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Choosing a Puppet Style – The Making of “Blueberry’s Clubhouse”

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  • Liz McMath
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Hi, I'm Liz McMath with the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre. This summer, our team has been working behind the scenes to create “Blueberry’s Clubhouse” with our friends at Arkansas PBS. Creating puppets and sets for television is a little bit different than building those same things for the stage – where we usually work. But, working on this show has been an incredibly fun challenge for us!

Today, we’re going behind the scenes to learn more about how the puppets for “Blueberry’s Clubhouse” were made. There are lots of different kinds of puppets: sock puppets, finger puppets, shadow puppets, marionettes, hand puppets, rod puppets and more –  the list goes on. Out of all these varieties of puppets, how do you decide what style of puppet to make for a certain project?

Meet puppet designer Erin Larkin from the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre.

Arkansas Arts Center’s Erin Larkin

When choosing a puppet style, Erin is looks at how the puppet will need to move.

“We knew from the beginning that Blueberry would be a hand puppet,” Erin said. “She needed to be able to talk to Maxine while sitting at the table or on the bunk and be in relative scale to Maxine. So, a Muppet-style hand puppet fit all our needs.”

“Blueberry needed to be able to move her arms and manipulate her periscope and telephone,” Erin said. To accomplish this, she made custom arms with wire and foam and attached rods so the puppeteers could manipulate Blueberry’s arms. This gives Blueberry posable hands that can wrap around objects

Blueberry Puppet Styles

Blueberry has lots of costume changes throughout the show, so Erin attached Blueberry’s arms with snaps making it easier to change Blueberry’s costume.

Blueberry in Action

Choosing the style of puppet for the caterpillar was not as easy. Erin’s initial idea was to make a caterpillar finger puppet. She made a concept rendering based on that possibility.

Rendering of Caterpillar Finger Puppet Concept

“Then Mike took that and improved it,” she said.

Meet puppet designer and puppeteer Mike Stacks from the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre.

Puppeteer and designer Mike Stacks

On the show, the caterpillar needed to be able to move inside a jar – and Mike needed to be able to manipulate it from underneath a table. A finger puppet wouldn’t allow for that kind of movement.

“Since Blueberry was a hand and rod puppet, I thought our best bet would be a rod puppet,” Mike said. “Then, recognizing my limitations, I made a sketch.”

Caterpillar Rod Puppet Sketch

Just as the limitations dictated the style of the puppet, the available materials dictated the design of the puppet. “I went shopping and left my mind open to possibilities,” Mike said. With a plastic cookie jar, Styrofoam balls, wrapped and unwrapped floral rods, googly eyes, and red and white pompom garland, Mike set about making prototypes.

Caterpillar Rod Puppet Prototype n

Once he was happy with the movement of the caterpillar, Mike began adding features. He used fabric paint to add color to the body and bread ties to make feet and antenna.

“It still didn’t have enough character, so I fabricated tiny glasses and that gave it instant character,” Mike said.

Rod puppet caterpillar with glasses and the caterpillar puppet on set with Blueberry and Maxine, played by Piper Wallace

LEARN MORE:

”Blueberry’s Clubhouse”

Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre

Arkansas Arts Center