Thursday, June 9, 2011

Parrot Puppet

For this puppet, a macaw I was very concerned with giving the animal a lot of personality. The idea to create a puppet for this moment was added late in the rehearsal process. By the time I got into rehearsal to see a run, the actor was creating a wonderfully alive bird with just his hands. I didn't want to lose any of that when he got the actual bird. From what he was doing I decided that the most important things were a moving beak, a nodding head and quick moving feet.
For the base of the bird I used three whiffle balls. These two were bolted together to create the body. The holes made it easy to use machine screws to attach the balls together, and to run tubes for strings operating the head and neck.

For the head I used another whiffle ball. I cut the bottom out of it to give room for the bottom of the beak to move and I attached it with a spring. When the puppeteer pulled the string attached from the lower jaw to the body, the head tipped down. When the puppeteer released the string, the spring pulled the head back upright.

The jaw worked very much like the mouth of the curious child. It hinged on a pivot point. The puppeteer's string pulls on the bottom and opens the mouth, and the spring from the top of the jaw to the top of the head pulls the mouth back closed.
The whole thing is mounted to a small piece of 1x4 with a handle, and steadied at the bottom with some epoxy putty. The handle allows the puppeteer to hold the bird with one hand and free the other hand to operate the pull strings for the head and beak.
The pull stings are run through the body using flexible plastic tubing (you can find it cheap in the plumbing section at most hardware stores) which prevents friction and tangling.
To round out the body, give the bird shape and create wings and a tail I used sheets of craft foam.
After I had the basic shape I needed, I began adding feathers I had cut from blue patterned fabric.
Feathers work like roof shingles, you need to start at the bottom and work your way up, overlapping as you go to get a nice, even, natural look.
I used a lighter color fabric for the bird's belly and used the reverse side of the same fabric for his face. I added some extra wooden beads I had at home for eyes.
(I'm so sad this picture came out blurry)
I attached the legs of the bird to the glove that the puppeteer is wearing.
What made this glove especially useful, is that there is a moment in the show when one of the characters grabs the bird, holds it tightly and runs across the stage.
With the handle and glove, she was able to grab the puppet from the puppeteer without a messy tangled process of him "unhooking" from the puppet. On the other side of the stage he could quickly slip his gloved hand into the handle and bring the bird back to life.
As a final touch I added a little bit of yellow around the eyes and the beak to make them pop from further away. 

The playwright love him:)

And, again, I can't figure out how to rotate a video anywhere between having it on my camera and uploading it on the blog, so just turn your head if you want to check out the bird (his name is Starbuck) in action.

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