I'm a puppet maker with a degree in theatre. A former lighting techie, stage manager and producer. And I like to think that with puppetry, the only limit is your imagination. More...
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Here’s a great topic, and an odd puppet question. Actually, it’s not as strange as it sounds. When working with glove, mouth, or any other puppet where you have your hand inside the materials, you’ll find that it’s not only hard work, but sweaty work. Especially under hot stage lights. So how do you keep your puppet from going moldy?
Well, I have to admit that I don’t think there’s any way to stop the materials from deterioration after a lot of use: eventually, the materials simply will need replacement after a while, there’s no avoiding it. But there are things you can do to reduce the effects of sweaty hands.
The easiest way to protect the materials is to always add a lining of cloth to the inside of the puppet, where there is most use by hands. With muppet-type puppets, this usually means covering the mouth and/or finger tubes with a lining. This way, the lining should soak up most of the sweat, leaving the actual puppet untouched - obviously, there will eventually be deterioration as the lining gets used over time, but it will slow the process down.
Another suggestion is to ensure that any hands touching the puppet are clean beforehand: duh! But it’s amazing how easy it is to forget something that simple. When performing on stage, most actors will go through warm-ups, touching dirty sets, floors and other items. They get changed into their costume, do their makeup, but how many of them will worry about damaging the puppets from all of that? The Puppetry Homepage states in the section on latex foam:
Copper from pennies in a pocket full of coins and paper money transferred to your hand is enough to rot the inside of a puppet’s mouth. Sweat from your hand will speed up the process. Freshly demolded foam pieces will immediately discolor and will forever sport brown fingerprints. Wash hands before touching foam to play it safe. If you must use copper directly against latex foam for animation mechanics, coating the metal with automotive lacquer or nail polish helps as a barrier.
In this sense, because we know that some materials break down faster than others, you may just want to ensure that all of your puppets are made from materials that have a higher resistance to sweaty hands. This may mean you have to spend more money; but your puppet will last longer, ensuring that you don’t have to do as many replacements later.
|Are you making a mess of your puppets with your hands? Image by Video Crab |
Smell is also an indication of deterioration, so when storing or using your puppets, you should always check for signs that the materials are in need of replacing. Naturally, clean the outside of the puppet after use; but what about the inside? Can’t reach in can you? Pablo from Puppet Productions suggests airing out the puppets after use, for weeks at a time if necessary, and afterwards using Febreze (aerosol cleaning agent) to spray them with; and then of course, airing them once more. (Puppet Productions went bankrupt in 2008: the link provided here is courtesy of the Way Back Machine, not their actual site which redirects to the company’s new owners)
One other suggestion, which might apply to puppets and rods/innards, is the use of Plastidip, a product which allows you to give the handles of your tools a nice rubbery surface. I can’t recommend the use of it as a sealant against sweat, as I’ve never tried it in that way. Personally though, having tried Plastidip for other uses, I wouldn’t really recommend it. It’s highly toxic, requires a lot of ventilation, lots of layers need to be added in order for it to work, and cheaper products are available on the market.
A simpler and cheaper method: puppeteers can wear gloves during performance, such as plastic or latex ones. Obviously, puppeteers still get hot, and wearing a glove of a breathable materials is a good idea if this method is chosen. Additionally, I recently saw a puppeteer’s website who suggests that a sock, with holes cut out for fingers and thumb, can be used instead - this allows more flexibility/dexterity in the fingers, whilst protecting your arm from sweating against the fabric of the puppet.send feedback / have a question?
Australians may want to buy locally. Where? I explain here.