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Let a puppet do the talking - activity

SOURCES
Cathy Stubington, "Let a puppet do the talking" in Voices Nos. 27 - 29 (July 1993). Voices is the newsletter for members and participants in the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network. For further information, write to: DCFRN, 40 Dundas Street West, Box 12, Suite 227B, Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C2 CANADA.
Issy H. Sanderson, Making Puppets Work: a handbook for using puppetry in Environmental Education, published by WWF-UK in association with the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (1993). For further information, write to: WWF-UK, Panda House, Weyside Park, Godalming, Surrey GU7 1XR, UK.
David Werner and Bill Bower, Helping Health Workers Learn: a book of methods, aids and ideas for instructors at village level published by the Hesperian Foundation (1982), P.O.Box 1692, Palo Alto. CA 94302 USA. If reproduced, please give credit to original sources.

SUGGESTIONS FOR USE teachers, community workers, editors for children's magazines and newspaper supplements: For ideas to develop puppetry as a means of communicating with students/readers on issues related to health and environmental education.

Some things are told better by puppets than by people

In Chiapas in south Mexico, people remember a land dispute between two municipalities. For a long time, nobody could solve it, neither the people nor the local authorities, nor the courts. Then, a puppeteer brought "Petul" and "Xun", two popular puppet characters. The puppets made people laugh, and persuaded both sides in the dispute to solve their problems.

Puppets can help people explore difficult social issues. A puppet can often make social criticisms or point out conflicting interests without causing personal offence. If a 'real person' were to say the same things in public, some people might be angry or hurt.

Puppets help in other ways, too. Children who are afraid to speak or argue with an adult, will often talk freely to puppets. Puppets add a sense of pretending that can make feared parts of people's lives easier to look at. They can help children explore subjects such as missing family or friends or violent events that children have seen or participate in.

In health education, some things are better said by puppets. Some topics, like personal hygiene, can be embarrassing, but when puppets talk about the issues, people relax and laugh. Taboo or private subjects can be approached through puppet shows. For example, a health worker in Chiapas made a puppet show to encourage women to talk about family planning.

It is difficult to suggest that people change the way they do things without seeming to criticise them. With a puppet show, you can let the audience question the puppets' actions or behaviour. For these reasons, puppet theatre is an ideal tool for AIDS educators, and is used in several African countries.

A puppet show attracts more people than a speech or discussion

In Nigeria, people working on the Cross River National Park Project wanted a way of conveying to local people - largely illiterate villagers, from schoolchildren to chiefs and elders - what conservation was about, why a national park was being established and how it would affect their lives. They also wanted to discover local concerns and worries regarding the project. Meetings proved unsuccessful. People became tired of leaving their farms to listen to the same messages, and to get caught up in barely manageable gatherings discussing contentious issues. So puppets were used to draw people out. People came because they were curious, and they stayed because even when sensitive issues were raised through the puppet shows, the atmosphere was always positive and lighthearted, and often very humorous.

For anyone from outside a community who finds it difficult to win over peoples' trust, a puppet show is an ideal form of communication. Crowds of all ages -children, parents, old folk - are likely to be drawn to a puppet show. People do not willing listen to a speech more than once, but crowds may watch a puppet show several times. Repetition gives audiences another chance to learn the message. And people remember a sound, a character, a little song or a joke longer than a speech. If a puppeteer pays attention to detail, the audience is likely to talk about the performance for a long time afterwards.

Puppets do not have to represent people

Puppets can represent abstract concepts - such as death - or tiny creatures - such as microbes and pests -that affect our lives. You can make bug or germ puppets. Let them explain that they have their own good reasons for wanting to live inside our bodies or plant. Realising this helps people understand how to deal with the problems they bring.

Puppets are practical

Puppets are cheap and easy to make. You can use local materials, and you don't need expensive, complicated equipment. A puppet show is easy to transport.

One person can play many characters in the same story. Perhaps, you don't need to do a whole show - a single puppet can help to animate your speech. You can even use the production of a puppet play as a way of getting people involved in your programme or committee.

There are so many possibilities in puppet theatre. And the best part is that while they are learning, the audience is having fun. Puppets are especially fun for children. Children can help make the puppets, as well as take part in creating and putting on a show.

How to make puppets

1. Puppets that open their mouths

Use a paper bag with the bottom folded over. Open and close your hand to make it speak.

To make a bigger puppet, attach a cardboard face to the bag.

2. Puppets that change faces

This puppet has 4 different expressions -happy, angry, worried and sad. Glue two pairs of faces back-to-back and attach them to 2 sticks as shown here. The expression can be changed by turning the sticks like pages of a book.

3. Vegetable puppets

Carve faces on squash, turnips, potatoes etc.

4. Puppets made from papier maché (one of several ways)


Balloon or gourd


Paste made of flour (cassava starch) and water


Strips of newspaper


Put on several layers.


Let it dry. Pop the balloon and paint it.


Cut out soft clothing and sew.

5. rod puppets


Make a head using papier maché -as in (4). Fix the head to a rod and attach a 'stopper' made out of pasted paper or cloth.


Make stick shoulders to rest on the 'stopper'. Attach strings to the end of the shoulders for newspaper tube 'arms'.


The strings are slotted through newspaper tubes from the shoulders and tied on to 'hand' rods.


Cloth tubes, stitched at the 'elbow' and attached to 'hand' rods may be used as arms instead newspaper tubes. Dress the puppet in a long robe or whatever costume you want.


This picture shows a small rod puppet performance.

Tips for puppet shows

* You can combine all different types of puppets in a performance, or you can just concentrate on one particular type.

* Keep in mind what you want to achieve by the puppet show: encourage people to think and talk about sensitive issues; change their behaviour; take action!

* Try to keep the message of the show simple and direct, and be as positive as possible.

* To plan your performance, consider the following questions: How many changes of scenery do you need? How many characters are there? What props do you need? What special effects do you need?

* Keep your puppet facing the audience (especially flat puppets).

* Stay hidden behind the curtain.

* Move and nod your puppet when it speaks.

* Speak loudly so everyone can hear.

* Use your own words instead of memorising a text.

* Practise until everyone knows what to say and when.

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