Over the past few years it’s been incredible to watch so much great puppetry work emerge through the Internet. I don’t doubt that the next Jim Henson or Bill Baird is likely to pop up right here on the world wide web eventually.
For those who are looking to be the next puppetry revolutionary, here are some good rules* to live by:
#1 Dare to Mess with the Status Quo
All revolutionaries challenge the status quo and rarely accept things the way they are.
Tony Sarg broke the secretive, centuries-old guild system by publishing some of the first publicly available “how-to” books on puppetry. Jim Henson reinvented the way puppetry was staged and filmed (several times over). Judy Folkmanis dared to create a better plush puppet. Ronnie Burkett cast himself as the “Bad Boy of Puppetry” and used his marionettes to create serious, modern adult theatre.
#2 Go with Your Gut
Rely on your intuition, even if your ideas don’t catch fire right away.
In 1974 Diane Dupuy started a black light puppetry troupe made of developmentally handicapped adults and dreamed of performing in Las Vegas. All the so-called experts she consulted told her that she was crazy and that it would be a “freak show”. She ignored them and three decades, two Broadway shows and thousands upon thousands of performances around the world later the Famous PEOPLE Players have smashed stereotypes about the capabilities of the disabled and helped to change the world in the process.
#3 Design For Yourself
Create the kind of work you’d like to see.
The puppeteers and enthusiasts who bemoan the quality of the puppetry on a rough-around-the-edges show like Wonder Showzen are missing the point. Love it or hate it, Wonder Showzen’s creators Vernon Chatman and John Lee created the kind of show they wanted to see on TV. As it turns out, there are a lot of other people out there that wanted to see it too.
#4 Shake and Bake
Don’t wait for the green light from Hollywood to make a million-dollar epic.
Grab a puppet and a webcam and make a video for YouTube. Perform at a puppet slam. Strive to create something fantastic, funny, and entertaining and put it out there. Make lots of mistakes and learn from them so that you can make your next project even better.
#5 Get on Base, Leave the Home Runs to Chance
Focus on doing good stuff and constantly improving (getting on base) and let success follow naturally (if you keep trying and keep improving, sooner or later you’re going to hit a home run!).
After all, the most widely seen puppet video on the Internet wasn’t intended to be seen by millions around the world, it was just a clever segment on the Dutch version of Sesame Street that happened to go viral on YouTube.
#6 Ignore the Haters
There will always be someone telling you why your ideas won’t work. The more revolutionary you are, the more likely you are to face criticism. While it’s always important to carefully consider constructive criticism, you have to ignore negative people who are always tearing down you or your ideas.
Surround yourself with positive people instead!
*Adapted from Guy Kawasaki’s excellent book Rules for Revolutionaries.