the easier it is for them build a life for the puppet.  Every item that the puppet can pick up, ring (bell), wiggle, or whatever, re-enforces the Circle of Identity.  The puppet maker is living with and through the puppet, and needles to say, the puppet lives always through the puppet maker.

Scenery, places for the puppets come and go through, decorative items on the stage, cars on sticks, you name it.    The significance of these “extras” cannot be exaggerated.  Here is something that I should have written.  The participant, child, teen or adult does not “see” what they are doing or making.  These “new” puppets or these new “friends” are real, but since the puppet becomes alive in their hand, the participant can only see the “dream” object.”  As I have called it, it is the thing between.  Have fun.

Speculations and Conclusions

As I have written so far, I believe that this puppet method gives children, teens and adults a very structured experience to make, perform, and grow by using puppets.  I am not a psychologist, but I have read a lot, and been through lots of counseling.  So, I couch these last remarks with this caveat, and that is while I am not a professionals in the field, I am doing the best I can, and I hope deeply that this helps you in this work and whatever endeavor that you pursue.

Many authors have pointed out that there is a connection between the subconscious mind and the creation of a puppet.  In most metaphors to describe the workings of our brain is the description of there being three consciousnesses: Super Ego on top, the Ego in the middle, and the subconscious below.  This “geography” seems accepted by all. The problem with this structure is that it makes the subconscious seem “beneath,” “out of way,” “hard to reach.”  Hypnotism suggests something different.

When I was hypnotized by a psychiatrist, he would have me sit in a comfortable sofa with my hands on my knees.  Then, he would start a quiet conversation with my subconscious.  After a few minutes, he asked the subconscious to show a sign for YES.  I thought this was pretty silly.  Then, within seconds, an electrical pulse started at the back of my neck, moved down my tight arm, and my right index finger jumped up and down.  I was shocked!!  Then he asked for signs for “no”,”half way done,” and “needs more time”.   Each time, an electrical feeling started at the back of my neck and went down my arm, and a different finger jumped up and down each time.  Then, he would drive my sub-consious a chore to do, to think about a specific subject that he could survey for me,  I never said anything, in time, he asked if this subconscious was done, and my right index finger jumped up and down.

He talked to my subconscious, put it to work, and got the work done! Really?  That means that the subconscious is “sub” of nothing.  It can hear and understand words.  It can decide to do or not do what the psychiatrist asks it to do.  It could withhold information if it wanted to, but my subconscious accepted the commands.    This is disturbing, and revelatory.   It reveals that our subconscious is only slightly “sub”.  Now, I ask what is happening here?

My guess is that the subconscious is some part of the brain that comes from previous brain incarnations.  It sees and hears the world in simple and exact ways.  By simple, I mean that it invites the world in without prejudice.  It accepts the commands of the psychiatrist like a child.  So, my speculation is that this part of our brains sees all incarnations of the human figure as a real people.  This explains our incredible attachment to television from the fifties on.  The sweeping involvement with video games and computer lives is meeting needs that only the subconscious would need to have met.

So, when a participant makes a puppet, they are showing the subconscious that something alive is being made, being born.  The whole method inhibits any preparation in the process, so the puppet evolves out of the materials present, and the efforts of the puppet maker.  The conscious and unconscious minds literally work together, and “birth” the puppet.  Is that birthing the same for each of them?  No,  The conscious mind knows that this is a puppet, but the subconscious believes that a real birth occurred.  As I wrote earlier, the “naked hand” triggers the subconscious and conscious minds, and possible offends the super Ego, but I know that after the show, participants of all backgrounds are truly excited to make their puppets.

That’s pretty much my conclusion and speculations for this Draft of the introduction to my method, and this ends this Draft of this Introductory Handbook.  There are sections to be written about the literary products that combine at that the puppet makers can create. i.e. The Novel in the Puppet.   I am sure that as I hear from people in the field who have commented and given me advice and criticism this Handbook will continue to expand. Thanks for reading, and please contact me with all you questions and concerns.  I will be available to help you work out any issues using this method.  My email is  My telephone is 401-441-2129.


If you would like to hear from a person who engaged The Puppet Workshop to do this Puppet Therapy programs, you can contact Ms. Barbara Durrell-Dickerson.

Here are the sites that Puppet Workshop reached:Trudeau Center

Sargent Rehabilitation Center

Cranston Center

Groden Network

Meeting Street School

R.I. School for the Deaf


E. S. Hospital Zambarano Unit

                                                          GlossaryDMS Decision Making Spectrum: This are the ways and understanding the ways of how a participant communicates “Yes” and “No” and to what expect can they participate in the puppet making.  Sometimes it will be the blink of eye, the touch with a hand, or a smile!

A.  Fully capable

B. Limited Voice

C. Limited Hand Usage

D, Limited sight and/or sound

FWEand FWEA: The three or four ways that we move our hands to “bring a puppet to life”.  Fingers, Wrist, and Elbow or Fingers, Wrist, Elbows and Arms.

Lifeline:  A single line that represents the Life of a puppet with their birth year at the left, and their death year (If they have one) on the right.  Puppets might not have a death date ever.

ODS Operator Directed Speech.  During the Interview, the interviewer speaks to the operator of the puppet behind the stage.  OPS is used only when completely necessary.

PB Performance Balance: The fact that performers are as important as the audience for a performance,  You have to be a good performer AND a good audience member for a successful event.  You can use “PB”

as a way to call order in an audience, rather than just “Be Quiet”.

PDS Puppet Directed Speech:  During the Interview, the interviewer speaks solely to the puppets avoiding using the names of the participants behind the stage.  For instance, instead of saying that: “Janet has to hold her puppet up higher,”  the interviewer might ask “Why Henry (The Puppet’s name) is standing in a hole?” Or, “We can only see your head and arms, George” (The puppet’s name).

PFT Puppet Family Tree:  A puppet can be created with the standard family tree chart, with the creator filling in the blanks, but it is much better to invent the kind of tree that the creator.  They might have more than one Mother or a whole bunch of cousins this is a great way to include the challenges of today’s families.

PIC Puppet Identity Circle:  This is the profound interaction between a hand puppet maker and the puppet is performed.  The maker talks to and for the puppet, and there is a magical sharing of identity for the puppet and the puppet maker.

PIM or PI Performance Imperative Moment or Performance Imperative:  As mentioned often in the KPM, and there is emphasis on excitement, fun, and release.  By not noting who or what the puppet is before the participants make their puppets, I am establishing a “vertical” moment, rather than a “horizontal” one.  These are terms used in the 1960s to describe the difference between this very moment that we are living, and the long term idea of time. John Cage, Allen Kaprow and others built an aesthetic on making art pieces that were “vertical moment”.  These were called “Happenings,” and for the past forty years, I have called this puppet making program The Puppet Happening.   So, when a puppet appears on stage the first time, it can be a shock.  The performer knows they are using a puppet, so they are not under the same pressure as when they are acting or signing in public.

Platt:  List of scenes for a play based on the lists from medieval miracle plays, and it was also used in the Commedia Del Arte

Puffet: A puppet patented in 1977

Psychopuppetry: Term used by Matthew Bernier in Puppetry in Education and Therapy

Edited by Matthew Bernier and Judith O’Hare.

RTT  Recording to Text  Recording to Text  This is the process of tape recording or video taping performances to write texts. This is the process of tape recording or video taping performances to write texts.

SB Scrim Backing: This is the piece of opaque cloth used to back the Scrim to make it work like an old time photographer.

SC Scrim Crosspiece.  This is the board or pole that holds the Scrim across the puppet stage.  In the workshop

stage, it is a 5′ X1″X2″ with the Scrim and Scrim Backing on it.  For a larger puppet stage, it can hold draw curtains sets, and a sundry other objects for the show–banners, Jack’s beanstalk, etc.

Scrim: A translucent or loose knit cloth through which the puppeteers can see the audience while remaining hidden from  it.  Used is the theater to create painted scenes that “”disappear” when the light balance changes.  I use burlap for my stages.

SI Script Internalization:  Many times, even with Platts and scripts, performers will “internalize” the beginning scene of a puppet play.  For instance, in story about the kidnapping of a princess, the first scene was the princess and her kidnapper AFTER the kidnapping.  In another sample, two ten year-old boys with wonderful shadow puppets, lost all track of their story once they were on stage with their parents in the audience.  This is unpredictable, and the KPM facilitator has to be able to transform those moments into successful events,  See notes on “Side Coaching”.

Side Coaching: This usually refers to verbal coaching that a coach gives team members at sports events.  In the theater, it refers to the verbal assistance that a director makes to the actors in a particular scene in order to aid the scene or direct improvised work towards specific exploration issues. In the KPM, is refers to the coaching that the facilitator provides the opening interviews, rehearsals of shows, and the shows themselves.   When a puppet performer or groups gets “lost” in a show, the coaching helps them pull themselves out of it with theatrical success. For the opening interviews the side coaching is more like side directing, for the facilitator chooses which puppets will come up in what order, and how the puppets will relate–hoping for a Fit.Six Questions:  Puppet’s Name, Age, Where is the Puppet From, Job, Likes to Eat?

The Fit:  Theater historians suggest that theater in Greece started when two speakers walked out of the chorus and conversed, bringing an end to chorus theater.  This reflects the profound importance of words spoken on a stage between two or more performers.  In the KPM method, I emphasize the relationship between the individual puppet maker and the puppet that they create as the most profound source of value for puppets in education. This is the source of Family Trees, Personality Descriptions, etc. A Fit occurs when two or more puppets during the initial interview find something to speak about, and continue a conversation.  If it goes well, the facilitator asks a third and or maybe a fourth puppet to enter the scene.  This is a rare experience, because the puppet maker and puppet have just met each other. There is a profound connection, but there can also be a strong issue of privacy and awareness of what is “around” them.  It causes the participants to notice each other backstage–presenting issues of sociability into their lives.  A Fit is something that is devoutly to be wished for, but rarely found.


There are hundreds of books, videos, and even movies about using and making puppets.  In the case of this puppetry method though, I suggest three:

101 Hand Puppets  by Richard Cummings Publisher: Dover Publications (July 25, 2012)

I first used this book in 1967 when I was a sophomore at Brown University.  I was aksed to do weekly puppet shows at a Gay Nineties restaurant named Stanley Green’s in Warwick RI.  I made the catephilars, the frog, and others.  I once told the publisher for PLAYS< Inc,that they should rfpublish it afer it had gone out of print.  It is great that Dover has kept in in print.  Mr. Cummings wrote many helpful books go chidlrena dn family crafts: 101 Masks, 101 Costumes, Make Your Own Robots, Make Your Own Dollhouses, and many others.  I hope that they return to print some day.

The Puppet Theater Handbook by Marjorie Batchelder, Harper Brothers Publishers (1947).

This book is out of print, but remains the most thorough teaching book in the field.  For instance, there is a puppet stage plan here for a puppet stage that folds done into one-third its mounted size.  Over the thirty years of the Puppet Workshop, I made and had my staff use as many as twelve of these stages 5’ Wide, 6 1/2’ High, and 25” deep, and folds down to 5’X25”X6”!  They were great!!

Puppetry in Education and Therapy: Unlocking Doors to the Mind and Heart Paperback  December 29, 2005

by Edited by Matthew Bernier and Judith OHare (Author)

Both of these editors contributed to the writing of this Handbook.  The interesting aspect of the book is that only a few of the projects in the Education Section suggest that the participants create the characters, write about their lives, and then create stories out of their own written decisions.  The major reason to use puppets is to act out stories and history.  The method in this handbook uses a puppet as a tool for creating new literature.    By not making decisions about what the puppet will be or look like before it is made, I am giving the maker a path into their originality.  Everything the maker decides about the puppet is novel, and can be altered and expanded to provide profound learning and expressive experiences.

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